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NHL Centennial

Celebration day for Feb. 29 birthday club

Henri Richard, Cam Ward, Simon Gagne among nine born Leap Day to reach NHL

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

The most famous member of the nine-man Feb. 29 NHL birthday club also is the oldest.

Hockey Hall of Fame member Henri Richard, who will be 81, was born Feb. 29, 1936. He joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1955-56, just in time to be a part of five consecutive Stanley Cup-winning teams. The younger brother of Hall of Fame member Maurice Richard easily has the best offensive numbers among all Feb. 29-born players, with 358 goals, 688 assists and 1,046 points in 1,256 games.

Richard is one of three players born Feb. 29 to win a Stanley Cup; however, he leads all players, regardless of birthday, by winning 11 of them. The other two have done so during the 21st century; Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward did it in 2006, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Forward Simon Gagne was a member of the Los Angeles Kings' 2012 Cup-winning team.

Gagne is the only Feb. 29-born player to score 40 goals in a season, doing it with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06 (47 goals) and 2006-07 (41). Gagne's 822 games, 291 goals, 310 assists and 601 points all are second to Richard among Feb. 29-born players, but they're well ahead of third-place Dan Daoust, who had 87 goals, 167 assists and 254 points in 522 games between 1982-83 and 1989-90.

Ward is the only active NHL player who was born Feb. 29, as well as the only goaltender.

"I always celebrated it on the 28th; I liked to keep it in the same month," he said about his birthday in 2016. "I usually had a big celebration when the 29th came around because it only comes once every four years."

The fewest NHL games played by a Leap Day player is two, by Darryl Williams, a forward with the Kings in 1992-93 who's now an assistant coach for the Rangers. James Dobson, who played with the Minnesota North Stars and Colorado Rockies in the early 1980s, is next with 12.

Feb. 29 also has historic significance for three hockey legends.

Gordie Howe scored his 800th NHL goal during the Hartford Whalers' 3-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 29, 1980. Howe, who was about to turn 52, took a pass from Greg Carroll and beat Mike Liut for the milestone goal.

Twelve years later, Ray Bourque became the third NHL defenseman with 1,000 points, joining Denis Potvin and Paul Coffey. Bourque had a goal and two assists in the Boston Bruins' 5-5 tie against the Washington Capitals.

In 1996, Wayne Gretzky played his first game with the St. Louis Blues after being acquired in a trade with the Kings two days earlier. Gretzky scored a goal in a 2-2 tie with the Vancouver Canucks.

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