Even at the best of times, Wayne Connelly's NHL memories were mixed.
During the most prolific goal scoring season of his National Hockey League career, Connelly endured the pain of losing not only a teammate but an extremely close friend one night.
On January 13, 1968, Minnesota North Stars Bill Masterton became the first and only player to die as a result of injuries suffered during an NHL game. The Oakland Seals were in Minnesota that night when Masterton took a hard but clean body check from Seals defenseman Ron Harris. Masterton fell awkwardly and cracked his head on the ice at the Met Center, suffering a brain injury that cost him his life two days later.
"That expansion season brings back happy and sad memories for me," recalls Connelly. "I had a career high 35 goals with Minnesota that year and I'll never forget all our goals in a 3-2 win over Montreal at the Met Center in March.
"But I guess I'll best remember that season for the death of my pal, Bill Masterton. It was a shocking incident that put a damper on an otherwise excellent first year for the North Stars."
Connelly was the right winger on a line centered by Masterton. Dave Balon played on left wing.
Connelly constantly relives Masterton's fateful fall.
"We'd just crossed center ice when Bill fed a pass over to my wing," Connelly recalls. "Oakland's Ron Harris really belted him with a clean body check and Bill lost his balance and catapulted backwards, hitting his head on the ice with a sickening thud. They took Bill off on a stretcher and that was the last time we saw him."
"He was a super gentleman....you'd never meet a nicer guy or harder working guy. I still think of him quite often" says Connelly many years later.
Connelly began his NHL career as a 21 year old in 1960-61 when he played three games with the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
Montreal sold his contract to Boston that summer, but in his next six seasons as a pro, he never was more than a fringe player with the Bruins. His personal bests before joining Minnesota were 64 games played and 13 goals.
Connelly, like many fringe players, benefited greatly from expansion. The Stars took him from Boston in the expansion draft on June 1967, and then turned his explosive 35 goal season.
By 1969 Connelly was moved to Detroit and scored 23 goals in 1969-70. He later played stints with St. Louis and Vancouver.
He jumped back to Minnesota in 1972-73. However it wasn't with the NHL Stars, but the WHA Fighting Saints. He enjoyed seasons of 40, 42 and 38 goals before moving on to Cleveland, Calgary and Edmonton. He retired in 1976-77.
In 10 NHL seasons Connelly scored 133 times and picked up 174 assists. He added 167 goals and 162 assists in 5 WHA seasons.