Now that you’re familiar with the bushels of professional athletes who were either born in Saratoga Springs or the Capital Region (or have close ties to the area)—and who have excelled at the highest level of baseball, football and basketball—it’s time to get to know the final grouping in our four-sport series. Call it the “icing” on the cake.
Yes, we’ve decided to count down all* of the greats on skates that made it to the National Hockey League (NHL), who either hail from or have ties to Saratoga and the Capital Region.
Now, there’s a reason why we asterisked that “all” in the previous paragraph. This list got pretty unruly, pretty quickly. The sheer amount of players who have competed for the region’s many amateur hockey teams, past and present, was nothing short of overwhelming. If we had stuck with the methodology of our three previous lists, we would’ve had to go through and, er, cross-check every single player in every single starting lineup for every single year on every single team, like the Albany River Rats and Adirondack Red Wings. And we actually started to execute that laborious process…but a few things quickly became clear: (a) 99.9 percent of the players weren’t actually from Saratoga or the Capital Region; (b) we didn’t want to flood this list with random players just to fill up space; and (c) a lot of these guys didn’t have hockey cards to collect. Oh, right, by the way, we’re also offering you the ability to figure out how to put together a master card collection of all of the players you find on this list.
So we settled on an even 30. If there are any egregious oversights, feel free to send us to the journalistic penalty box. Or kindly suggest an addition once this story gets posted to our social media. Until then, Happy 2021-22 NHL season!
Keith Aucoin* (Albany)
Aucoin, a center, got his start with the Carolina Hurricanes as an undrafted free agent during the 2005-06 season, spending the next two seasons back and forth between the NHL club and their Albany affiliate (the River Rats started off as an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, changing affiliation in 2006-07). He’d go on to play for the Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues, logging 17 career goals, two of which were game-winners. You can track down Aucoin’s rookie card in most of the 2005-06 sets for $2-$5.
Dick Bittner* (Troy)
Bittner makes it on our list because of his turn as the net-minder for the short-lived Troy Uncle Sam Trojans, which played a single season in the Collar City as part of the Eastern Hockey League in 1952-53. Bittner also had himself a toadstool-short NHL career, playing just a single game for the Boston Bruins in 1950. For obvious reasons, Bittner never made it onto any cardboard, but we’re sure his one day on the ice was a memorable one for him and his family.
Rich Brennan (Schenectady)
Born in Schenectady, Brennan was taken in the third round of the 1991 NHL Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, but chose instead to go to college, playing for Boston University and earning a degree. The defenseman eventually made his NHL debut with the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996-97 season, and played games for the San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and finally, the Boston Bruins. Brennan appears, as part of the World Junior Tournament, in the 1991-92 Upper Deck hockey set ($0.50), and you can also find him in the 1997-98 Pinnacle Be a Player set, in which he autographed a limited number of cards ($3-$6).
Steve Brûlé* (Albany)
Back when the River Rats were the New Jersey Devils’ affiliate, you might have remembered watching right-winger Brûlé star for the team. He was there during the Rats’ Calder Cup–winning season in 1994-95. He only got to suit up for two official NHL games, both with the Avalanche in the 2002-03 season. As luck would have it—and because hockey card companies often feature players long before they make their NHL debut—Brûlé appears, donning a Devils uniform, in the 2000-01 SPx set ($3-$6). A gold parallel version of the same card will put you back about $30-$40.
Sergei Brylin* (Albany)
Brylin, who was born behind the Iron Curtain in Moscow, was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 1992. He wound up playing all of his 13 NHL seasons for the Devils, though he’d do a number of stints throughout the ’90s for the River Rats. Putting together a 765-game NHL career, Brylin won a whopping three Stanley Cup rings with the team, and now serves as an assistant coach for the Utica Comets. Brylin’s first cards started appearing in the overproduced ’90s, with a pre-rookie in the 1992-93 Classic Four Sport set ($1-$2), as well as rookies in the 1993-94 Pinnacle ($1-$2) and 1993-94 Upper Deck ($1-$2) sets.
Peter Ciavaglia (Albany)
Born in Albany but raised in Buffalo, Ciavaglia was drafted in 1987 by the Calgary Flames, but didn’t sign with the team, instead going on to play four years with Harvard University and getting an Ivy League education. (Can you blame him?) Ciavaglia would finally make his NHL debut during the 1991-92 season with the Buffalo Sabres, playing just five additional games. He can be found in the 1992 Classic Four Sport set in Rochester Americans jersey ($0.50) or the 1993-94 Score set, donning a Sabres one ($0.50-$1).
Craig Darby* (Saratoga)
We’ll put Darby on this list, because he was a one-time resident of the Spa City, though he was born in Oneida and raised in Colonie. Taken in the second round by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1991 NHL Draft, Darby went on to put together a nine-year NHL career, which saw him lace up for two turns with the Canadiens, as well as the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. In all, he played in 196 NHL games, scoring 21 goals (two of which were game-winners) and racking up 35 assists. Darby’s cards are fairly plentiful, with his first ones appearing in the 1994-95 sets. His Upper Deck rookie will put you back $1-$3, while his Classic rookie will put you back about the same (Darby also signed 1,915 of that card, which can be found for about $3-$5).
Bill Dineen* (Glens Falls)
Best known in Upstate New York as the coach of the Adirondack Red Wings for the majority of the ’80s, Dineen actually got his start playing for the eponymous Detroit-based NHL franchise during the ’50s, ending his career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1957-58. (The right-winger scored a respectable 51 goals and had 44 assists.) Dineen led Adirondack to American Hockey League (AHL) championships in 1985-86 and 1988-89. Since Dineen had a relatively productive NHL career, he also has quite a few vintage pieces of cardboard to his name, including cards in the 1953 Parkhurst ($50-$60), 1954-55 Parkhurst ($10-$20) and 1954-55 Topps ($40-$50) sets.
Mike Dunham* (Albany)
A mainstay behind the crease in the ’90s for the Albany River Rats, Dunham ended up seeing NHL playing time over a decade-long run, in which he played for the Devils, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders. Playing just under 400 NHL games, Dunham had a lopsided win-loss record of 141-178 (with 44 ties) but that didn’t seem to matter to his last team, the Islanders, who hired him as their goaltending coach in 2007. He’s since moved on to the Bruins, where he serves as the goalie development coach. Dunham’s cards are plentiful, so it’s worth sticking with his best issues. Pick up his rookie card in the 1991-92 Upper Deck set ($1-$2) or for a little more bang for your buck, grab his 2002-03 Upper Deck Rookie Update Dignified jersey gold card, serial numbered out of 125, for $10-$15.
Patrik Eliáš* (Albany)
One of the most talented hockey players on this list, the Czechoslovakia native Eliáš put together a stellar 20-year NHL career, which saw him rack up enough stats to make him the Devils’ all-time leader for goals, assists and points. (He being one of the rare NHLers who played for just a single team throughout his entire career.) However, Eliáš made it on the list for his sporadic turns with the Albany River Rats, where he was clearly able to develop into a star player: He laced up for 74 games with the Rats during the 1995-96 season, scoring 27 goals and logging 36 assists, while helping the team go 16-5-1 through their initial 22 games (their 54-19-7 record was the best in the entire AHL). Because of Eliáš’ record-breaking statline and two-decade-long career, he has a number of different cards to choose from. You can find his rookies in the 1997-98 issues, including Pinnacle Zenith ($2-$3), SP Authentic ($10-$15) and Upper Deck Black Diamond ($4-$5). Want to make a little more of an investment? Try tracking down his 1997-98 SP Authentic Future Watch, graded 9.5 out of 10, for $350.
Jody Gage* (Glens Falls)
If you grew up watching the Adirondack Red Wings in the ’80s, you’ll remember Gage’s big year in 1981, when he helped the team win a Calder Cup championship. (He had been drafted by the NHL club in the ’79 draft.) The right-winger went on to suit up for 50 NHL games in total, between Detroit and Buffalo, his last game coming in the 1991-92 season. Gage never made it onto official NHL cardboard, but you can find his visage in the 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1991-92 ProCards AHL sets ($2-$5).
Christian Hanson (Glens Falls)
A Glens Falls native, Christian Hanson put together a three-year NHL career as a center, playing for Toronto. Though he wound up in just 42 games, Hanson managed to score three goals and log six assists. Fun fact: Hanson’s dad, David, starred as one of the scene-stealing Hanson Brothers in the classic Paul Newman hockey movie, Slap Shot. Those 40-plus games turned out to be enough to get the younger Hanson on a hockey card, as he has a number of cards to his name. You can pick up his rookie card in the 2009-10 Upper Deck set ($2-$3) or 2009-10 Fleer Ultra set ($2-$3). For a few more clams, try tracking down his 2009-10 Upper Deck Black Diamond gold card, serial numbered out of 10, for $80-$90.
Guy Hebert (Troy)
Goaltender Guy Hebert, who pronounces his name Ghee Ay-bear, like a Canadian would, was born and raised in Troy and attended the La Salle Institute there. Hebert went on to be drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1987 NHL Draft, though he was a sophomore at Hamilton College at the time and opted to finish his college career. He ended up getting his NHL call-up with the Blues in 1991-92 and playing the next season there, before being drafted with the first pick by the expansion Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1993-94, a team he’d spend the majority of his career playing for (he wound up playing his last NHL games with the hometown New York Rangers). In 491 career games, Hebert logged 191 wins behind the crease, 28 of which were shutouts. He’s still in the game, nowadays serving as an in-game analyst for the Ducks. Hebert appears in most of the 1992-93 hockey series, but I’d suggest going for the gold with his 1992-93 Bowman rookie card, which can be found for $1-$2. It’s a beaut!
Greg Joly* (Glens Falls)
A highly touted defenseman in his day, Joly was drafted by the Washington Capitals with the first pick in the first round of the 1974 NHL Amateur draft, putting in time with the home club from 1974-76, before landing with the Red Wings franchise. From there, he spent the entirety of the ’80s either with Adirondack or Detroit, ending his career having played 365 games and scoring 21 goals, with 76 assists. While Joly has a handful of official NHL cards to his name, we’d suggest tracking down his 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee rookie card, with Joly in a Capitals uniform, which can be found for $2-$5 (O-Pee-Chee was basically the Topps affiliate in Canada, and its cards are known for being extremely difficult to find in good condition). His first card as a Red Wing appears in the 1979-80 Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets—the same set that features the most valuable (graded) hockey card of all time, Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card (Joly’s card can be found, ungraded, for about $2-$3, while Gretzky’s gem-mint 10 graded card was sold back in December for $1.29 million!).
Michael Leighton* (Albany)
Locals will remember net-minder Leighton when he was up and down between the River Rats and Carolina during the 2008-09 season. He’ll best be remembered in Albany that season for making a record 98 saves on 101 shots in a single game, which went into a record quintuple overtime. Originally drafted by the Blackhawks in 1999, Leighton would end up playing in 110 NHL games for teams like the ‘hawks, Predators and Philadelphia Flyers. Leighton has a number of cards to his name, including his 2002-03 Upper Deck card, which goes for $2-$3. If you want something a little more memorable, in 2012, Panini put out a card, limited to just 50 copies, featuring Leighton as a Flyer, with a piece of game-worn jersey affixed to it ($10-$20).
Brian Lashoff (East Greenbush)
Born in East Greenbush, Lashoff went undrafted in 2009, eventually making his way into the Red Wings organization, where the defenseman has played 136 games from 2012 through 2020. (He’s currently with the Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffiths.) Lashoff’s cards stared appearing in the 2013-14 series, and you can find most of his cards for about $2-$5. Panini, which is one of the only card companies to own an NHL license, also produced a number of higher-end cards featuring Lashoff. His 2013-14 Panini Dominion Mammoth rookie patch card, which is limited to just 10 copies and features a sizable swatch of game-used jersey on the card, can be had for $100-$120.
Jay Leach* (Albany)
Drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes in the 1998 NHL Draft but not making his NHL debut ’til the early aughts, Leach will be best known to local audiences for his multiple, late-career turns with the Albany Devils, where he served as the team’s captain for a spell. Leach wound up playing a respectable 70 total NHL games, not only for the Devils (he did two campaigns there), but also the Bruins, Lightning, Canadiens and Sharks. Because Leach didn’t make it into an NHL game until the 2000s, you’ll have to search the 2005-06 series for his official rookie card. But not to fear; his cards are all super affordable. Grab his 2005-06 Upper Deck Rookie Update or Fleer Hot Prospects cards for about $2-$4.
Norm Maracle* (Glens Falls)
Goaltender Maracle—just a single vowel-swap away from the greatest last name in hockey history (though “miracle” did serve as his nickname)—starred for the Adirondack Red Wings in the mid-’90s, eventually playing 20 games over two seasons for Detroit, as well as winning a Stanley Cup ring in 1997-98, despite not playing during the finals (he’d end up playing in two playoff games the following season). He ended his career with the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in the early aughts. Maracle’s cards started appearing in the 1998-99 series, and you can find most of them for $3-$5.
Wayne Maxner* (Glens Falls)
Maxner coached for the Adirondack Red Wings during the 1980-81 season, going 9-10-1, before being promoted to coach the NHL club that same season. He would be with Detroit through ’82. Maxner also played 61 total games as a player in the mid-’60s for the Boston Bruins. Maxner appears on choice few cards, none celebrating his days as a player or featuring him in coaching/playing in the NHL. Maxner’s lone issues appear in the 1989-90 and 1991-92 7th Inning Sketch series, produced for the OHL.
Barry Melrose* (Glens Falls)
Most people will know Melrose as the Canadian-accented, mullet-wearing ESPN hockey analyst, but he is best known as having coached the 1993-94 LA Kings team to the Stanley Cup Final (they lost to the Montreal Canadiens). But upstaters will also remember his turn in 1986-87 as a player with the Adirondack Red Wings, his last year as a pro. A defenseman, Melrose wound up playing 10 years in the NHL, splitting his time between the Cincinnati Stingers (a World Hockey League team left out of the merger with the NHL), Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. Given Melrose’s record as a player, coach and TV analyst, his cards have steadily risen in value over the years. His first card appears in the impossibly expensive 1979-80 Topps/O-Pee-Chee set—the same one that features Wayne Gretzky’s rookie card—and it can be found for $10-$20. A graded version of the O-Pee-Chee card, 9 out of 10, is selling on eBay for $400.
Glenn Merkosky* (Glens Falls)
If you were a fan of the Adirondack Red Wings in the ’80s and ’90s, you’ll likely remember center Merkosky, who did stints with the team during the 1985-86, 1986-87, 1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons, occasionally getting a plane ticket to Detroit. Over a five-year NHL career, Merkosky also laced up for the bygone Hartford Whalers and New Jersey Devils. Though Merkosky never did get an official NHL card, he can be found in the 1988-89, 1989-90, 1990-91 and 1991-82 ProSet AHL sets ($2-$3).
Bill Moe* (Troy)
One of the earliest professional hockey players on this list, Moe made this list for finishing off his career as a Troy Uncle Sam Trojan during the team’s ill-dated single season in the EHL. Moe, who starred in the 1940s, played five years in the NHL, all for the New York Rangers. Though Moe never made it on an official hockey card, he did wind up in the obscure 1944-64 Beehive Corn Syrup photo set ($20-$30).
Matt Murley (Troy)
Murley grew up in Troy and went to RPI, where he played hockey for four years. He was eventually taken in the second round of the 1999 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Murley did time with the home club, as well as the Phoenix Coyotes, over a three-year NHL career—and even threw in a full season with the hometown Albany River Rats in 2006-07, for good measure. (At the time, the River Rats were the affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche.) Thankfully, Murley made it onto a handful of cards, including the 2003-04 Pacific Private Stock Reserve set ($1-$2), 2003-04 Upper Deck ($3-$5) and 2003-04 Topps Traded ($1-$2).
Dennis Polonich* (Glens Falls)
Though Polonich is not a local, he earned the status in the early ’80s, helping the Adirondack Red Wings get a pair of playoff berths during his five seasons with the team. That, and he was on the 1980-81 Calder Cup–winning team. Polonich, who was originally drafted as a center/right-winger by Detroit in the 1973 NHL Amateur draft, ended up amassing a respectable 390 games on the ice in NHL games over an eight-year career, scoring 59 goals (he played his entire career with Detroit). Polonich figures in nicely in the late ’70s and early ’80s Topps/O-Pee-Chee series, with his rookie card appearing in the 1977-78 Topps set ($1-$2).
Keith Primeau* (Glens Falls)
Primeau, a highly touted rookie who was taken by Detroit with the third overall pick in 1990, put together a 909-game, concussion-shortened NHL career, which also involved early stints with the Adirondack Red Wings (1990-91, 1991-92). (Notably, Primeau’s second season with Adirondack saw him rack up 21 goals and 24 assists.) Primeau also made a single appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals with the home club in ’95, only to be swept by the Devils. Besides Detroit, Primeau played for the Whalers/Hurricanes, before ending his career as a Flyer. A physical player, Primeau revealed in 2009 that he would be donating his brain to research, whenever his day eventually came. Given Primeau’s status coming into hockey, all of the major card companies had a field day with him in 1990-91, mass-producing his cards. You can find his rookie cards in that year’s Pro Set, O-Pee-Chee Premier, Topps, Stadium Club, Score and Upper Deck sets for $1-$2, and there’s a rather brisk market for his graded and autographed cards for that year, which sell in the $20-$50. Want to get a little more bang for your buck? His 1997-98 Pinnacle Totally Certified Platinum Mirror Gold card, limited to just 30 copies, is selling on eBay for $400-$500.
Bob Probert* (Glens Falls)
Best known for his on-ice fisticuffs, Probert, who amassed more than 3,000 minutes in the penalty box over a 17-year career, did two turns with the Adirondack Red Wings in the mid-’80s. (You can find several of his early fights as a Red Wing on YouTube—like this rather bloody one.) Sadly, Probert died at the age of just 45 in 2010. His family donated his brain to science, and researchers found evidence of CTE in it. You can find Probert’s cards throughout the ’80s and ’90s, but his best one is the 1988-89 Topps or O-Pee-Chee, which you can find on eBay for $5-$10.
Dave Reece (Troy)
Troy native Reece, a goalie, played just a single season in the NHL, as a member of the Boston Bruins in 1975-76, and will likely be remembered best for that single atrocious appearance, in which he let 11 goals slip past the crease, including six goals and four assists to center Darryl Sittler, against the Maple Leafs. It would mark his last game as a Bruin, though he’d play a number of seasons in the AHL afterwards. After hanging up his skates, Reece became a high school guidance counselor, and he used his moment of failure to help cheer up his students. “You make them laugh about their own failures,” he told the Toronto Sun in 2016. “I’ve screwed up, I’ve been on the bottom. But you don’t pick up a [crying towel], you pick up a shovel and get back at it.” Unfortunately, Reece never made it onto a hockey card. But he did make a damned good guidance counselor.
Peter Sidorkiewicz* (Albany)
Originally drafted by the Washington Capitals in 1981, goalie Sidorkiewicz put together an eight-year NHL career, splitting his time between the Hartford Whalers, Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, the latter of which sent him down to its AHL affiliate River Rats throughout the ’90s. (With the expansion Senators, he lost a staggering 46 games, with 250 goals scored against him, both divisional nadirs.) Sidorkiewicz’s cards can be found throughout the late ’80s and ’90s, but his rookie card can be found in the 1988-89 Topps or O-Pee-Chee sets for an affordable $1-$2.
Mike Sillinger* (Glens Falls)
Taken with the 11th overall pick in the 1989 NHL Draft, Sillinger put together a 25-year career in the NHL, playing for 12 different teams and being traded nine times, both league records. Adirondack Red Wings’ fans will remember Sillinger for his turn with the team in 1991-92, when he was part of its Calder Cup–winning squad. (He’d do two other turns with the team.) You can find Sillinger’s rookie card in the 1990-91 Upper Deck and O-Pee-Chee sets ($1-$2). Warning: Given the sheer amount of teams Sillinger played for during his career, just trying to put together a complete set of his cards could take you an entire lifetime. But the thrill is in the hunt, no?
Petr Sykora* (Albany)
A two-time Stanley Cup champ, who has played in six finals with the Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins, Sykora will be best known to local audiences for his turns with the Albany River Rats during the ’90s. In all, Sykora put together a 15-year NHL career, which saw him appear in more than 1,000 games (he scored 323 goals and logged 398 assists). Aside from the Devils and Penguins, Sykora also saw time on the ice for Mighty Ducks, Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Minnesota Wild. Sykora’s rookie cards can be found in most of the 1995-96 series, including Upper Deck SP ($2-$3), Upper Deck ($1-$2) and Bowman ($1-$2). Want to rob yourself a pricey Petr? See if you can find his 1995-96 Select Certified gold parallel card, which is selling on eBay in gem-mint condition for about $80.