lone ranger

Stop Right There: A helmeted Ken McAuley turns away Syd Howe of the Detroit Red Wings during the NHL’s 1944-45 season. Following the action is Rangers’ defenceman Bucko McDonald.

Spare a thought tonight for Ken McAuley, who was born in Edmonton on a Sunday of today’s date in 1921. After a respectable junior career tending goals in Alberta and in Saskatchewan senior hockey, McAuley sat out the 1942-43 season while he recovered from what would seem to have been a spate of concussions. Signed by the New York Rangers’ Patrick in the fall of ’43, the 22-year-old McAuley, who had a full-time job as a probation officer in Edmonton, found himself handed the starting net an hour before the season got underway at the end of October. “I was so nervous,” he later recalled, “they had to help me on with my equipment.” With the history of his head in mind, he added a helmet to his rig as he made his debut in Toronto, where the Leafs fired 52 shots his way on their way to a 5-2 win.

It didn’t get better. McAuley and his Rangers staggered through a 15-game winless streak to start the year. By Christmas, they’d lost games by scores of 10-5 (to the Chicago Black Hawks) and 11-4 (to Toronto). It got worse: in January of ’44, he was on the porous end of a 13-3 loss to the Boston Bruins followed by, eight games later, a 15-0 puncturing at the sticks of the Detroit Red Wings. “Poor Ken McAuley,” as the Detroit Free Press noted, actually made 43 saves for his team before they put away the pucks for the night.

It went on and on. The Red Wings retraumatized McAuley with a 12-2 win a few games later, followed by an 11-2 obliteration by the Montreal Canadiens before the season, mercifully, ended. His heroics were often praised in the New York press, despite all the losing. “Brilliant goaling on young Ken McAuley’s part saved the Rangers from a worse defeat,” the Brooklyn Daily Eagle opined in February of 1944, after a 5-2 loss in Montreal. McAuley handled 53 shots that night, the New York Daily News reported, with Canadiens’ Bill Durnan turned away 18.

Rangers bottomed out the NHL that season, finishing last in the six-team standings, in case there was any doubt, anchored down with a record of 6-39-5. McAuley suffered through all 50 games; the only relief he got all season was in December, when the Rangers were playing (again) in Detroit. Struck down by a puck shot by Carl Liscombe of the Red Wings, McAuley was evacuated to Harper Hospital for treatment of a suspected broken jaw. Taking his place on an emergency basis was Detroit’s spare goaltender, 17-year-old Harry Lumley: he played the third period of the Rangers’ 5-3 loss, shutting out his teammates. As it turned out, McAuley’s jaw was lacerated, not broken, and he started New York’s next game, on Christmas Day, a 5-3 Yuletide win over Toronto.

McAuley’s stats for the 1943-44 season are painful to consider: 310 goals allowed in 50 games left him with a 6.24 GAA. He endured a second season with New York, going 11-25-10 through 46 games while putting up a 4.93 GAA, with Doug Stevenson aboard to provide some relief as a back-up.

That was all for Ken McAuley’s NHL career. He went on to coach the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Canada Junior Hockey League, and in 1954, with Norm Ullman and Johnny Bucyk in the line-up, guided them to the Memorial Cup final. He sold cars and insurance and carpets in Edmonton before he retired. Ken McAuley died in 1992 at the age of 71.

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