To give you an idea of just how old Steve Wochy is, consider that he was born in a town that doesn’t technically exist anymore and he was once a prospect for the New York Americans, a franchise that hasn’t played a game in the NHL in almost 80 years. At the age of 97, Wochy still lives on his own in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. He has a hard time hearing and his hip hurts constantly, but aside from that, he’s going strong. And with the death of Jim Conacher at the age of 98 earlier this month, Wochy is now the oldest living player who has played in the NHL.
Born Steve Wojciechowski in Fort William (now Thunder Bay) on Christmas Day in 1922, Wochy played a total of 54 games in the NHL, all with the Detroit Red Wings. After serving a year with the Canadian Army in 1943-44 – he was never shipped overseas, but spent a year with the forces training in Winnipeg – the Americans gave up his rights and he was picked up by the Detroit Red Wings. And things started out pretty well for him. In his rookie season of 1944-45, the 22-year-old Wochy scored 19 goals in just 49 games for the Red Wings, who went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs. “I had a really good year with them,” Wochy said.
(Interesting fact: Three years earlier, the Maple Leafs went down 3-0 to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final, then won four straight to take the series. In 1945, the Red Wings very nearly turned the tables. Not only did they lose the first three games of the final, they didn’t score a goal, then won three straight before losing 2-1 on home ice in Game 7.)
It’s strange that after such a successful season, Wochy would be banished to the minors for all of the next season and would play only five more NHL games. “The thing is, they traded my center iceman, Don Grosso,” Wochy said of a blockbuster trade that landed the Red Wings Hall of Fame defenseman Earl Seibert. “He was a good center iceman. We teamed up, eh? After that, they never gave me anybody who suited my style. I had to have somebody I could play with. When I went everywhere else and I had a good center iceman and we teamed up together, I did all right. One year, for god’s sake, in the American League (1952-53) they gave me Jackie Gordon and we teamed up and I led the league in goals.”
Wochy did have a number of triumphs as a player. Playing senior hockey with the Port Arthur Bearcats in 1941-42, Wochy scored 63 points in just 18 games and went to the Allan Cup final. And in the season he led the AHL in goals with 37, he played on a Cleveland Barons team with Johnny Bower that won the Calder Cup championship. “I played with a lot of great hockey players,” Wochy said. “Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Jacques Plante, Johnny Bower for four years.”
Wochy played 10 seasons of pro hockey, most of them in the AHL, before retiring in 1955 and settling in the Soo. It was then that he legally changed his name from Wojciechowski to Wochy, even though he went by Wochy throughout most of his career. “The reason I changed it was when I grew up, nobody called me Wojciechowski. It was always ‘Wochy, Wochy, Wochy,’ ” he said. “When I came to the Soo and the kids would go to school and people would say, ‘You’re Steve’s son. Wochy.’ So I said, ‘I might as well change it.' What are you going to do? But when people ask for my autograph, they want me to write Wojciechowski.”
Chances are, Wochy will hold onto his title as oldest living NHL player for quite some time. Howie Meeker, at the age of 96, is the next oldest NHL player still living. Aside from aches and pains, Wochy is still getting around. He moved into a seniors’ home a few years back, but had to leave because apparently there were too many old people there. “I still drive and I’ve still got my noodles,” Wochy said. “I can’t hear. It doesn’t matter if I put hearing aids in or not. I’m wobbling around with a cane. They give me pills for it and nothing helps. But when you get old, what can you do? Nothing.”
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