Born in Toronto on a Friday of this date in 1900, the tiny-handed man they called Shrimp played 12 NHL seasons, most of those for the Americans. He won a Hart Trophy in 1929, finishing ahead of Toronto’s Ace Bailey and Boston’s Eddie Shore, and collected a Vézina for his miniature efforts in 1931. He never won a Stanley Cup. Worters died in 1957 at age 57. He was voted into hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1969.
Born in LaSalle, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1952, the ever-entertaining Gilles Gratton is 69 today. While his pro goaling career lasted just six years in the 1970s, the man they called Gratoony the Loony made sure they were memorable ones. He started in the WHA, spending the 1972-73 season with the long-lost Ottawa Nationals, then moved west when the franchise shifted to Toronto to reform as the Toros. In 1975, he arrived in the NHL, where he suited up for a season with the St. Louis Blues and then another with New York’s Rangers.
When the great Roy MacGregor caught up with him in 1975 with a profile for The Canadian Magazine, the 22-year-old goaltender had signed a five-year, C$645,000 contract with the Toros that came with a bonus: a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa. “Nobody should be paid as much as I get,” Gratton told him. “In real work terms, I’m worth nothing. I’m not helping anyone, not making anything. What am I doing for the world? I’m stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?”
That’s not all. “The difference between me and a hockey player is this,” Gratton continued: “when summer ends, a hockey player gets itchy, I feel like killing myself. If I never played hockey again, it wouldn’t matter. A real hockey player would be broken. Me, I’m liberated.”
Last night’s win over the Colorado Avalanche was the 89th of Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff puck-deterring career, which means that he’s now fourth on the list of game-winners all-time among NHL goaltenders. Fleury’s Vegas Golden Knights beat the Avalanche 6-3 to take their second-round series four games to two, if you hadn’t heard; he stopped 30 shots on the night. Next up, of course, are the Canadiens, who’ll be on the ice in Nevada to start the Vegas-Montreal semi-final on Monday night.
(Top image, from Frédéric Daigle’s 2019 biography for young readers from Les Éditions de l’Homme; infographic, via the NHL)
Mainstay of the Maroons, they called him, Horatius at the Bridge, the Sphinx of the Nets. Also? The Ottawa Fireman. That was a nickname, the last one, but it was also a straightforward description, because throughout Alec Connell’s 12-year Hall-of-Fame career as an NHL goaltender, he remained a dutiful employee of the fire department in the nation’s capital.
His renown was such that when, on a Saturday of this date in 1958, Connell died, the news was front-page-centre in the Ottawa Citizen, his hometown paper. He was 58.
Twenty-nine he served with the Ottawa Fire Department, starting in 1921. He was working as secretary to Chief Robert Burnett in the fall of 1924 when he was signed by the mighty Senators, Stanley Cup champions in three of the previous five seasons, to replace Clint Benedict. Connell’s sporting exploits were well-known in the city: “one of Ottawa’s best all-round athletes,” the Montreal Gazette advised.
“He is a little man as fast as a flash and as cool-headed almost as the great Georges Vézina of the Canadiens.” He was, moreover, “a fine, clean-cut youth.”
“Connell neither smokes nor drinks, and is in every way a credit to sport.”
He would play eight seasons, all told, with the Senators, often wearing what was described as a floppy hat, his face set with a serious expression that contemporary reports tended to classify as deadpan. He backstopped Ottawa to the 1927 Stanley Cup, and he was the Montreal Maroons’ goaltender in 1935 when they won the Cup. He had turns, too, with the Detroit Falcons and New York Americans before he gave up his pads for good in 1937.
On that subject, the pads, while Jake Forbes of the old Hamilton Tigers was the first NHL goaltender to transition from the old, narrow cricket-style pads to the new-fangled wider horsehide-and-kapok versions pioneered by Hamilton harnessmaker Pop Kenesky in the 1920s, Alec Connell was the second. These are Keneskys pictured in the image above, showing Connell in all his felted glory in 1931, when he was with Detroit; the pads are, in all probability, the originals that Connell commissioned from the legendary Pop Kenesky in 1927.
Some other Connell claims to hockey fame:
• He’s one of six goaltenders in NHL history to have captained his team, which in his case was Ottawa for the 1932-33 season. (Not counting Roberto Luongo here, whom the Vancouver Canucks recognized as their leader from 2008-10, despite the league’s latter-day rules that don’t allow captains in the crease.)
• Playing for the Maroons in 1934, Connell was the goaltender of record when Ralph Bowman scored the NHL’s very first penalty shot.
• Alec Connell still holds the record for the longest shutout streak in NHL history, 460 minutes and 49 seconds. That dates back to the 1927-28 season, when he strung together six consecutive clean sheets before Duke Keats of the Black Hawks solved him in a game in Chicago. Connell racked up 15 shutouts in 44 regular-season games that season — impressive, though not enough to win him the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender, which went to George Hainsworth of the Canadiens that year.
Images of Tony Esposito’s hands as he readies them for a night’s work in February of 1981 at Chicago’s Stadium. By the time Esposito turned 38 on this date in April of that year, the Blackhawks were already into their off-season, having been eliminated from the playoffs by the Calgary Flames in a three-game first-round sweep.
A birthday today for Tony Esposito, born in Sault Ste. Marie on a Friday of this date in 1943: he’s 78 now, and thereby the younger of the family’s two Hall of Famers. Tony launched his NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens, starting his first game in Boston in 1968 against brother Phil … who promptly scored both Bruin goals in a 2-2 tie. Claimed by the Chicago Black Hawks, Tony O won the Calder Trophy as the league’s outstanding rookie in 1970. He played 15 seasons with Chicago, winning the Vézina Trophy three times along the way. “Tony Esposito used everything he had,” the Boston Globe’s Fran Rosa wrote in 1974 on an April night when the Hawks overcame the Bruins in the playoffs, “his stick, his pads, his body, his skates, even his head once, and of course, his glove. Oh my, that glove. It grew bigger and bigger as the game progressed.”