Bill Quackenbush was a unique defenseman in a unique time period. Quackenbush’s best years were in the era when defensemen were expected to play defense and not much else. Scoring points was just a formality for defensemen. Despite this, Quackenbush was a solid offensive threat, but was especially strong defensively. However, unlike other defensive stars such as Eddie Shore and Lionel Conacher, Quackenbush’s defense was propelled by his stellar positioning and defensive awareness, not physical play.
Quackenbush was born in 1922 in Ontario’s capital, Toronto. He made a name for himself in the OHA early on and garnered the interest of the Detroit Red Wings, who he joined for the 1942-43 season. Quackenbush unfortunately broke his wrist early on into the season and sat the rest of the year out before becoming a mainstay on the team’s d-core the following season. Due to his injury, he missed out on the Red Wing’s Stanley Cup victory in 1943. Quackenbush managed 18 points in 43 games the following year and began to establish himself as a capable regular NHL blueliner.
In the 1944-45 season, Quackenbush improved to 7 goals and 21 points, good for second among defensemen on his team next to the offensive dynamo, Flash Hollett, and 7th in the NHL. As Hollett’s career began to wind down in the 1945-46 season, Quackenbush began to take the reigns in Detroit. He finished behind only Babe Pratt in the NHL with 21 points in 48 games and led the NHL’s defenders with 11 goals. In the 1946-47 season, Quackenbush finally began to be recognized as one of the more complete defenders in the NHL. He finished with career highs of 17 assists and 22 points in just 44 games, good for 2nd in the NHL and was voted to the Second All-Star Team while also finishing 4th in Lady Byng voting.
Quackenbush continued to be recognized in the 1947-48 season, tying for second in points with 22 in 58 games and being named to the First All-Star Team for the first time in his career. The combination of good rushing offensive plays, with great defensive positioning and the avoidance of pointless penalties made Quackenbush a star defender in the NHL. Quackenbush had a remarkable 1948-49 season. He not only played in all 60 games, finishing 2nd in points among defensemen again, this time with new personal best of 23 points, but he also finished the entire season with no penalties at all. Quackenbush was recognized not only by a place on the First All-Star Team, but by also becoming the first defenseman in NHL history to win the Lady Byng Memorial Award for his gentlemanly conduct. It was during this time that Quackenbush went an incredible 131 games without taking a single penalty.
As the NHL moved to the 70-game schedule, point totals began to slightly rise. Quackenbush was traded to the Boston Bruins just prior to training camp of the 1949-50 season and quickly became a fan favourite. The 27-year old set a new personal best of 25 points in 70 games that was good enough for 4th in the league. Still recognized for his gentlemanly play, he finished 4th in Lady Byng voting.
The 1950-51 season was an incredible one for Quackenbush, though it’s debatable whether it was his best over the impressive 1948-49 season or not. Quackenbush set career bests with 24 assists and 29 points while playing all 70 games. During one game in that season, the Bruins had their blueline riddled with injuries, forcing Quackenbush to play an astonishing 55 minutes in one game. Needless to say, he was a very valuable part of the team and was recognized in this manner by finishing 7th in Hart trophy voting. He also finished third in Lady Byng voting and was voted to the First All-Star Team for the third time in his career.
Following that season, Quackenbush settled into a more defensive role with his point totals hovering closer to 20 than 30. In the 1952-53 season, despite finishing 11th in points with 18 in 69 games, Quackenbush was still voted onto the Second All-Star Team and was 4th in Byng voting. Quackenbush had a surprisingly solid 1953-54 season, but it was unfortunately cut short by injuries, limiting him to 45 games. Quackenbush would end up retiring on a strong note with the 1955-56 season, in which he 25 points, good for fourth in the NHL while piling up only 4 PIM. Quackenbush was 33 when he left hockey as a player. He would later return to the game as a coach in the 70s in the ECAC league, but with little success.
Despite being known as a complete player more than an offensive defenseman, Quackenbush finished the second half of the 1940s with more points than any other defenseman during that span. When Quackebush retired, he was 5th all-time in points among defensemen with 284 and 5th all-time in games among all skaters with 774 games. Remarkably, he compiled just 95 PIM in those games. Quackenbush was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.