If you think some of the nicknames of current Olympians are unusual try this one on: Taffy. Taffy was the nickname of Clarence Abel, a member of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team in 1924. The nickname,â€œTaffyâ€, came from his propensity for chewing taffy and he picked it up in his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie Michigan where he learned to play hockey on the St. Maryâ€™s River.Â
You will continue to hear about the hockey miracle of 1980, but in 1924, it was a miracle that Taffy Abel was even at the Olympics. When Taffy was first asked to be a member of the team he refused. Paris France was simply too far from home, his family and his Chippewa Indian community. It was only after threats from the U.S. Olympic Committee that he relented.Â
Abel was a relentless defenseman and big. He was well over six feet and weighed 240 pounds. He would later get another nickname, â€œThe Michigan Mountainâ€, for the way he played defense. But even with Abel on defense the U.S. Team was no match for the Canadians and Abel and his teammates had to settle for a Silver Medal at the first Winter Olympics.Â
Taffy Abel would go on to become the first American Indian and the first American to play in the National Hockey League. He played for the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks and while on those teams led each to a Stanley Cup Championship.Â
Abel retired early from hockey due to contract disputes and returned to the Sault where he opened a supper club and a restaurant. The hockey rink at Lake Superior State College is named for him.
Full disclosure: Bill Castanier and Greg Parker have a children’s picture book on the life of Taffy Abel which they are shopping around to publishers.