Friday, January 14, 2011

Frank Nighbor

"The Flying Dutchman." "The Pembroke Peach." Frank Nighbor had many nicknames. That was because he was one of the most creative geniuses ever to play the game.

Newspaper archives heap generous adjectives on Nighbor. "An effortless skater," he was "a marvel of physical endurance" who often played the entire game without a rest. He was "a crafty and unselfish playmaker" (when he retired he was the NHL's all time leader in assists) and also, when needed, "a flashy goal scorer." With his famed poke check he embraced the defensive side of the game with equal zeal. "One of the brainy greats of the game" was quite possibly the most complete and "peerless" player in hockey in his era. The great Howie Morenz even once said, "I won the (Hart Trophy) but Nighbor is the greatest player in hockey."

Here's how Frank Selke described Nighbor in the Montreal Gazette in 1962:

With all due respect to the many wonderful players who have come and gone since 1900, there are few who could be rated above Frank Nighbor. Someone once called him the "peerless centre," and I can think of no label which would have been more apt. We always felt he could have played a complete game of hockey in formal attire without even putting a wrinkle in his suit. He was a leading scorer, an expert passer and a playmaker; and no rival forward could come close to him in defensive skill. Along with Jack Walker he developed the poke-check to such an extent that his contemporaries were forced to revamp completely their style of play in order to cope with him.

Born in Pembroke, Ontario, Nighbor started his professional hockey career with the Toronto Blueshirts of the National Hockey Association (predecessor to the NHL). He would join the Vancouver Millionaires of the Pacific Coast Hockey League for a couple of seasons, getting his first taste of champaign from Lord Stanley's mug in 1915. The next season he returned home (partly to tend to his ailing mother), joining the Ottawa Senators. He would remain an integral part of the Senators until 1928. He played one final season with Toronto in 1929.

Nighbor is best known as an Ottawa Senator. He played on Stanley Cup championship teams in 1920, 1921, 1923, and 1927. He was also the initial winner of two of the games greatest trophies: The Hart (1924) for Most Valuable Player; and the Lady Byng (1925 and 1926) for gentlemanly play and sportsmanship.

Nighbor was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1945. He concentrated on his insurance business until retiring in 1961. He died of cancer in Pembroke in 1966.


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