Frank Brimsek played ten seasons in the NHL and from the first he was one of the league’s best goaltenders, winning the Calder Trophy as outstanding rookie in 1939. Defending the Boston net, he won a Vézina Trophy that year while helping the Bruins to win the Stanley Cup. They added another in 1941, and the man they called Mr. Zero won a second Vézina in 1942. The year after that Brimsek went to war, serving the U.S. Coast Guard both on ice and at sea. He returned to the Bruins after the war and while he said himself that he wasn’t as sharp as he’d once been, he played another five seasons, the last one with the Chicago Black Hawks, before retiring in 1950. In 1966, he was the first American-born goaltender to be elevated to the Hall of Hockey Fame. He was one of the original inductees to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in his hometown of Eveleth, Minnesota. He died in 1998.
In February of 1947, in a profile published in The Milwaukee Journal, Brimsek talked to sometime hockey novelist Philip Harkins about frantic fans, disputes with referees, and his preferred pre-game meal (steak and baked potato). And stitches:
Brimsek stops the puck with a variety of objects: his $60 leather leg pads, his $30 custom-made leather gauntlets; his $35 goalie skates or his less extravagant chest protector and goalie stick. All this equipment helps, but Brimsek is shot at with such nerve-racking speed and unpredictability that he is sometimes forced to stop the puck with his rugged, handsome face which is beginning to look as if he had dueled his way through the University of Heidelberg.
He associates these scars with shots fired in various cities of the U.S. and Canada: “This one over the eyelid? A deflected shot in Chicago — four stitches. This one over the lip? Toronto — four stitches. Matter of fact,” he smiles, “two recent games with Toronto cost me a total of eight stitches, a kind of record.”
The stitches were taken without the balm of anesthesia, for an injured is only allowed 10 minutes to be sewed back into one piece. Brimsek reports clinically that the numbing effect of these collisions at 90 miles an hour deadened the pain of all the operations except in the case of the sensitive lip.
Brimsek sorts shots into several harassing categories. A shot that struck his throat in New York and rendered him speechless for days was a “floater” — produced with the puck standing on edge. This take-off makes for a weird, weaving shot that even Brimsek’s 20-20 eyes find hard to follow. “Screen shots” are also hard to stop. The opposing team sends in one man to block Brimsek’s vision. This pest waits for the shot, then tries to deflect it into the cage with his stick or body. Brimsek likes to see his two defensemen flatten these human screens with jarring bodychecks.
Low, fast shots at the corner of the cage have to be handled by a quick thrust of Brimsek’s padded legs. An opponent who has succeeded in eluding all five of Brimsek’s teammates puts the goalie on a terrible spot and a dramatic split-second duel ensues between Brimsek and the onrushing opponent. Brimsek figures that he can win three out of five of these duels by outguessing the attacker and smothering his shot with “a split,” a quick graceful motion which leaves Brimsek with one padded knee resting on the ice in a prayerful attitude.
But if a goal is scored, the red light flashes atop the high wire screen placed behind the cage. This light is operated by an arch enemy of Brimsek’s called a goal judge. So far this season, Brimsek claims that goal judges suffering from optical illusions have twice flashed the light for pucks that were blocked with skill and daring.
(Top photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)