Top 6 Irish ties to the National Hockey League

Toronto Maple Leafs great Mats Sundin. (Frank Gunn/CP)

We celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a look at some of the most memorable moments in NHL history involving Irish lore, Irish players, and famous Irish hitchhikers who were picked up by NHL players.

Here are the top six NHL St. Patrick’s Day moments.

The Toronto St. Patricks

Toronto’s storied NHL franchise went by several names before settling on the Maple Leafs in 1927. The Blueshirts became the Arenas who became the St. Patricks, named after an amateur club team in hopes of attracting the city’s Irish population.

The St. Pats captured the 1921-22 Stanley Cup. After just eight seasons the St. Pats were purchased by a group of local investors that included Conn Smythe. They became the Toronto Maple Leafs and the rest is history.

The Maple Leafs have paid homage to the St. Pats by sporting green jerseys (see Mats Sundin pictured above) modelled after the club’s 1920s uniforms.

Gilbert Brule’s hitchhiker adventure

Former NHLer Gilbert Brule was riding shotgun to a West Vancouver park with his girlfriend Kelsey Nichols to take their dog for a walk when they were flagged down by some unlikely hitchhikers in June of 2011.

“I didn’t want to stop, but they waved and (Brule) yelled, ‘That’s Bono,’” Nichols told the Edmonton Journal in 2011 (via Toronto Star). “I didn’t believe him so I kept driving.”

Yes, Bono. As in the frontman of Irish rockers U2.

Bono and his assistant were walking in West Vancouver when it began to rain. He stuck out a thumb in hopes of finding some shelter from the elements.

The Penguins take warmups in Gaelic jerseys

The Pittsburgh Penguins donned some St. Patrick’s Day themed threads for warmups prior to a game versus the Boston Bruins this past Saturday.

The Penguins have worn green jerseys before, but they upped their Irish game this year by including Gaelic translations on their nameplates. That’s Sidney Crosbaigh to you.

Nolan calls his shot

It will forever be one of the most memorable moments from an NHL All-Star Game. Owen Nolan, then of the San Jose Sharks, capped a hat trick in the 1997 game by calling his shot on a breakaway…versus Dominik Hasek no less.

Nolan is one of just six players in NHL history who were born in Ireland or Northern Ireland. The former first overall draft pick (Quebec, 1990) and his family moved to Thorold, Ontario when he was just an infant.

The St. Patrick’s Day massacre

The Norris Division rivalry between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks came to head on March 17, 1991 at Chicago Stadium.

A brawl that resulted in over 275 penalty minutes, three 10-game suspensions, $20,000 in fines, 12 major penalties and 17 game misconducts would come to be known as the St. Patrick’s Day massacre.

Theoren Fleury plies his trade in Belfast

Not an NHL story per se, but former All-Star Theoren Fleury took his talents to Northern Ireland and played for the Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League for the 2005-06 season.

Fleury totalled 22 goals and 74 points and a whopping 270 penalty minutes in 34 games.

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