Who is the greatest Western New York born hockey player? It’s a simple question, but one that doesn’t lend itself to an obvious answer…at least not yet. The area has represented itself well over the years, with 31 WNY born players appearing in NHL games in the post-expansion NHL. And we’re not talking fringe WNY cities here either, I’ve limited this list to the core regions that make up this unique slice of Americana, from Rochester down through the Southern Tier and up to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Also, to qualify players must have been born in a certified (by me) WNY city. This means Brooks Orpik, who was born in California but raised in Western New York, is disqualified. Sorry Brooks, but you weren’t going to top this list anyway.
Lets get down to the numbers. The only legitimate flaw in this roster is the dearth of goaltenders. There have only been three goaltenders from the area to appear in NHL games, and they’ve combined for only 13 appearances. The most decorated of the bunch is Kenmore native Tom Askey, who registered a loss and two ties in his 7 appearances with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1997. Askey also racked up over 100 AHL wins, and started games in the Finnish, Swiss, and Italian leagues.
Continuing out from the net the resumes are much more impressive. There have been 11 WNY born defenseman in the NHL, six of which have appeared in more than 100 games. This list includes John Brownschidle, Rory Fitzpatrick, Brian Glynn, Michael Lalor, Aaron Miller, and Peter Scamurra. Though he was a bit of a journeyman, playing for 6 different teams and 687 career games, Buffalo born Michael Lalor has his name etched on the Stanley Cup along with the rest of the 1986 Montreal Canadiens. John Brownschidle racked up over 200 points while appearing in nearly 500 games for St. Louis and Hartford, and Rochester born Rory Fitzpatrick logged nearly 300 contests including 157 games for the Buffalo Sabres. Though Fitzpatrick is mostly remembered by Sabres fans for failing to clear a loose puck that led to a game 7 loss in the conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. Aaron Miller has also had a noteworthy career from humble beginnings out of Buffalo, appearing in 677 regular season games, and 80 playoff games. Miller earned a silver medal for team USA in the 2002 Olympics, and a bronze in the 2004 World Championships. Aaron was on the Colorado Avalanche during their Stanley Cup winning season in 1995/96 but did not appear in enough games to with the big club to earn a ring.
The forward ranks are where the sons of Western New York have really shined. With nine players having appeared in over 100 NHL games up front, and some promising young talent entering their prime. The ironman of the group is retired center Todd Marchant, who accrued 1195
regular season NHL contests, and 498 points. Marchant played for 4 clubs and won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim. The Buffalo grinder had his career best season in 2002 when he scored 20 goals and added 40 assists for the Edmonton Oilers. Other WNY luminaries include Ryan Callahan, Lee Stempniak, Marty Reasoner, Patrick Kane, Nick Foligno, and Brian Gionta. The Buffalo Sabres have had a history of employing local talent, include active Sabres Patrick Kaleta (267gp) and Marcus Foligno (14gp), as well as Tim Kennedy (112gp) and Derek Whitmore who appeared in 2 games for Buffalo last season.
So who among this list of forwards stands ahead of the pack? Well the three active forwards that really stand out amongst their WNY and NHL peers are Patrick Kane, Ryan Callahan, and Brian Gionta. At only 24 years of age Kane has quite an accomplished career thus far, having won a gold medal in the U18 World Championships, a bronze medal in the World Junior Championships in 2007, a silver medal in the 2010 Olympics, and a Stanley Cup in 2009/10 with the Chicago Blackhawks. Kane has been named an NHL all-star and has a .92 points per game average in 399 regular season NHL games.
Though few would argue against Kane’s skill, WNY is a blue collar region and few players exemplify the work ethic of the people like Ryan Callahan. Callahan was named captain of the New York Rangers in 2011, and at age 26 became the fifth youngest captain in team history. Ryan was also a part of the 2010 silver medal winning team USA alongside Patrick Kane, and was named to the NHL all rookie team in 2006. Callahan has good finishing ability, and has racked up 198 points in his young NHL career, but he is best known for his defensive prowess. Ryan frequently draws the unenviable task of having to shut down the opposing team’s top offensive players, and in most cases Callahan gets the better of the match-up. Ryan is also coming off his career best season in terms of goals with 29 in the 2011 season.
While the younger generation of Western New York stars will someday reign supreme, the most accomplished career belongs to that of the diminutive veteran Brian Gionta. In over 600 regular season tilts, Brian has totaled 217 goals, and 419 points. His 48 goals and 89 points in the 2005 campaign with the Devils are the single season highs for goals and points by a WNY born player. The 48 goals he registered in that season is also the Devils single season franchise record, he also holds the record for most power-play goals in a season with 24 for NJ. Gionta won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2002/03, and has over 30 international games under his belt for Team USA. Like Callahan, Brian is the embodiment of the persevering nature that WNY residents take such pride in. At only 5 foot 7 Gionta has always played the game with an extra edge, a chip on his shoulder that has allowed him to be successful against much bigger and stronger opponents. The pride of Rochester NY is now the Captain of the Montreal Canadiens, the first American born captain since Chris Chelios was co-captain in the 1989/90 season. For my money Brian is the greatest star WNY has produced at the NHL level. Who do you think is the greatest WNY hockey player? Leave your comments below.
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