Eight years after Lexington lost its American Hockey League franchise and five years after the East Coast Hockey League’s one-season debacle here, how many players from those teams would you guess are playing today in the National Hockey League?
As someone who greatly misses having local pro hockey, I try to keep tabs on the players who passed through horse country on their way to the big time. And a few who didn’t make waves here.
For example, New Jersey defenseman Johnny Oduya is the younger brother of T-blades enforcer Freddy Oduya.
I also track the progress of the first Bluegrass Youth Hockey League member to go on to the NHL, as a first-round draft pick. Who could that be?
While you ponder that mystery, let’s get back to the earlier question.
There are 18 former T-blades and one player from the Men-O-War in the NHL today. FIVE of the 19 are goalies — further evidence of the influence of the late, great goalie coach, Warren Strelow.
The goalies include: Johan Hedberg (Atlanta); Miika Kiprusoff (Calgary); Vesa Toskala (Toronto), and Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose). Nabokov reverted to his given name after going by the Americanized-version ”John” in Lexington.
The fifth goalie is the lone Men-O-War grad in the NHL, Mike Smith (Tampa Bay). Smith notched his first pro win, shutout and goal — all in the same game — in Lexington.
Two current NHL captains came up through Lexington.
Towering defenseman Zdeno Chara wears the “C” for the Boston Bruins, while Ray Whitney dons an “A” for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Chara is among seven T-blade defensemen still in the league. The others: Dan Boyle (San Jose); Rob Davison (Vancouver); Jason Strudwick (Edmonton); Filip Kuba (Ottawa); Scott Hannan (Colorado), and Andy Sutton (N.Y. Islanders).
Whitney is among seven T-blade survivors at forward, along with: Shean Donovan (Ottawa); Ville Peltonen (Florida); Eric Boulton (Atlanta); Matt Bradley (Washington); Mikael Samuelsson (Detroit), and Jonathan Cheechoo (San Jose).
Harry Bricker holds the same position with Philadelphia Flyers as he had with the T-blades, equipment manager.
As for the youth-league player who became a first-round draft pick, that’s Phoenix Coyotes forward Vik Tikhonov. The 28th overall pick this year, he is the grandson of legendary Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov. Vik skated in Lexington as an 8-year-old, when his dad, Vasily, was an assistant coach with the T-blades in their first (1996-97) of five seasons here.
With no pro team left to inspire and encourage local youths, Lexington won’t be producing another NHL player soon (if ever).
Thanks for the memories, boys.