yankers, yankees

Blame the Chicago Blackhawks. Or at least encourage the team to correct the bad information that’s in their 2013-14 Media Guide regarding the first NHL goaltender to have been pulled in favour of an extra attacker.

On Sunday, broadcasting the Blackhawks’ 4-1 win over the Red Wings, NBCSN’s Dave Strader mentioned that it was Chicago’s Sam LoPresti in 1941, though history suspects otherwise and earlier.

Strader says he was advised by the team’s former PA announcer, Harvey Wittenberg, who blogs about the team and also books, most recently with Tales From The Chicago Blackhawks Locker Room (2012). Both of them might be forgiven the error, given that it’s entrenched on page 346 of the team’s media guide, waiting patiently to be corrected.

The fact that the NHL.com has a whole other history? That’s not Chicago’s fault. They’re not even mentioned in that version.

A few further notes:

• If pull the goalie is the most common formulation, both yank and lift are acceptable verbs, too.

In many cases the phrase is qualified by words like desperate and gamble and last-ditch effort.

Where the phrase has migrated from hockey into the language at large, political usages are not as widely known as sexual.

Political: ahead of the 1979 national election, an observer warned that electing Joe Clark and his Progressive Conservatives would be so bad for the federalist side in any upcoming Quebec referendum it would be akin to “pulling the goalie before the third period.”

Sexual: (1) on many online pregnancy discussion boards pulling the goalie signifies to couples who stop using birth control in the hope of conceiving; (2) in So, You Want to Be Canadian: All About the Most Fascinating People in the World and the Magical Place They Call Home (2012), authors Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorenson suggest a “romantic context” for pulling the goalie as the Canadian (and vegan?) equivalent of choking the chicken.

• But back to hockey. The NHL was late to the party. Minneapolis (says hockey historian Roger Godin) pulled their goaltender in a playoff game versus St. Paul in the 1928-29 American Hockey Association. (But failed to score.)

Boston College coach Charlie Foote tried it in March of 1925. (Outcome unconfirmed.)

And historian Morey Holzman cites a 1924 case in a game between the Victoria Cougars and the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Canada Hockey League. Rather than speed himself to the bench, Victoria goaltender Hec Fowler joined his team’s attack. Edmonton’s Duke Keats spoiled Cougar hopes by scoring from centre. Victoria’s coach was Art Ross’ good friend Lester Patrick.

• An unlikely case of goalie-yanking from the end of the 1969-70 regular season: Montreal held the final playoff position, two points ahead of the New York Rangers. The Rangers played their last game against Detroit, many of whose players had been out celebrating the night before. The Rangers built a 9-3 lead. Knowing that the team’s only chance of overhauling Montreal was by goals-scored, Ranger coach Emile Francis pulled goaltender Ed Giacomin in the third period in an effort to add to the team’s tally. It didn’t work out that way: Detroit scored twice. But by winning 9-5, the Rangers ended the afternoon tied with Montreal in points having scored four more goals on the season.

That night, the Canadiens skated out to play Chicago’s first-place Black Hawks. Halfway through the third period, the Canadiens were down 5-2. If victory was out of reach, Montreal knew that if they could score three more goals, they’d squeeze past the Rangers into the playoffs. So in the last eight-and-a-half minutes of the game, Canadiens goaltender Rogatien Vachon was (said The Montreal Gazette) “yanked continually” in “a comical finish:” Chicago scored five times on the empty net. The game ended 10-2. No playoffs for the Habs.

Montreal fans were incensed. NHL president Clarence Campbell said he’d be making inquiries into allegations that Detroit hadn’t tried as hard as they might have. Canadiens’ GM Sam Pollock didn’t blame Red Wing players, but he was mad at their coach, Sid Abel. He did say, too, that he and Montreal coach Claude Ruel had considered starting the game without a goalie, if Montreal had only needed a goal or two. That wasn’t proper, though. “We made up our minds that you don’t play hockey that way,” he said.

• Russians don’t pull their goalies: that was the common wisdom for a long time. Or maybe that was just those old Soviet teams: in the final minute of Russia’s shocking 3-1 quarter-final loss to Finland at last month’s Sochi Olympics, Sergei Bobrovsky took (in vain) to the bench.

There is, in fact, at least one Soviet instance, from the 1961 World Championships in Geneva. This was against Czechoslovakia, who took a late third-period 5-4 lead. Here’s Robert Daley of The New York Times on what happened next:

In the final minutes, the Russians withdrew their goalie. Bubnik broke loose and fired toward the empty cage. The Russian goalie was standing in it. He had hurdled the barrier and raced to stop the shot. This was instinct or desperation — or both. A Russian went to the penalty box for this. Bubnik got his goal anyway, a moment later, in a wild fracas near the Russian cage.