There are more than 200 U.S.-born players in the NHL today, a number that continues to grow.
That's a far cry from November 1917, when the four-team NHL was created in a Montreal hotel suite and began play a month later. At that time the NHL was almost exclusively populated by Canadians; the lone U.S.-born player in the new league was Pierce George "Gerry" Geran of Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Geran was a character if ever there was one. Historian Roger A. Godin, the Minnesota Wild curator, calls Geran, "The Mystery Man of Hockey." That reputation originally was hung on him after he was mysteriously suspended from the Dartmouth College varsity team despite being its star player.
Apart from his curious (and occasionally mysterious) life, Geran's claims to fame included being the first U.S.-born player in NHL history and the first to score in a League game.
On Dec. 19, 1917, Geran skated for the Montreal Wanderers at Montreal Arena on the NHL's first night of play. Teamed with future Hall of Famer Art Ross, Geran helped the Wanderers defeat the Toronto Arenas 10-9. Ross, who later became general manager and coach of the Boston Bruins, would figure prominently in Geran's hockey life as friend and boss.
Before meeting Ross, Geran was being favorably compared to legendary Princeton University star Hobey Baker, who would quit amateur hockey to become a pilot in World War I. In its Jan. 4, 1917 edition, the Boston Globe labelled Geran, "The best flash since Hobey Baker was in his hockey prime."
Unfortunately for Geran and the Wanderers, his NHL debut lasted all of four games; on Jan. 2, 1918, a fire destroyed his team's home arena. The Wanderers were forced to fold, leaving Geran as a man without an NHL team. Nevertheless, his skills remained in high demand, especially with the 1920 Antwerp Olympics looming and the United States in need of talent.
Geran was picked for the team, which won silver (to Canada's gold) in April 1920. His highlight moment was a hat trick in a 7-0 victory against Sweden.
For the 1921-22 season, Geran signed with the Paris Volants, where he scored 88 goals in eight games.
Geran resurfaced with the Boston Athletic Association, one of the best teams in New England, in 1922-23, scoring 14 goals in nine games.
Not surprisingly, he was eagerly recruited by his home country for the 1924 Chamonix Olympics. But, typically mysteriously, he didn't show up. This infuriated his teammate and good friend Roy Schooley, who told the Globe in a story published on April 1, 1924, that, "Gerry had them guessing to the last minute whether he would go, and then he refused."
His refusal to tell the Olympic team he wasn't coming only added to his reputation.
Despite that, there was plenty of interest in Geran. With the Bruins preparing for their second NHL season after going 6-24-0 in 1924-25, Ross, their coach and general manager, signed his old Wanderers teammate to a contract on Nov. 23, 1925, almost eight years after Geran's NHL debut.
On Dec. 11, 1925, Geran made history again -- twice. This time it was with the Bruins against the Pittsburgh Pirates and their future Hall of Fame goalie, Roy Worters.
Geran scored at 3:25 of the first period, becoming the first United States-born player to score a goal in an NHL game. He beat Worters again at 17:15, becoming the first U.S.-born NHL player to score two goals in a game. The Boston Globe noted in its Dec. 12, 1925 edition that, "Geran played sensational hockey and proved a constant threat."
"It was the highlight of Geran's season and NHL career," Godin wrote in "The Mysterious Gerry Geran."
After scoring two goals against Pittsburgh, Geran finished the season with five (and one assist) in 33 games. Ross opted not to resign his buddy for the following season; however, in November 1926, Geran signed with the minor league St. Paul Saints. He hung up his skates for good after playing the 1932-33 season with Racing Club de France in Paris.
Geran disappeared from view until the 1940-41 NHL season, when he began huddling with a few of the New York Rangers players who had won the Stanley Cup in April 1940. Defenseman Art Coulter as well as forwards Mac Colville and Neil Colville, plus linemate Alex Shibicky, launched a campaign to form a union. They called it the Association of Professional Hockey Players (APHP) with Geran listed as secretary.
Gerry corresponded with NHL President Frank Calder, pointing out that the APHP would embrace not only NHLers but minor league players and on-ice officials as well. In his letter to Calder on May 3, 1941, Geran proved ahead of his time, also proposing that, in addition to recognizing the union, the NHL also stage an annual All-Star Game.
While Geran's proposed union received a warm endorsement from columnist John Kieran of The New York Times and Red Dutton, who ran the New York Americans, the APHP's timing was not right. World War II was in its second year, and NHL players were enlisting in the Canadian and American armed forces. Among those eventually inducted were players such as Coulter, Shibicky and the Colvilles.
By the time the war ended in 1945, Coulter had retired from the NHL while his APHP colleagues were in the twilights of their respective NHL careers and were no longer interested in unionizing. The APHP's dreams had vanished with the war.
The same was true for Geran, who disappeared from view until February 1962 when, according to Godin, he mysteriously reappeared as a "federal employee residing in New York."
But to hockey historians, Geran always will be noted as the NHL's first U.S.-born player and first to score an NHL goal -- or two. Of that, there is no mystery.
Main photo caption: Team photo of the Boston Bruins during the 1925-26 NHL season at Boston Garden. Front row, from left: trainer Thomas Murray, John Brackenborough, Norm Shay, Charles Stewart, Carson Cooper, George Redding. Back row, from left: owner Charles Adams, Gerry Geran, Lionel Hitchman, Stan Jackson, Jimmy Herbert, Red Stuart, Herb Mitchell, coach/manager Art Ross. (Photo courtesy: HHoF Images & Boston Bruins)