Meet the Oldest Living NHL Player | Dear Mr. Wojciechowski,

Steve Wochy takes personal stock a century and a year into his remarkable life.

“What can I complain about? Nothing,” he says, his 101-year-old glass not half full, but in fact overflowing. “What can I say? I’m still here.”

The story of the NHL’s most senior player is one you probably couldn’t write as fiction even if you could spell his birth name, Stefan Wojciechowski, arriving on Dec. 25, 1922 as the last of six children born to Polish immigrants.

The name was dramatically shortened when it became clear that few, including legendary radio broadcaster Foster Hewitt, could pronounce it, most everyone calling him Wochy anyway.

“They spelled it A-B-C-D-E-F-G,” he jokes. “Growing up, instead of calling me Wojciechowski, they said, ‘Wochy, Wochy, Wochy…’ We might as well change it, so we changed it.”

Today, the 2024 Stanley Cup Final soon to crown the League’s newest champion, Wochy rewinds 79 years to his coming within one tantalizing win of hockey’s grandest prize.

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Steve Wochy in a publicity photo with the Detroit Red Wings during the 1944-45 season at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Valiantly scratching back from a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven 1945 Final against the Toronto Maple Leafs, shut out three consecutive times by goalie Frank McCool, Wochy’s Detroit Red Wings finally fell in seven games.

Four games, including Toronto’s 2-1 Cup-clinching victory, were decided by a single goal.

“When you lose the Stanley Cup, you don’t go on smiling. Everybody goes crying, I guess,” Wochy says matter-of-factly in a new NHL Productions film that profiles this modest, humble centenarian.

It was Wochy’s first and only trip to the Cup Final, coming in his memorable, record-setting rookie season.

The following year he’d begin a decade in the minors, shuttling from Indianapolis to Omaha to Philadelphia to Cleveland to Buffalo and finally to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, where he played his final hockey season in 1954-55 and went to work with Algoma Steel for 32 years, “the Soo” his home for the past nearly seven decades.

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Steve Wochy (left), Jud McAtee (center) and Ted Lindsay pose for a portrait as members of the Detroit Red Wings during the 1944-45 season at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

The film is affectionately narrated by NHL icon Joe Thornton. The man nicknamed “Jumbo Joe” began his serious hockey in the same community, with 198 points (71 goals, 127 assists) in 125 games during his two-year 1995-97 stay with Soo of the Ontario Hockey League.

Wochy had the skills to stick in the NHL after his rookie season, but the forward played only five more games in 1946-47; he was a victim of the numbers game and the whims of Jack Adams, the Red Wings’ iron-fisted general manager and coach, who shipped him to the minors.

Roster spots were scarce in the six-team NHL in the mid-1940s, with players returning from World War II. Wochy’s destiny was changed by that reality, by an 18-year-old Detroit farmhand named Gordie Howe about to join the Red Wings to begin his skate into League history, and by Adams.

If Wochy still can’t figure management’s reasons for keeping him on the farm, he bears no ill will toward Howe. Indeed, he and the future Mr. Hockey were linemates in 1945-46 with Omaha of the United States Hockey League, Howe’s first year as a pro, Wochy also playing with Indianapolis of the American Hockey League that season.

“Howe, 17, is one of the brightest prospects in years,” the Omaha World-Herald reported on Oct. 6, 1945. “Tall, tow-haired and somewhat shy, he let his skates and stick do his talking at the training camp this year.”

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Steve Wochy laces his skates in the Detroit Red Wings’ 1944-45 dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Like Howe after him, Wochy seemed destined to join Detroit as a teenager, the smooth-skating center and wing having nicely developed on the outdoor rinks of Lake Superior hometown of Port Arthur, Ontario (since 1970 known as Thunder Bay following its amalgamation with neighboring Fort William).

His beginnings were, well, modest.

“You won’t believe it,” Wochy said brightly. “My older brother was in the highway camp. I used his skates, I’d have my boots on and put them in his skates.

“He’d come back and he couldn’t put his feet in. They were all stretched out from me with the boots in them.”

Wochy had a taste of the NHL at age 15, attending training camp of the 1938-39 New York Americans, but returned to Port Arthur to play junior and senior hockey.

“I was the leading scorer for three or four years in junior,” he says. “If you gave me the puck, I could put it in the net, that was no problem there.”

But a promising pro career was detoured by the war, Wochy enlisting and serving his country for a year before being discharged with a stomach ailment.

“The war years were good to me, they looked after me pretty good,” he says of his time in the Canadian Armed Forces, during which he played for the Winnipeg Army squad.

At 5-foot-8 and 158 pounds, Wochy finally made his NHL debut with Detroit in 1944-45 and quickly made his mark. In 49 games he set Red Wings rookie records for goals (19) and points (39), eclipsing by two goals and three assists the standards set in 1929-30 by Ebbie Goodfellow, then for the Detroit Falcons.

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Steve Wochy (back row, third from right) with the 1948-49 AHL Philadelphia Rockets.

His record stood for just a couple of seasons, bettered by Jim McFadden’s 48 points (24 goals, 24 assists) in 1947-48. Today, Wochy ranks 26th all-time in Red Wings rookie scoring, Steve Yzerman’s 87 points (39 goals, 48 assists) in 1983-84 ranked first.

Wochy had 13 goals by Christmas Day 1944, his four two-goal games that season having his name in the mix for the Calder Trophy, voted as NHL rookie of the year, ultimately won by McCool, who was nicknamed “Ulcers.”

Newspapers enjoyed that Wochy scored two goals and had an assist on his 22nd birthday. A tussle that Christmas night in 1944 with Toronto’s Babe Pratt earned him a minor penalty; it just as easily could have been a major, which would have given him a not-yet-invented Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

In the end, Howe would take Wochy’s place with the Red Wings, sending him forever to the minors with a 54-game NHL total of 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) and one assist in six playoff games.

Adams and various injuries proved to be insurmountable obstacles in his bid to return full-time to the NHL.

Wochy married his late wife, Shirley, during the 1945-46 season while with Indianapolis. In-season nuptials were unpopular with team management of the day but that his new player was sidelined with a broken hand meant nothing to Adams.

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Steve Wochy in a publicity photo with the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Barons in the early 1950s.

“I was on a train trip, I believe to go to Pittsburgh,” Wochy told hockey historian Bob Duff in 2022. “[Adams] took me off the train and sent me to Omaha. He said, ‘I’ll send you and your new wife on a honeymoon to Omaha.’ That’s how I ended up playing with Gordie Howe.”

Wochy was bouncing around the minors when the Red Wings roared to dominance in the first half of the 1950s, winning the Stanley Cup four times in six seasons between 1950-55, the NHL’s best regular-season team seven straight years between 1949-55.

He would play with a handful of greats in the AHL, including future Hall of Fame goalies Johnny Bower in Cleveland and Jacques Plante in Buffalo.

No longer riding Adams’ Detroit bench for long stretches, Wochy would be a fine scorer and playmaker in the AHL, with 515 points (253 goals, 262 assists) in 547 games. His final season on skates was in the Northern Ontario Hockey Association in 1954-55, arriving in Sault Ste. Marie for cash from Buffalo, with 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) over 23 games.

Then, as he settled into his work with Algoma Steel with his hockey career fading in his rear-view mirror, the letters mysteriously began to arrive. They came for decades, from people of all ages from around the world.

Some offered compliments on the life he had lived in the game. Others asked questions or shared memories, some thanked him for being an inspiration, many asked for his autograph. And as he signed every single one, surely he was happy that he had changed Wojciechowski to Wochy.

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Steve Wochy in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario on April 18, 2024.

He is a legend with adults and children in his community, revered by lifelong hockey fans who saw many, if not all, of the Soo players whose jerseys have been retired. Alphabetically: Adam Foote, Ron Francis, Wayne Gretzky, Craig Hartsburg, Thornton and John Vanbiesbrouck.

“My days now? Tired!” Wochy says, laughing, until a few years ago an eager ball-hockey player on the street with kids. “I’m up and around, that’s the main thing. You’ve got to get up and move. I have good neighbors who help me out. They’ve all been good to me.

“Could be good genes, eh?” he adds, pondering his longevity. “My brother lived to 95 and my sister lived to be 99.”

Thornton, and a great many others, are proud to call themselves Wochy fans.

“So, Steve, consider this a letter to you, from myself and the entire hockey community,” Jumbo Joe says with fondness, concluding the video appreciation.

“I couldn’t think of a better ambassador for the sport we all love. You’re living proof that retirement isn’t the end of our story, it’s just the start of the next chapter.”