Skip to main content

Leap Day special to eight current, former NHL players

by John Kreiser /
For most of us, Wednesday is "Leap Day," a day that's added to the calendar once every four years to keep things in harmony. For eight NHL players past and present, however, it's a chance to celebrate their "real" birthday.

For Carolina goaltender Cam Ward, who turns 28 by normal standards, it's the seventh time he gets to celebrate his birthday on the right day -- Feb. 29.

"In the early ages I got made fun of for being so young," Ward told "Now being 28, I'm sure I'll get some 7-year-old cards."

Asked when he celebrates his birthday in non-leap years, Ward said he opted for earlier rather than later.

"I typically would celebrate on the 28th of February, just to keep it in the same month," he said. "It's unique and fun."

A day to remember

Feb. 29, 1980, was a historic day for two of hockey's most famous families, who were at vastly different stages of their careers.

In Hartford, Gordie Howe scored the 800th goal of his legendary career during the Whalers' 3-0 victory against St. Louis. The 51-year-old took a feed from Greg Carroll and beat Mike Liut for the milestone goal, the next-to-last of his career.

"That was great," he told the media after the game. "I was especially glad it happened at home."

In Winnipeg, "Miracle on Ice" team member Dave Christian made an instant impact in his first NHL game. Christian, whose father and uncle were members of the 1960 gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team, scored seven seconds into his first NHL game for the Winnipeg Jets -- 32 years later, it's still the fastest goal ever by a player in his NHL debut. It was the first of his 340 goals during an NHL career that saw him play for five NHL teams.

Even Wayne Gretzky has a connection to Leap Day. In 1996, the Great One made his debut with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 29, scoring a goal in a 2-2 tie against Vancouver.

-- John Kreiser
Ward and Los Angeles Kings forward Simon Gagne, who was born in 1980, are the only active NHL players with Feb. 29 birthdays. Defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti, who played five games with the New York Rangers in 2009-10 and currently is with Carolina's AHL team in Charlotte, is the only other current Feb. 29-born player who has played in an NHL game.

Sanguinetti has played fewer NHL games than any of the eight Feb. 29-born players -- though he needs only seven more to equal James Dobson, who played 12 games with the Minnesota North Stars and Colorado Rockies in the early 1980s.

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 Feb. 29. Eloranta, who also is the only non-North American among the eight Feb. 29-born players, had 13 goals and 116 points before returning to his native Finland to conclude his career.

By far the most famous (and accomplished) member of the NHL's Feb. 29 club is its oldest member. Hall of Famer Henri Richard was born on this date in 1936 and joined the Montreal Canadiens in 1955-56, just in time to be a member of the team that went on to win a record five consecutive Stanley Cups. The younger brother of the legendary Maurice "Rocket" Richard is by far the best offensive player among the eight Feb. 29 players, with 358 goals, 688 assists and 1.046 points in 1,256 games.

Richard also is the only one to make a postseason All-Star team -- the "Pocket Rocket" was a First-Team All-Star in 1957-58 and made the Second Team the next season.

Richard is one of only two Feb. 29 players to win a Stanley Cup -- but he leads all players, regardless of birthday, by winning 11 of them. When he won his 11th Cup in 1973, Richard actually had more championships than "birthdays"; Feb. 29 had come around only nine times.

The other Cup-winner is Ward, who not is only the only goaltender in the group, but also the only one to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The Edmonton native did both as a rookie in 2006, when his goaltending sparked the Hurricanes to the only Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Richard's 80 points in 1957-58 are the most in one season by any Feb. 29-born player, but Gagne is the only one to break the 40-goal mark. He did it twice, scoring 47 times in 2005-06 and posting 41 goals the following season. Gagne's 761 games, 283 goals, 298 assists and 581 points all are second to Richard -- and far ahead of third-place Daniel Daoust, who had 87 goals, 167 assists and 254 points in 522 games between 1983 and 1990.

Though Lyndon Byers played less than a quarter as many games as Richard in his 10 NHL seasons, he's taken more penalty minutes than anyone else in the Feb. 29 octet -- Byers piled up 1,081 penalty minutes in just 279 games, mostly with Boston.

Gagne has been sidelined with a concussion, leaving Ward as this season's only active Feb. 29 player. He said his birthday will be a little happier after his performance Tuesday -- he returned from a lower-body injury to make 26 saves as Carolina held off Nashville 4-3.

"You've got to wait every four years to get one," he said of his true birthday, "so it's going to be fun to celebrate knowing we got a win." correspondent Kurt Dusterberg contributed to this story

View More