Such was the case for former Philadelphia Flyers captain Dave Poulin, who was born the same year as my Mom and started playing College Hockey for the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish the year I was born, then went on to star in the NHL during all of my formative years.
Undrafted after his four seasons at Notre Dame, Poulin had a busy 1982-83, playing in Sweden for Division 1 team Rögle Bandyklubb (a.k.a. Rögle BK) for head coach Ted Sator, who moonlighted as the Flyers' power skating instructor and Swedish league scout, and upon the season's end promptly recommended him to his "other" employer, who opted to have him start with the AHL's Maine Mariners, where he was a point-per-game player (7 goals, 9 assists for 16 points in 16 games), earning him a call-up with the parent team to end the season, playing the final two regular-season games (scoring two goals) and three playoff games (posting 4 points), skating alongside future Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler and future star player Ilka Sinisalo.
The next season, he would line up with Tim Kerr and Brian Propp on perhaps the best two-way line in the entire league. Another Flyers playoff defeat signaled the end of an era with the team, and their captain and leader Bobby Clarke retired and was named GM, and fiery Mike Keenan was made head coach, meaning Poulin was thrust into a leadership role wearing the "C" on his chest at just 25 years old, in his second full season.
On a team that featured award-winning goaltending (Pelle Lindbergh first, and upon his death, Ron Hextall), Poulin was chosen to represent the team at the All-Star Game in three straight seasons, with a Selke Trophy win to end the 1986-87 season, after posting a +47 rating. The Flyers went to their second Stanley Cup Final in three years that season, but lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
After a disappointing 1988-89 and early 1989-90, the Flyers tore down their nucleus and traded Poulin to the Boston Bruins (for super-pest Ken Linseman), where he was reunited with Propp, leading the Bs to the Cup Final... which they lost to the Oilers.
In his final season with Boston, in 1992-93, he won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his charitable work. He then spent two seasons with his former rivals, the Washington Capitals, retiring after the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season to become head coach at his alma mater, Notre Dame, for a full decade, with 19 of his players getting drafted by NHL teams.
My favourite quote of his is this one:
It's important as an athlete to know your limits and play within yourself. However, it's best to play at the upper limits. Everyone has limitations – it's how far you push the top end of them that makes you distinctly different and successful.Here's a card of his from his final season, so with the Caps: