When Steve Wochy broke into the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings at the start of the 1944-45 season, he’d go on to make franchise history. His 19 goals and 39 points were both club records for a rookie.
Nearly eight decades later, Wochy is on the brink of making Red Wings history yet again. The oldest-living NHL player, Wochy will be celebrating his 100th birthday on Christmas Day. Team historians believe he’ll be the first Detroit player to reach the century mark.
Wochy’s been around so long that his first NHL team, the New York Americans, no longer exists. In fact, they haven’t existed since 1942.
“I was with the New York Americans when I was 17 years old at their training camp,” Wochy told Detroit Hockey Now. “I can remember big Charlie Conacher shooting the puck from center ice. The goalie was Dave Kerr and he’d have to duck his head. Conacher had a terrific shot.”
Five years later, he’d finally get his NHL shot with the Red Wings.
ON THIS DAY in hockey history (December 25, 1922): Winger Steve Wochy was born in Fort William, Ontario. Wochy, the oldest living player in NHL history, played 54 games for the @DetroitRedWings #VintageHockey #NHL pic.twitter.com/PHJsFnrMZ4
— Vintage Hockey Showcase (@hockey_vintage) December 25, 2020
“I’d been better off if there hadn’t been the war.,” Wochy said. “I missed four years of (hockey) on account of the war years.”
Wochy was born Dec. 25, 1922 in Fort William, Ont. Fort William also no longer exists. It was amalgamated with Port Arthur in 1970 to form the city of Thunder Bay. Born Steve Wojciechowski, hockey shortened his name to Wochy. Eventually he had his name legally changed.
Making his NHL debut Oct. 29, 1944 against the Boston Bruins, Wochy didn’t figure in the scoring during Detroit’s 7-1 win. However, on Nov. 2, 1944 in Detroit’s second game of the season, it was Wochy putting in the game winner and another tally past New York Rangers goalie Ken McAuley during a 10-3 rout.
Wochy Set Red Wings Rookie Scoring Mark
He would hold the club mark for rookie scoring until Jim McFadden won the Calder Trophy with 24-24-48 totals in 1947-48.
“I had good center icemen,” Wochy accounted for his success as an NHL rookie. “I had Don Grosso from the Soo, who was very good.
“If they hadn’t traded Grosso (to Chicago during the 1944-45 season) I would’ve had a lot more. You have to have somebody you can play with and team up with. You can’t do it on your own, I don’t care who you are.”
— Patrick McGuire (@islandboy584) July 14, 2020
Wochy would play just five more NHL games with the Red Wings in 1946-47 during an 11-season pro career.
“I had a lot of good years and a lot of bad years,” Wochy said. “I had too many injuries. Broken cheekbone, broken hand, broken foot. That held me back.”
The good years included leading the AHL with 37 goals for the 1951-52 Cleveland Barons. That performance wound up earning him AHL First Team All-Star status.
Gordie Howe Was His Linemate
“I played with a lot of good players,” Wochy recalled. “I played with Gordie Howe, I played with Johnny Bower for four years (in the AHL with Cleveland) and I had a chance to play with Jacques Plante in Buffalo (also in the AHL).”
Not only did Wochy play on the same team as Mr. Hockey, the two were linemates with the USHL Omaha Knights during Howe’s rookie pro season. Howe was just 17 years old at the time, but Wochy could already see greatness blooming.
“He was good, yeah,” Wochy said of Howe. “He was fun to play with.”
How Wochy came to be teammates with Howe is a story in itself. Back in the day, it was frowned upon for players to marry in-season. Wochy opted to violate this unwritten rule, but was certain he had a caveat.
“I was playing in Indianapolis (AHL),” Wochy explained. “Jack Adams, he got mad at me because I got married in January. The reason I got married was I had a broken hand and couldn’t play.
“I was on a train trip I believe to go to Pittsburgh. (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.”
Still living on his own in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Wochy often shares his hockey knowledge with the neighborhood kids, joining them in impromptu games of ball hockey.
“The kids across the street, they’re out in the road playing hockey,” Wochy said. “One of the little girls, she’s fast and really good.”
His NHL career might’ve been brief, but his pro hockey experience has provided Wochy with a lifetime of fulfillment.
“I can’t complain,” Wochy said. “I have good memories.”