When Ken Wregget reported to the Lethbridge Sportsplex to begin his junior hockey career, his new teammates only had one thing to say: Little Mikey.
Wregget’s uncanny resemblance to the 1972 Life Cereal commercial character prompted the nickname. There was nothing “little” about the 6-foot-1 goaltender, but the name stuck.
He simply became known as “Mikey” instead.
After his first season with the Lethbridge Broncos, the Toronto Maple Leafs picked Wregget in the third round of the 1982 NHL draft. He played in Lethbridge for two more seasons, winning the Del Wilson Trophy as the league’s top goaltender in 1984, before moving up to the big leagues.
The Brandon, Manitoba, native split the next two seasons between Toronto and the organization’s farm team, the St. Catharines Saints. Wregget made his debut against the Hartford Whalers during the 1983-84 campaign, capturing his first NHL win in a 48-save performance. It was Wregget’s first of three appearances that season and his playing time did nothing but increase over the next few seasons.
The goaltender appeared in 23 games for Toronto during his sophomore season and 30 during the 1985-86 season. Four years after being drafted, Wregget was finally called up for good.
Wregget finished his first full year in the NHL with a 22-28-3 record and a 3.97 goals against average in 56 games. He spent two more years with the Leafs before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers halfway through the 1988-89 season. Wregget wasn’t in Philadelphia for very long, though. A trade that brought Mark Recchi to the Flyers sent Wregget and two others to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.
The trade worked in Wregget’s favor. He served as a strong backup to goaltender Tom Barrasso, helping the Penguins win their second consecutive Stanley Cup when an injury sidelined Barrasso for part of the playoffs.
The goalie spent most of his seven years in Pittsburgh playing behind Barrasso, but always earned his fair share of ice time. Wregget’s best season came in 1994-95, when he compiled a 25-9-2 record with a 3.21 goals against average in 38 games. A .903 save percentage that season also helped Wregget lead all NHL goaltenders in wins.
Wregget made a splash the following season as well. During the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, he faced the first penalty shot ever awarded during an overtime period in playoff history. He stopped Washington Capitals star Joe Juneau, extending the fourth game of the series even further. When the Penguins finally defeated the Capitals 3-2 in the fourth overtime, it had become the third-longest game in NHL history and the longest game since 1936.
Pittsburgh kept Wregget for one more season before he went to the Calgary Flames in 1998. There, he registered a 2.53 goals against average in 27 games with the Flames, marking one of his best statistical years in the NHL. But Wregget’s time in Calgary was short. He only stayed with the Flames for one season before looking for a final place to end his career.
And Hockeytown it was.
Wregget appeared in 29 games for Scotty Bowman’s Red Wings in the 1999-00 season. Playing alongside Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Chris Chelios and behind No. 1 goalie Chris Osgood, Wregget finished his career with a 14-10-2 record and a 2.66 goals against average.
He skated in his final NHL game wearing the winged wheel on his chest, but Wregget was determined it wouldn’t be his last time in the net.
“Hockey is like a disease, you can’t really shake it,” Wregget said, a quote that has lived long after his professional hockey days.
At 37-years-old, Wregget wasn’t ready to retire. Instead, he decided to play for the Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League for the 2000-01 season. He was 11-13-4 with a 2.70 goals against average and two shutouts in 30 starts.
Then it was time.
Wregget retired after one season in the IHL and 18 seasons in the NHL, AHL and WHL. He had played in 575 NHL games, posting a record of 225-248-53 with nine shutouts, a career 3.63 goals against average and a .885 save percentage. Those accomplishments didn’t go unnoticed, as Wregget was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nothing about “Little Mikey” and his hockey career were small. And just like his hockey disease, the nickname the Lethbridge Broncos gave Wregget 30 years ago is something he’ll never be able to shake off.