Oldest living NHLer Steve Wochy just missed Red Wings' dynasty in 1950s
The NHL's oldest living player doesn't complain about missing the Detroit Red Wings' dynasty during the Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay years in the 1950s.
Now 97 and a former teammate of 19-year-old Lindsay with the 1944-1945 Red Wings and then replaced by 18-year-old Howe the following season, Steve Wochy (born Steve Wojciechowski on Christmas Day, 1922) says "hockey has been very good to me," and doesn't dwell on missing Detroit's dominating stretch when they finished in first place for seven straight years and won four Stanley Cups (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955) in six years.
"What can I say?" said Wochy, who now lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and was looking forward to resuming chiropractic care for osteoporosis this week after two months of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak.
"They (Red Wings) gave me the breaks the first time. Everything else was up to me so I can't complain. When I got back from an injury, that was the year Gordie Howe came up. I sat on the bench and didn't get on the ice. They kept him and sent me down."
Wochy's first and only full season in the NHL was marked by his friendship off the ice with Lindsay (they were rookies and roommates living in an apartment in nearby Windsor) and success on ice with 19 goals, two more goals than future Hall of Famer Lindsay.
"I had 19 goals in 49 games on the third line," said Wochy, who was fourth in team scoring with 39 points. "How many players on the third line today are getting 10 goals? Do you hear of anyone? And they're playing more than 80 games."
Marty Pavelich, the second-line left-winger who was responsible for checking Montreal Canadiens superstar Maurice Richard during those four Cup-winning seasons in Detroit, remembers watching Wochy in training camp each season and knowing that general manager Jack Adams didn't alter his roster much during the glory years.
"In those days, there were only six teams and 120 guys," said Pavelich, who is the third-oldest living Red Wing at age 92 and still skis 100 times a year in Big Sky, Montana. "There was the odd player who would make the team, but we very seldom made any changes except when Adams would make one of his trades.
"Steve was a good little player. He had that one big year and then he was gone. At the time, the league was watered down a bit during the war years. We had a fantastic farm system where we sent our best prospects. It was just tough to break in."
Wochy, who legally changed his name after retiring from hockey in 1955, says he missed "some of the best years of my hockey career" while serving with the Canadian Armed Forces in Winnipeg during World War II and prefers not to comment on his relationship with "Trader Jack" Adams, who was the only person to have his name on the Stanley Cup as a player, coach and general manager.
"He's gone so there's nothing I can say about him," Wochy said. "All I know is I didn't get the breaks I should've got for one reason or another. I couldn't score goals sitting on the bench. If you know of anybody who scores a goal sitting on the bench, let me know."
The 5-foot-8, 160-pound Wochy went on to score 253 goals in a 10-year career in the American Hockey League, winning two Calder Cups with roommate and Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower of the Cleveland Barons in 1951 and 1953 and leading the league with 37 goals during a first-team, All-Star season in 1952.
"I wish I could've wound up playing on a line with Ted Lindsay," said Wochy, who became the oldest living NHL player last month when former Red Wings/Chicago Blackhawks/New York Rangers forward Jim Conacher died at at the age of 98.
"I think I would've been OK. He was a rugged guy, a great checker and difficult to play against. I was lucky to win two rings with Johnny Bower in Cleveland. How many guys go through their career and don't win a championship? (Red Wings defenseman) Bill Gadsby played 20 years and never won a championship."
Wochy also has the distinction of playing on a line with Howe, who began his pro career in 1945-46 and was making $2,200 a year with a $500 signing bonus with the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League. Howe had 48 points in 51 games, Wochy had 14 points in 17 games and they both had three points in the playoffs.
"I did not bad," Wochy said. "That's the way I look at. I'm still here, aren't I? There are mornings I get up and I can hardly walk. It can be hard at times. I just want to keep moving. You have to move. Once you stop, that's when you're done."
Oldest living Red Wings
►1. Steve Wojciechowski, 97 (12-25-1922)
►2. Tom McGratton, 92 (10-19-1927)
►3. Marty Pavelich, 92 (11-6-1927)
►4. Ed Sanford, 91 (8-20-1928)
►5. Vic Stasiuk, 90 (5-23-1929)
►6. Guyle Fielder, 89 (11-21-1930)
►7. Marcel Bonin, 88 (9-12-1931)
►8. Len Haley, 88 (9-15-1931)
►9. Glenn Hall, 88 (10-3-1931)
►10. Jim Morrison, 88 (10-11-1931)
Steve Wochy profile
►Born: Fort William, Ontario
►Birthdate: December 25, 1922
►Weight: 160 pounds
►Position: Right winger
►NHL career: Fourth in scoring with the Detroit Red Wings in 1944-45 with 19 goals, 20 assists, 39 points in 49 games.
►Minor league career: Recorded 515 career points with the Indianapolis Capitals, Philadelphia Rockets, Cleveland Barons and Buffalo Bisons in 10 seasons in the American Hockey League.