Taffy Abel was the first U.S.' born player to earn a regular spot in the National Hockey League. He was one of his era's biggest skaters, standing 6 feet 1 inch and weighing over 225 pounds. At a time when forward passing was not allowed in the offensive zone, he was a bruising defensive force to be reckoned with.
Abel was born in 1900 in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, but incredibly he did not play his first organized hockey game until he was 18 years old. He spent four seasons learning the game with the Michigan Soo Nationals of the state senior league, and in 1922 he joined the St. Paul Athletic Club, a Minnesota team that played in the United States Amateur Hockey Association. His solid play and size earned him a berth on the U.S. Olympic team that traveled to the 1924 Winter Games in Chamonix, France.
Though he was far from an offensive standout over his long career, he scored only 18 goals in 333 NHL games ' Abel counted 15 goals in 5 games at Chamonix. In the final game against Canada ' the eventual champions ' he was held scoreless, though he did lead the way in penalties. He was involved in three altercations in a match very much lacking in Olympic spirit and gentlemanly conduct.
His reputation buoyed by his silver-medal performance, Abel joined the Minneapolis Millers of the competitive Central Hockey League for the 1925'26 season. When the New York Rangers were formed in 1926, Abel was signed to strengthen the nascent club's blue line. He played that role for only three seasons in the Big Apple, often teaming with another hockey giant, Ivan (Ching) Johnson, to make for a formidable combination. Together the defensive partners weighed in at over 428 pounds.
In the 1928 Stanley Cup playoffs defense became especially important to the Rangers when their goalie, Lorne Chabot, was injured in the second game of the finals against the Montreal Maroons. New York's 45-year-old manager and coach, Lester Patrick, put on the pads and filled in for Chabot ' despite never having played goal in the NHL before. With Abel and Johnson clearing the zone and protecting their inexperienced netminder, the Rangers won the game and eventually the Stanley Cup.
On April 15, 1929, Abel was sold to the Chicago Black Hawks for $15,000. He became a fan favorite in Chicago and was a defensive stalwart for the Hawks for five seasons. In 1934 Abel helped the Hawks win their first Stanley Cup. His big body bruised and his legs sore from years of abuse, Abel decided to hang up his skates on a high note and he retired following the Cup victory.
When the United States Hockey Hall of Fame opened in 1973, Taffy Abel was one of its charter members.