What’s the one feat that only Rick Nash has managed in NHL history, and why, until recently, did everyone think he shared the act with the legendary Rocket Richard?
By Don Weekes
Homerism ain’t what it used to be. That’s good news given what we now know about how one NHL official nearly tainted the first Art Ross Trophy race in 1948.
Of course, controversies back then typically involved Montreal’s Maurice Richard, who unwittingly became the first of only two NHLers to record an unassisted hat trick. Unfortunately, his never should have counted.
Richard’s linemate Elmer Lach was battling Rangers center Buddy O’Connor for the scoring crown in March, 1948 during their last game as opponents at Madison Square Garden. O’Connor had 57 points, Lach 56, and each had two games left. With the Canadiens up 4-3, the Rangers pulled goalie ‘Sugar’ Jim Henry. Twice in the final minute Lach won faceoffs in the Canadiens zone and passed to Richard, who empty-netted both. Instead of two points for Lach, the game’s New York official scorer suspiciously registered Richard’s goals without helpers, denying Lach the scoring lead at game’s end. But after an earlier solo marker in the match, it left the Rocket with the league’s first unassisted hat trick, though game reports failed to report the feat.
At stake was the Art Ross, and Montreal coach Dick Irvin planned to nag NHL president Clarence Campbell about it. Irvin was on firm ice. The rulebook had nothing about assists on empty netters, and helpers were awarded on several goals into vacated nets that year. Most damning, O’Connor and Neil Colville earned points on Tony Leswick’s empty-netter in a game a week earlier at MSG. But Irvin’s protests fell on Campbell’s deaf ears. Lach didn’t get his two points on Richard’s goals, as the president sided with his New York official.
The hockey gods, however, meted out justice. Lach pocketed five points to O’Connor’s three in two final matches to win Art Ross’ approval. Lach had nosed-out O’Connor, 61 points to 60.
Given all this, what’s it mean today? Well, we haven’t nicknamed an unassisted hat trick yet, but how about calling it the ‘Nash Trick’? Rick Nash popped in three unaided as a Columbus Blue Jacket in an 8-2 shellacking of Detroit March 7, 2009. To date, he remains the only player to truly pull off the trick without the help of an official scorer who took it upon himself to play by some other rules.