By Eric Zweig
With the death of 98-year-old Milt Schmidt, the distinction of being the oldest living NHL player falls upon John ‘Chick’ Webster. It was a possibility he had already discussed with his son, Rob.
“He told me, ‘This is probably my best record,’ ” says Rob with a chuckle.
Born in Toronto on November 3, 1920, Webster played only 14 games in the NHL back in 1949-50, but he had a remarkable, and long, career. Known as Chick because of his fondness for Chiclets gum, Webster (whose brother Don played for the Maple Leafs in 1943-44) attended his first NHL training camp with the Boston Bruins in the fall of 1940. Not only did he meet Milt Schmidt there, he briefly replaced him during practice centering Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer when Schmidt hurt his ankle.
Boston sent Webster to Baltimore of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League for the 1940-41 season, but a year later, he was in the Canadian army. At 25 when World War II ended, Webster believed he was too old for a hockey career. Convinced otherwise, he spent four full seasons in the minors before being called up by the New York Rangers in December of 1949. A broken wrist on January 15, 1950, ended his NHL career, but he was far from through with hockey.
“The best team I ever played on,” says Webster, “was the Cincinnati Mohawks in 1951-52. We had Buddy O’Connor, Pat Egan, and Ivan Irwin. Emile Francis was our goalie.”
His worst experience came a year later, playing with the Syracuse Warriors, under Eddie Shore, who fined him for not skating on the snow-covered streets to stay in shape during an injury.
Webster continued to play minor-league and amateur hockey until 1965. He later played oldtimers hockey well into his 70s, and remains feisty and independent at age 96.