A Moment in the Sun

Even though they only spent a single night playing for an NHL team, these players still have plenty of memories and few regrets. Moonlight Graham, magically resurrected from the pages of history by Burt Lancaster in the movie "Field of Dreams", mused about his only day as a big league player. "You know, we don't recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they're happening," Graham says. "I thought, `Well, they're be another day.' I didn't realize that was the only day." Graham's attempt to hold that fleeting moment in his hands plays on that little voice in the back of all our minds, the one that dreams how great it would be to be part of the game just once. Just once.

By Chuck O'Donnell from Hockey Digest, February 2001
(© 2001 Century Publishing & Gale Group)

Hockey history is filled with many men who have been big-leaguers for just a day. Shiny veterans fresh from the minors, grizzled veterans finally getting their chance, last-second injury replacements - they all took different paths to their one day on NHL ice. But although their moments were few, their memories have lasted all their lives. Take Murray Wing. He played one game with the 1973-74 Detroit Red Wings. "But I've gotten a lifetime out of that game," Wing says from his home in Thunder Bay, Ontario. "The story of that one game gets bigger and bigger every time I tell it." Tall tales aside, Wing paid his dues to get that one game. He started at the University of North Dakota, moved to the Oklahoma City Blazers of the Central Hockey League, the Boston Braves of the American Hockey League, and the San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League. Originally a ninth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, Wing was never earmarked for stardom, but he still dreamed of playing in the NHL He came close with Boston, playing six exhibition games one year. "I was disappointed," says Wing, who, despite his name, played defense. But he kept at it and eventually got the call from the Detroit Red Wings. "Stan Mikita was on the team at the time and that was a big thrill for me," says Wing, who turned 50 in October. "I got an assist on a Mickey Redmond goal. I remember it well. It was a pass from outside our blue line up to Redmond outside their blue line. He just took it in and scored. I did all the work on that goal," he says with a laugh. The euphoria of the moment eventually died down as this reality set in: There would be no return to the NHL. Wing played for the London Lions in England, returned to play for a couple of teams in Thunder Bay, but never got another moment in the sun.

Brian Lundberg's only moment almost never came, for a couple of reasons. "There were a few guys that were ahead of me on depth chart [on the Baltimore Skipjacks of the American Hockey League]," says Lundberg, who was summoned to join the Penguins during the 1982-83 season. "Under perfect circumstances, they would have gotten the call to go tip to Pittsburgh. But we had some injuries and I got the call." Lucky, yes. But his luck was seemingly about to run out when his hockey gear somehow got lost en route to join the Pens at Maple Leaf Garden. "I remember sitting there about five or 10 minutes before warmups thinking, `Where is my gear?'" Lundberg says. "I was nervous enough under the circumstances, playing my first game, and doing so in Toronto. Finally, someone threw my gear into the dressing room about 10 minutes before warmups. I thought, `Thank God.'" So Lundberg got dressed and took: the ice. During the pregame skate, Borje Salming, the Hall of Fame defenseman for the Leafs, stopped Lundberg near center ice. "I guess, he saw my name on the back of my jersey," says Lundberg, "He stopped me and asked me if I was from Sweden." The Burnaby, British Columbia native shook his head no, and got ready for the only game of his NHL life. And what a game it was. "I had some really good chances in score," Lundberg says. "One chance I remember, there was a guy setting up the play from behind the net. As a defenseman, you're not looking to score much. But I moved in and yelled for the puck like anyone else wood. I got it and I had a good chance from the slot. I think I missed the net or didn't get off a very good shot."

A shot is all Larry Kwong wanted. He stood only 5'6" and almost never played hockey at all because his mother always told him it wasn't a worthwhile endeavor. His father passed away when Larry was five years old and he was counted on to help his mother raise his 14 siblings. But there was something about hockey that Kwong loved. He was persistent and had what Hall of Fame goalie Chuck Rayner calls "good skating skills and pretty good stick-handling skills. He always gave it that old college try." So, when the injury bug hit the Rangers during the 1947-48 season, the call went out to Kwong. Kwong was no stranger to Madison Square Garden fans. They had seen him play for the New York Rovers, the Rangers' top farm team that often played in MSG in the afternoon before the big league team. But when he showed up to play with the Rangers, the Garden was packed. Kwong, believed to be the first NHL player of Chinese heritage, was "overwhelmed." "Don't forget, I was a young kid from Vernon, British Columbia. I think the town had a population of about 5,000 people. Just coming to New York was something. This was something else?" The New York papers trumpeted his arrival with the Rangers with headlines that declared "King Kwong" and "The China Clipper" had joined the team. The actual details of Kwong's lone game are a blur to him. He remembers they played the Montreal Canadiens, but he couldn't tell you the score or the pace of the game was. What was important for him was that he had made history that day. "Being Chinese, you were watched all the time," says Kwong, who lives in Calgary. "In those days, where I crone from, you were confronted with discrimination. Chinese people were not hired by people to work. It was that kind of discrimination. I felt I had to try to do my best to show everyone we were just as good as them."

While Greg Hickey didn't make history in his only NHL game with the Rangers during the 1977-78 season, he was given the assignment of shadowing one of the greatest players in history by coach John Ferguson. "He told me that I was going to stay with Mike Bossy and to make sure he didn't score a goal," says Hickey. Easier says than done - especially since Bossy had been busy putting together a 53-goal season. But Hickey, the younger brother of NHL standout Pat Hickey, accepted the challenge. "So it's a televised game and he can't get away from me," says Hickey, who works the club pro at the Nobleton Lake Golf Club north of Toronto. "I was on him like a piece of dirt. Where he went, I went. At one point, he was circling around in center ice, and there I was following him. I felt like an idiot, but I was doing my job. He hadn't scored, but he would stay back and let Denis Potvin go up and score. They were leading 5-2. I was sitting with Walt Tkaczuk on the bench and I says, `What's going on here? We have to get back in the game. We have to score some goals.' He told me, `Just play your game. Go up and down your wing and if you leave him, make sure someone else picks him up.'" So on the next shift, the play went back into the Rangers' zone. Hickey, for the first time all game, leaves Bossy's hip pocket and releases him to defenseman Carol Vadnais. "I yelled, `Carol, you got him.'" says Hickey. "Carol yells back, `I got him.' I turned my back to go to the point and Bossy scores a goal." The Islanders went on to win the game, 7-2. Hickey didn't think it would be his last and only game. He was promised by Ferguson that he would get a lot of playing time the following year. But a bad break hit Hickey like a two-hander across the teeth. Ferguson was fired during the off-season, replaced by Fred Shero. As Hickey puts it, Shero "wouldn't put you in the lineup unless you were 6'2" and weighed 210 pounds."

Wing, Lundberg, Kwong, and Hickey all may have dreamed of a nice, long NHL career, and may have had some disappointment when life dealt them a different hand. Over the years, time has healed any wounds they may have had. Today, they don't harbor any grudges or resentment for having the shortest of all careers. "I would have liked it to have last longer, considering all the time I put into it," says Wing. "But it was great. I'm happy.".
"In hindsight everything worked out fine," says Hickey. "I have a wife and kids and a house and a dog. I played in the NHL. Although I didn't have an extended career, I got a chance to live off some of brother's accomplishments. I didn't miss anything."