1900 : Clarence John Abel, Pride of Sault Sainte Marie and Native American Ice Hockey Star, Born

May 28, 2018 all-day

Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, Chaomonix France

Clarence “Taffy” Abel first played organized amateur hockey with the Michigan Soo Nationals in 1918, in the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association, the first organized league in the United States. Abel competed for that team, also known as the Soo Indians, through the 1921-22 season. In 1922, he joined the St. Paul Athletic Club of the Western Section of the new U.S. Amateur Hockey League. He played with them until he joined the U.S. Olympic team in 1924. At the first Olympic Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924, Taffy Abel became the first American to carry the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies of an Olympic Winter Games, and he remains the only Native American to have carried the United States’ flag at an Olympic Opening Ceremony. The US Olympic ice hockey team played five matches in 1924, winning four of them by double-digit margins, but losing the final match to Canada, 6-1. Thus, Taffy Abel won a silver medal in his only Olympic appearance. He also scored 15 goals in Chamonix, catching the attention of NHL general managers.

After the Olympics, Abel played one more year of amateur hockey with the St. Paul team, and then joined the Minneapolis Millers in 1925. In 1926, Taffy Abel signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent. He played for eight years in the NHL. He was the first American to play in the NHL, and during most of his career, he was the only American in the league. With the Rangers in 1927-28, Abel became the first American Olympian to play on a Stanley Cup champion. A 6-1, 225 lb. defenseman, Abel was paired on defense with Ivan “Ching” Johnson on the Rangers. They were one of the toughest defenses in the league. In the Stanley Cup finals, the Rangers goalie, Lorne Chabot was injured, and the Abel-Johnson defense supported backup goalie (and general manager) Lester Patrick and enabled the Rangers to win the Cup.

Taffy Abel was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks after the 1928-29 season. He played for five years in Chicago, retiring after the 1933-34 season, but played on a second Stanley Cup champion in 1934 with the Black Hawks. He retired at that point after the Black Hawks owner refused to give him a raise he had requested. During his NHL career, Abel played 333 games and, in an era when defenseman rarely scored, and no forward passing was allowed in the offensive zone, he totaled 18 goals and 18 assists. Huge for his era (he played at as much as 250 lbs.) with a quick-temper, he was a ferocious body checker, and struck fear into most of his opponents. Taffy Abel was inducted as a charter member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973. After his retirement from hockey, he operated Taffy’s Lodge, a tourist resort in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie. Abel died on August 1, 1964.

Taffy Abel Arena at Lake Superior State University is named in his honor, recognizing the first American to carry the U.S. flag at a Winter Olympics in 1924, the first and only Native American to carry the U.S. flag at a U.S. Winter Olympics, and the first Native American to have his name etched on a Stanley Cup, which he helped win twice with different teams.


Clarence Abel entry from SR Olympic Sports : a Sports Reference site.

Clarence John Abel entry from the Official Site of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Opening Ceremony Stade Olympique de Chamonix, January 25, 1924.

Michigan History, January/February 2013, back cover.

Bill Castanier and Gregory Parker, “Taffy Abel : A Sault Sensation”, Michigan History, March/April 2013, pp. 49-53.

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