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Richard headlines NHL players born on 'Leap Day'

'Pocket Rocket' most notable of small fraternity to celebrate birthday on Feb. 29

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Henri Richard used to be kidded that he'd won the Stanley Cup more times (11) than he'd celebrated his birthday.

Richard turns 84 when he celebrates his "real" birthday for the 21st time on Saturday, along with eight other former NHL players who were born on Feb. 29.

This is the first year since 1999 that the NHL hasn't had an active player born on "Leap Day." The last two were forward Simon Gagne, who entered the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1999-2000 and retired in 2015, and goalie Cam Ward, who hung up his pads in 2019 after 14 NHL seasons, all but the last one with the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who played 45 games with the New York Rangers and the Hurricanes from 2009-13 and now plays in Germany's DEL, is the only active Feb. 29-born player who has played in an NHL game.

"I always celebrated it on the 28th; I liked to keep it in the same month," Ward told before his last Feb. 29 birthday celebration four years ago. "I usually had a big celebration when the 29th came around because it only comes once every four years."

Sanguinetti and Kari Eloranta, who played 267 NHL games from 1981-82 to 1986-87, all but 12 with the Calgary Flames, are the only defensemen born on Feb. 29. Eloranta, the only non-North American among the Feb. 29-born players, had 116 points (13 goals, 103 assists) before returning to his native Finland to conclude his career.

The fewest NHL games played by a Leap Day player is two, by Darryl Williams, a forward who was with the Los Angeles Kings briefly in 1992-93. James Dobson, who played with the Minnesota North Stars, Colorado Rockies and Quebec Nordiques from 1979-84, is next with 12.

Richard is by far the most accomplished member of the NHL's Feb. 29 club. Not only is the younger (by 15 years) brother of Maurice "Rocket" Richard in the Hockey Hall of Fame, his offensive totals (1,046 points; 358 goals, 688 assists) dwarf everyone else born on Leap Day, as do the 1,258 games played by the "Pocket Rocket."

Video: Henri Richard won Cup a record 11 times as a player

His 11 Stanley Cup championships are the most of any player in NHL history; Ward (with Carolina in 2006) and Gagne (with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012) are the only other Feb. 29-born players to win the Cup.

Richard was a First-Team All-Star in 1957-58 and made the Second Team the next season, as well as in 1960-61 and 1962-63. No one else born on Feb. 29 has made a postseason All-Star team. Ward is the only one to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Richard's 80 points in 1957-58 are the most in one season by any Feb. 29-born player, though Gagne is the only one to break the 40-goal mark. He did it twice with the Flyers, scoring 47 goals in 2005-06 and 41 the following season. Gagne's 822 games, 291 goals, 310 assists and 601 points are all second to Richard -- but far ahead of third-place Dan Daoust, who had 87 goals, 167 assists and 254 points in 522 games between 1983 and 1990.

Though forward Lyndon Byers played less than a quarter as many games as Richard in his 10 NHL seasons, he took more penalty minutes than anyone else born on Feb. 29. Byers piled up 1,081 penalty minutes in 279 games, mostly with the Boston Bruins. Richard is next with 932.

Feb. 29 also has historic significance for two hockey legends, though neither was born on Leap Day.

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

"That was great," he said after the game at the Hartford Civic Center. "I was especially glad it happened at home."

Wayne Gretzky also has a connection to Leap Day. After being traded by the Los Angeles Kings two days earlier, Gretzky played his first game as a member of the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 29, 1996 and scored a goal in a 2-2 tie with the Vancouver Canucks.

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