Robert MacLeod

Meet the NHL's one-goal wonders

The Globe and Mail

Tim Armstrong, at his Keswick, Ont., home, well remembers his first and only NHL goal, New Years Eve, 1988. The Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he scored his lone marker, later charged him $100 to keep his No. 8 sweater. (PETER POWER/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

The list of one-goal wonders is a fairly select group when you consider in the history of the NHL, which dates to 1917, close to 5,000 individuals have been responsible for 304,358 regular-season goals scored heading into this season.

Most have heard of the superstars whose names populate the top of that list – headed by Mr. Prolific himself, Wayne Gretzky, whose 894 goals over a 20-year NHL career will likely never be eclipsed.

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While Gretzky has likely forgotten the details of many of his offensive exploits, the same cannot be said of the group that resides at the other end of the scoring spectrum: those who concluded their NHL careers with just a solitary goal to their credit.

Heading into the 2013-14 season, that club numbers more than 460 players and covers 16 pages of the career scoring list that can be found on NHL.com.

Its members include Art Ross, whose name adorns the trophy that is presented each season to the player who leads the league in scoring. It is a curious honour when you consider Ross only tallied one NHL goal, making his mark in the game as one of hockey’s first rushing defencemen before the NHL was officially formed.

Talk to a player who has scored just one NHL goal and they will invariably tell you they have the puck on public display and they can provide vivid detail about the moment.

While others will try to play down the accomplishment, they only need to be reminded they are at least better off than the 1,300 or so other players who have played in the NHL and did not register one goal.

Of course, it could be mentioned there are 14 goaltenders who have also scored goals in the NHL, with two – Ron Hextall and Martin Brodeur – having two to their credit. But that would be splitting hairs.

Here are the recollections of six individuals who were gifted enough to play in the NHL, and skated off with just one career goal.

Tim Armstrong

After a stellar junior career in the OHL, in which he scored 81 goals over a three-year span for a mostly sub-par Toronto Marlboros outfit, Tim Armstrong’s reward was to graduate into the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were even worse.

The Leafs were so dysfunctional in 1988-89, they could not even get it together to appoint a team captain. They traded scoring winger Russ Courtnall for enforcer John Kordic and finished 19th out of 21 teams, with a putrid 28-48-6 record.

Armstrong was privy to the circus-like atmosphere, playing in 11 games in his one and only stint in the NHL. At the end of the year, when Armstrong asked if he could have his No. 8 jersey as a memento, the Leafs charged him $100 for the privilege.

Still, it was a thrilling time for Armstrong, a hometown boy who scored his lone NHL goal in his home-ice debut at Maple Leaf Gardens on New Year’s Eve, 1988, against the Quebec Nordiques.

Armstrong won a neutral-zone faceoff against rookie Joe Sakic (who would go on to score 625 regular-season goals and a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame) and the play wound into the Quebec end, where Armstrong settled into the slot. A pass from Derek Laxdal was sent his way “and I just one-time it past [goaltender] Mario Gosselin,” Armstrong recalled.

The goal, at 16 minutes 25 seconds of the third period, was the final tally in a 6-1 Leafs victory that helped earn Armstrong a third-star selection and a postgame interview on the Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. He still has a tape of the game for posterity.

Three years later, Armstrong was out of the game, retiring after finishing the 1990-91 season in the AHL.

“It’s nice to be able to say you’ve scored at the NHL level,” said Armstrong, 46, who now lives in Keswick, Ont., and is the Canadian sales manager for equipment maker Cleveland Golf. “Sometimes, you make fun of yourself because you only played 11 games or whatever and certainly nobody ever remembers you.

“Most people, when you’re quick to joke about yourself, will point out not many even had the chance to play at that level and it’s still a great accomplishment. So they try to make you feel better that way.”

Armstrong said he still has the puck, although these days it is mostly collecting dust in his garage near the tool bench. “In the last move that’s sort of where it ended up,” he said.

Darren Lowe

Now in his 19th season as head coach of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues men’s hockey program, Darren Lowe has a standing one-liner about his brief eight-game NHL sojourn: “I’m the reason why Mario Lemieux ever got to Pittsburgh.”

It was the 1983-84 NHL season that Lowe, fresh off playing for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, got his shot in the NHL, signing as a free agent with the awful Pittsburgh Penguins, who would struggle to win just 16 games that season.

Pittsburgh’s reward for finishing with the NHL’s worst record was the top pick in the draft, where Lemieux was the undisputed prize catch. Lemieux and his Hall of Fame career likely saved the franchise.

Lowe was a speedy forward who never had trouble putting the puck in the net during his amateur days and in the minor leagues, but he was becoming frustrated at his failure to score through his first seven NHL games.

Those frustrations ended in his eighth, March, 13, 1984, in Vancouver against the Canucks, when Lowe hit the twine at the 15:36 mark of the first period that cut a Canucks lead to 2-1.

“As I would tell my kids, ‘I went through the whole team and scored,’” Lowe said. “But I really just came out of the corner, beat a defenceman, and slid the puck along the ice and it went into the net.”

Lowe would add an assist on a goal by Ron Flockhart in the second period, but Vancouver wound up winning, 4-3.

His reward for his two-point effort was he never skated again in the NHL.

Lowe was cut soon after and would eventually wind up playing pro in Austria and Finland for a couple of years before he returned to North America to wind down his pro career, which concluded following the 1990-91 season toiling for the San Diego Gulls of the IHL.

Lowe will attempt to play down the personal importance of his lone NHL goal. But, in the next breath, he will admit he has had the souvenir puck remounted on a plaque on three occasions since it was given to him. It is now on display in the basement of his home.

“People ask me, ‘That’s got to be the highlight of your playing career,’” Lowe said.

“I don’t know. It’s big because not very many people get to score an NHL goal. But not many people get to score a goal in the Olympics, and I did that, too.”

Dean Morton

Goal scoring was never Dean Morton’s forte, not that he had much of a chance to prove it in the NHL.

Morton, now 45, is one of just three non-active players in NHL history to hold the dubious distinction of scoring just one NHL goal while playing in just one NHL game.

The Peterborough, Ont., native was known more as a scrapper than a finesse player, which perhaps blended nicely into his current line of work as an NHL referee.

“I don’t think about it too often any more,” Morton said of his singular moment of goal-scoring glory. “Every once in a while, I’ll reflect back on it. Or if I’m working in a game where some rookie gets his first goal, I’ll skate over to the kid and say, ‘Been there, done that.’”

After helping Adirondack win the Calder Cup in 1989 in IHL, Morton made the roster of the Detroit Red Wings out of training camp for the start of the 1989-90 NHL season.

It was a short stint.

The Red Wings opened the regular season in Calgary on Oct. 5, against the defending champion Flames, who had built a 3-0 lead before the game was 12 minutes old.

That is when Morton, a defenceman, managed to break through, his one-timer from the point hugging the ice and sliding past a screened Mike Vernon. It was a wild game the Flames won 10-7.

“When a grinder like myself scores the first goal of the season in a game you lose 10-7, which is essentially a lacrosse score, you know you’re in trouble,” Morton said.

Morton’s premonition was accurate, as he would never play another second in the NHL.

He was a healthy scratch for the next two games, along with Borje Salming, the former Leafs great who was winding down his career with the Red Wings.

“I was the guy who went for the beer and hot dogs after the game started,” Morton said.

Soon after, he was dispatched back to the IHL and he bounced around in the minors for the next four years, before turning to refereeing. He worked in his first NHL game as an official in 2000.

He said he still has the puck from his NHL goal, framed and in his basement.

“It took me a lot of years to get over the fact that I wasn’t going back to the NHL,” he said. “I was more embarrassed by it than anything else. You’re almost there I would think to myself.

“Today, I look at it, I was there.”

Brad Fast

Another member of this exclusive club is defenceman Brad Fast – only you can add an asterisk beside his singular scoring effort.

A native of Fort St. John, B.C., Fast was called up by the Carolina Hurricanes on April 4, 2000, to play in the final game of the regular season against the Florida Panthers.

Taking a feed from Rod Brind’Amour on a 2-on-2 rush, Fast snapped a shot high over the shoulder of goaltender Roberto Luongo from the top of the circle at the 17:34 mark of the third period to knot the score 6-6, which turned out to be the final result.

As the league went to shootouts for the 2005-06 season (2004-05 was lost due to the lockout) Fast’s goal was the last that resulted in a tie game being played in the NHL.

After playing minor hockey in B.C., Fast accepted a scholarship and played four years in the NCAA with the Michigan State Spartans from 1999-00 to 2002-03.

He was a participant in the Cold War hockey game that was played outdoors at Spartan Stadium between Michigan State and fierce rival University of Michigan in 2001, which attracted more than 74,000 fans.

In spite of it all, Fast will point to that one game with Carolina as being his defining moment as a hockey player. He still has the puck, hanging on his basement wall, and the memory has not faded with time.

“Playing in the NHL is the ultimate goal of pretty much any hockey player,” he said. “And to be honest, that day was the best day of my hockey life. It was awesome.

“I had a lot of fun, I accomplished a dream. I wish I would have kept going, but it was what it was and I got to play in one game. It is kind of what you prepare for your whole life, hockey-wise.”

After playing the final three years of his pro career for Anyang Halla of Asia League Ice Hockey, Fast retired in 2011. He returned to Michigan, where he now operates a hockey school, Elevation Hockey, in East Lansing.

Don Spring

Don Spring was a hockey success story, solid proof you don’t have to put up gaudy offensive numbers to have an impact on the game.

By the end of the 2012-13 season, there were a total of 463 players on the NHL career scoring list with but one NHL goal to their credit. Of those players, nobody logged more games than Spring, a rangy defenceman who clocked 259 contests in four seasons with the Winnipeg Jets (1980-81 to 1983-84).

Spring, now 54 and president of Spring Fuel Distributors Inc. in Kelowna, B.C., was ambivalent when asked if maybe too much emphasis is placed on the offensive aspect of the game.

“It’s a big thing,” he said. “You grow up watching the NHL and thinking about playing. I don’t know. I guess maybe as a goal scorer, if you’re a natural goal scorer and it was expected it was a big thing.

“My role was, obviously, chip in offensively if I had the opportunity. But my role wasn’t to be a big offensive guy.”

And Spring lived up to that role, potting his only goal late in his first year with the Jets, at home in a game against the Los Angeles Kings on March 22, 1981. The Kings won the game, 7-5.

“Not a clue,” Spring responded when asked if he could recall the date of his offensive milestone, but he did recall some of the details.

“Just a wrist shot or a snap shot coming in off the left side boards,” Spring said of his first-period marker.

Spring remembered the goal came against Jim Rutherford – not bad considering the goaltender only played in three games for the Kings that season.

Although he has the puck on display in his house, it is part of a larger collection of hockey memories that includes artifacts from when Spring was anchoring the blueline as a member of the University of Alberta Golden Bears, who won back-to-back Canadian university championships (1978 and 1979).

That led to a two-year stint with Canada’s national team and representing his country at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

So while the lone NHL goal was a highlight, Spring said it was not the most exciting aspect of his pro career.

Gary Yaremchuk

Gary Yaremchuk was a junior hot-shot, lighting up the WHL in his final year with the Portland Winter Hawks – 56 goals, 79 assists during the 1980-81 campaign.

That prompted the Maple Leafs to take the Edmonton native in the second round (24th overall) in the 1981 entry draft.

And then, the well went dry.

Over parts of the next four seasons, playing sporadically for the Leafs, Yaremchuk couldn’t buy a goal and it resulted in him ultimately only playing in 34 games before his NHL career was done.

Speaking over the phone from Edmonton, where Yaremchuk now works for a publishing company, he speaks good-naturedly about his struggles in the NHL. But you can detect a lingering sense of bitterness about it all.

“I’ve got no regrets, really,” the 52-year-old said. “All the problems were basically with myself, confidence when I got to the NHL. I had none.

“Everywhere else, I had it. Once I was there, for some reason, it wasn’t there. I have nobody to blame. It just happened like that and that was it.”

Yaremchuk finally lit the red light during his final stint in the NHL, on March, 23, 1985, and the goal came, ironically, in his hometown of Edmonton against the Oilers.

He scored at the 1:22 mark of the second period, when Wes Jarvis fed him a pass on what Yaremchuk recalls as a 2-on-1 rush.

“It was passed over to me and I had the open net and I think it was on [Grant] Fuhr,” he said. “As they would say, top corner.”

The goal deadlocked matters at 1-1 in a game that would end in a 3-3 draw.

Yaremchuk still has the puck, in a frame in his house. “It’s the one and only one I have,” he said.

After that season, Yaremchuk was through with the NHL and he eventually headed over to Europe, where he played the final three years of his professional career, winding things up playing for the Durham Wasps of the British National League.

Yaremchuk found his scoring touch in his final pro season, at 32, with the Wasps, scoring 53 goals in 40 games in 1993-94.

“It was a pretty weak league,” Yaremchuk said. “Each team usually had five imports that mostly played against one another. And when you didn’t get on the ice against them, it was basically a guaranteed goal or assist.”

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