When mastermind Glen Sather was building the Edmonton Oilers into one of the most powerful teams in NHL history, Brett Callighen was once considered a "key" player.
Callighen, who joined Edmonton part way through the 1976-77 season when the team was still in the WHA, was a fast and feisty player, despite not being one of the larger players on the ice. He was nicknamed "Hummingbird" because of the way he would dart in and out of traffic. He was good along the boards and in the corners, and his trademark was his all out hustle.
Callighen actually quit playing hockey at the midget level. He didn't pick up the game again until attending Centennial College where he was studying restaurant management. He not only made the school team, but caught the eye of Chicago's scouts. They invited him to their minor league try out camp in 1974. Playing on defense, he started the year with the CHL Black Hawks, but spent most of the year with the IHL's Flint Generals and Kalamazoo Wings.
He returned to the Wings in 1975-76, but was moved to center and had a strong year, scoring 25 goals and 58 points. He caught the eye WHA New England Whalers coach Harry Neale who invited him to camp. He split his first year in "the bigs" with 33 games in the WHA and 22 in the AHL.
Brett joined the Oilers late in the 1977 season on a loan from the Whalers. Later a trade between the two teams made the deal official. Brett was an Oiler. After two strong years with the Oilers, Brett was protected by the team as the franchise was merged into the NHL in time for the 1979-80 season.
Brett of course was best known as Wayne Gretzky's first left winger. With right winger BJ MacDonald, the trio became known as the GMC Line.
Brett was having a strong first year in the NHL - scoring 23 goals and 58 points in the first 59 games. However Brett suffered a serious eye injury when he was struck by Brad McCrimmon's stick on February 24, 1980 in game vs. Boston. He missed rest of 79-80 season, and first 25 games of 1980-81 campaign. Having developed a cataract in the eye, Callighen opted for eye surgery on November 15, 1980. When he came back he donned a face shield, making him one of the earliest NHL players to do so.
Placed back on Gretzky's left wing and now with a young Jari Kurri on the opposite side, Callighen finished the year strongly, scoring 25 goals and 60 points in 55 games. He did this despite continuing to have problems seeing out of his injured eye, a fact that he tried to hide from team doctors for fear he'd lose his job.
Early in the 1981-82, Brett broke his collar bone and stretched shoulder ligaments in game vs. Calgary (November 25, 1981). He missed six weeks of action, but when he came back he had trouble cracking the lineup on a full time basis. It proved to be Callighen's final NHL season.