An outstanding two-way center throughout his career, Frank Nighbor played a vital part on some of Canada's mightiest professional teams and his exemplary conduct on the ice earned him the respect of fans and players across the country. Nighbor was considered the master of the "poke-check," which he used to full advantage against the game's most dangerous scorers. A smooth skater, he worked superbly with his wingers as a crafty and unselfish playmaker.
In 1911 Nighbor's friend Harry Cameron was invited to play for the Port Arthur senior club. Cameron refused to go without Nighbor and, although the club agreed to bring him along, they left the youngster on the bench. Nighbor was pressed into service only as a result of an injury bug that hit the team. He made the most of this opportunity by registering six goals in his first dramatic appearance. The "Pembroke Peach" quickly became an indispensable component of his new club.
After being signed by the Toronto Blueshirts of the NHA in 1912, Nighbor again wasted little time in making a good impression. As a 19-year-old rookie, he scored 25 goals in 17 games, including six against the famous Montreal Wanderers on February 15, 1913, in a 10-3 Toronto romp. In a startling move, the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA were able to lure Nighbor away from Toronto the next season. He accounted for 33 goals in 28 matches on the West Coast and was a vital member of the squad during its 1915 Stanley Cup win. His work with linemates Cyclone Taylor and Mickey MacKay tormented the opposition and delighted the Vancouver fans. Nighbor recorded five goals in Vancouver's three-game domination of the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup challenge. It was during his sojourn on the West Coast that he perfected his famous "poke-check" while becoming a top-flight defensive forward.
Nighbor returned east in 1915-16 to play with the Ottawa Senators of the NHA. The "Flying Dutchman" enjoyed the finest chapter of his career in the nation's capital. Throughout the 1916-17 season, he waged a memorable goal-scoring battle with Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs that resulted in the two men both finishing with a league high of 41 goals in only 19 games.
Between 1920 and 1923, the Senators won the Stanley Cup three times. Nighbor was brilliant in the 1920 Cup challenge versus the Seattle Metropolitans when he registered six goals in a hotly contested five-game series. The following season, his checking was crucial to Ottawa's successful Stanley Cup repeat in a low-scoring five-game series against the Vancouver Millionaires. At the conclusion of the 1922-23 schedule, the Senators faced Vancouver and Edmonton in consecutive Cup challenges.
In the match-up against Vancouver, Nighbor scored the winning goal in the critical fourth game to tie the series at two games apiece. Ottawa seized the momentum and captured the deciding game 5-1. In Ottawa's triumph over the Edmonton Eskimos in the next challenge, Nighbor emerged as the victor in the highly anticipated match-up with Duke Keats. This victory was also attributed to the intimidating play of his linemate, Punch Broadbent. Nighbor won his fourth Stanley Cup with Ottawa in 1926-27 after a final series victory over the Boston Bruins.
Although he was a consummate team player, Nighbor received a number of significant individual accolades during his career in Ottawa. Following the 1922-23 season, he became the first-ever winner of the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL. Two years later he was invited to Rideau Hall by avid fan Lady Byng, the wife of Canada's Governor General. Nighbor didn't know it, but she'd had a new trophy made to be given to the most gentlemanly player in the league. He was even more surprised to find that it was Lady Byng's intention to inaugurate the new trophy by presenting it to him, based on his performance in the 1924-25 season. Nighbor repeated as the Lady Byng winner in 1925-26.
Nighbor retired as a player in 1930 after splitting his last NHL season between the Senators and the Toronto St. Patricks. He scored 255 regular-season goals in over 18 years spent in four different top-level pro leagues. Nighbor turned his attention to coaching in the 1930s with the Buffalo Bisons and the London Tecumsehs of the old International-American Hockey League and the New York Rovers of the Eastern Hockey League.
"Peerless Frank" enjoyed success in both offensive and defensive roles during his career. Fans and players alike admired him for his sportsmanlike behavior on the ice that never hindered his will to compete. Nighbor was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame and Ottawa Sports Hall Fame and took his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947.