He was the first Danish born player to appear in the National Hockey League. Poul Popiel, however, played all his hockey in North America. Perhaps best known as the star defenseman for the powerful Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association, Popiel also spent time in the NHL, playing 224 regular season games.
Poul Popiel – Junior and Minors
Poul played three years of junior hockey in the OHA with the St. Catherines Teepees from 1960-61 to 1962-63. At the time, he was property of the Chicago Black Hawks. He would be traded to the Boston Bruins organization before ever playing a game in Chicago.
Popiel let the hockey world know he was serious in 1963-64. As a member of the St. Louis Braves of the CPHL, Poul was awarded the Ken McKenzie Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. Teammates on the Braves that year included Phil Esposito and Alain Caron. Caron led the league with an astounding 77 goals.
It was the first time the award was ever handed out and Popiel shared it with Garry Peters of the Omaha Knights. Peters also went on to play in the NHL, appearing in 311 regular season games with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. Garry played one playoff game with the Bruins in 1971-72 to earn a Stanley Cup ring.
Primarily though, when Popiel was in the minors, he was in the American Hockey League. Poul played 299 regular season games in the AHL between 1962-63 and 1971-72. He appeared with the Buffalo Bisons, Hershey Bears, Springfield Kings, Cleveland Barons and Rochester Americans. He finished up his pro hockey career with 12 games in the IHL with the Muskegon Mohawks in 1981-82. That year, he was primarily the team’s head coach.
Poul Popiel – NHL
Over his 224 regular season games, Popiel scored 13 goals and assisted on 41 for 54 points from the point. Between 1965-66 and 1971-72, Poul played with the Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. Once the WHA had merged into the NHL, Popiel hitched a ride with the Edmonton Oilers but appeared in just ten games in 1979-80. Popiel played just four Stanley Cup playoff games, three with the Kings and one with the Red Wings.
Poul was selected in not just one but two different NHL Expansion Drafts. In 1967, Los Angeles took him from the Bruins in the seventh round, 37th overall. In 1970, the Vancouver Canucks took him away from the Red Wings, making him the 28th overall selection.
Poul Popiel – WHA
His defensive defenseman style changed a bit when he jumped to the World Hockey Association for the league’s inaugural season in 1972-73. He remained with the Houston Aeros for the lifetime of the team from 1972-73 to 1977-78.
The Aeros were always a winning team during the regular season and did quite well in the Avco World Trophy playoffs. In 1973-74, Houston knocked off the Chicago Cougars for the championship. The won their second consecutive in 1974-75 with a win over the Quebec Nordiques in the finals. In 1975-76, the Aeros met their match when they came up against Bobby Hull and the Winnipeg Jets, losing in their final appearance in the finals.
Over his 467 regular season WHA games, Popiel scored 62 goals and assisted on 265 for 327 points. He played an additional 71 games in the playoffs and added 54 more points. Despite the numbers and a few championships to boot, Poul was left off the list of members in the WHA Hall of Fame.
Poul Popiel – Rookie Card
The Poul Popiel rookie card appears as number 40 in the 1965-66 Topps set. Poul is shown as a member of the Boston Bruins. Valued no more than a common card, he certainly stands in a huge shadow of Boston teammate Gerry Cheevers.