Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.
I've never been much of a hockey fan and have never collected hockey cards.
But while reading 1965 issues of The Sporting News, I found a short article that surprised me.
According to the report, in 1963-64 there was only one American skater in the NHL -- Tommy Williams of the Boston Bruins.
The league was a six-team affair that year, with two clubs representing Canada and four in the U.S. I don't know what the roster size was 50 years ago, but it probably wasn't much different than that of today (min. 20, max. 23). And, of course, there may have been more than one American on the ice in the NHL over the course of the 1963-64 season, but at one point Williams was the lone American.
The article appeared in the Oct. 9, 1965, issue of TSN, citing testimony before a Senate Monopoly Subcommittee in Washington on Jan. 31, 1964. The testimony came from NHL President Clarence S. Campbell.
Campbell told the solons that only four of the then-26 teams in professional hockey in North America were located in Canada. The NHL had Montreal and Toronto. Vancouver was in the Western Hockey League and Quebec played in the American Hockey League. The NHL prexy told Congress only 10-15 Americans were playing in the WHL, AHL and CIHL at the time. He also estimated there were about 185,000 Canadians playing in leagues across Canada.
Today the NHL comprises 30 teams, with seven of them based in Canada. Recent numbers show that U.S.-born skaters account for about 22% of NHL players. Canadians, of course, dominate the league with more than 51%. Native Swedes account for nearly 9% of NHL rosters and Russians number just about 4%.
Tommy Williams, who was born in Duluth, Minn., had a long career in major league hockey.
In the 1960 winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, he scored 10 points for the U.S. team that won all seven of its games and the gold medal.
He joined the NHL in 1961-62 with Boston, and remained with the Bruins through the 1968-69 season. He spent a season and a half each with the Minneapolis North Stars and California Golden Seals between 1969-72. From 1972-74 he was in the World Hockey Association with the New England Whalers. He closed out his career back n the NHL with the Washington Capitals, 1974-76.
Williams was only 51 when he died in 1992.