cleveland’s dr. no

Stitch Up: Crusader goaltender Gerry Cheevers looks out from the cover of an Edmonton Oilers program from November of 1975. “Cleveland’s Dr. No” the accompanying story was headlined. On the ice, the Oilers won the game, 4-1.

A judge in district court in Boston was considering whether Gerry Cheevers still ought to be a Boston Bruin on a Wednesday of this same date in 1972, but that didn’t keep the 31-year-old goaltender from strapping on his pads for the Cleveland Crusaders as the upstart WHA dropped the puck, 50 years ago tonight, for the first games of its seven-year history.

Cheevers had won a pair of Stanley Cup championships with Boston, including one in the spring of ’72, but when Cleveland came calling that summer, he’d signed a seven-year, $1.4-million contract and headed west. His was one of several WHA getaways that the Bruins attempted to block in court: as hockey season rolled around, they were also doing their best to reel back Derek Sanderson and Johnny Mackenzie from the Philadelphia Blazers.

Cheevers, for one, had judicial permission to play on, and so was able to open his WHA account with a 2-0 home win over the Maurice Richard-coached Quebec Nordiques, stopping 21 shots to record the new league’s first shutout. “I’ve played seven years with the best club in hockey,” Cheevers said after it was all over, “but this was the easiest shutout I’ve ever had.”

Boston’s lawsuit failed to bring Cheevers back; he went on to win 32 of the 52 games he played for Cleveland, securing the Ben Hatskin Award as the league’s best goaltender. His WHA adventure lasted not quite four seasons as he made his return to the Bruins in 1976, playing a further five NHL seasons before he retired at the end of the 1979-80 campaign.

Pictured here in 1975, his famous mask was designed and built by a former plumbing superintendent in Boston, Ernie Higgins, though it was Bruins trainer Frosty Forristall who gets the credit for its famous decoration. Here’s Cheevers telling the tale in Unmasked, the 2011 memoir he wrote with an assist from Marc Zappulla:

The protection the mask afforded me gave me more time on the ice and less time in the locker room getting stitched up, which was nice. However, I hated the color of that thing. It was white. I hated white. I seldom even wore white socks. And if I happened to look down when I did, I felt a fright as if I was exposed to something with ill consequences. Call it what you want: a phobia, or outright disdain for this wholesome shade. The sight of this glimmering, shiny, white mold engaged to my facial pores drove me nuts. The color itself is a sign of purity and that wasn’t me. I was quite the opposite. In fact, I was driven by an unconventional thought process and a wayward nature my whole life; the white had to go.

And so?

One morning I tried to get out of practice, which, again, was the norm for me, not the exception. I was in net when a puck flipped up and grazed mask. The puck’s force was so softly propelled, that, had I not been wearing the mask I seriously doubt I’d have so much as a scratch on my face. It was weak, but I faked like it wasn’t. I winced in pain, came off the ice, and headed into the dressing room. I sat down and sparked up a cigarette when [Bruin coach] Harry Sinden came in and said, “Get your ass out there, you’re not hurt!”

So, before I collected myself and got back on the ice, Frosty the trainer said, “Here, hold it.”

Frosty broke out a sharpie and drew in four or five stitches where I had undoubtedly been hit, right above the eye, I believe it was. Everyone got a kick out of it, so I told Frosty, “Fros, every time I get hit with a puck, or the stick comes up, take care of it.” He did, and all the marks were legit.

 

dave dryden, 1941—2022

Bro Show: Dave Dryden, right, congratulates younger brother Ken at the Montreal Forum on the night of April 5, 1973, the first time in NHL history that two brothers tended goal against each other. (Image: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

Very sorry to be seeing the news that Dave Dryden died this past Tuesday at the age of 81. He was a goaltender, because that’s what the boys in that family did: his younger brother, of course, Hall-of-Famer Ken, followed him into puckstopping. Born in Hamilton in 1941, Dave played 205 games in the NHL, working the nets in his time for the New York Rangers, Chicago Black Hawks, Buffalo Sabres, and Edmonton Oilers. He played 260 WHA games, too, starting with the Chicago Cougars before joining the Oilers; in 1979, he won both the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s top goaltender and the Gordie How Trophy as league MVP.

“I don’t know where we went wrong,” Murray Dryden wrote, wryly, in a 1972 account of his hockey-playing sons, Playing The Shots At Both Ends. “The two boys both graduated from university, but they ended up as goaltenders.”

Murray himself never played hockey, though he could boast some NHL pedigree (and did) insofar as he counted former Leafs Syl Apps and Andy Blair as well as New York Rangers’ ironman Murray Murdoch as cousins.

The family moved from Hamilton to Islington, a suburb of Toronto, in 1949. It was there that young Dave found his future, his father recalled:

One Saturday morning, when he was ten years old, we went to a lumber yard and bought some two-by-fours. Then we got some chicken wire at a hardware store and brought it home, and made a hockey net. It was the first and last thing I ever constructed in my life. The total cost was $6.60.

We set it up in the driveway in front of the garage door and the boys peppered a tennis ball at it for hours on end. And from that moment there didn’t seem much doubt that Dave was going to play hockey and he was going to be a goaltender.

When the two Drydens famously skated out on Forum ice in Montreal on March 20, 1971, it was the first time in NHL history that brothers had faced one another as goaltenders. Ken’s Canadiens prevailed that night over Dave’s Sabres by a score of 5-2.

When the two met again at the Forum the following season, the Canadiens fired 54 shots at the Buffalo net on their way to a 9-3 win. Writing in the Montreal Star, Red Fisher nominated Dave Dryden as “a candidate for the first Purple Heart of the 1971-72 season. Never has one man stopped so much for a team which deserved less. Dryden, who shook hands at game’s end with his only friend in the rink — his brother, Ken — was brilliant on many, many occasions.”

All told, the brothers met eight times in the NHL, with Ken’s Canadiens prevailing on five occasions. Dave’s only win came in December 10, 1972, when the Sabres beat Montreal 4-2 at the Forum. Two other games ended in ties.

The photograph here dates to another brotherly meeting, this one on April 4, 1973, as the Sabres opened their first-round series of the Stanley Cup playoffs against Canadiens at the Forum. Montreal won that one by a score of 2-1, with Ken taking honours as the game’s first star, Dave as the second. The brothers faced off again the following night, with Montreal winning that one 7-3. That was all the goaltending Dave Dryden did that year, with Roger Crozier taking over the Buffalo net as Montreal went on to take the series in six games.

Future Sealed: A young Dave Dryden guards the net his dad Murray built for the princely sum of $6. 60.

 

 

 

sign language

The Houston Aeros won the 1974-75 WHA’s championship — their second consecutive Avco Cup — with this pair stopping the pucks. On the left is Wayne Rutledge, who did back-up duty; at right is Ron Grahame, who led the league when it came to regular-season wins (33) and goals-against average (3.03) that year. He was elected to the WHA’s First All-Star team for his efforts, and won the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s top goaltender, too, along with the league’s inaugural trophy for playoff MVPhood.  

Born in Victoria, B.C., on a Wednesday of this date in 1950, Grahame is 71 today. He signed with the Bruins in the NHL in 1977, and was the starter in Boston for a year before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round draft pick that turned into Ray Bourque. Grahame played parts of three seasons with the Kings and had stint, too, with Quebec’s NHL Nordiques. He went on to serve as athletic director for the University of Denver. 

His son, John, was a goaltender, too, and he won a Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. His mother, Ron’s wife, was the first in the family to get her name on the Cup: Charlotte Grahame was a member of the Colorado’s front office when the Avalanche went all the way in 2001. She’s still on the job today, as Colorado’s executive director of Hockey Administration.  

wordsmith

You Can Call Him: Al Smith was a Penguin in Pittsburgh for two seasons, 1969-70 and 1970-71.

Al Smith’s best year in the nets might have been in 1977-78, with the New England Whalers, when he won the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s best goaltender. Smith, who died on a Wednesday of this date in 2002 at the age of 56, got his pro start as a Toronto Maple Leaf in 1966. Before he retired from puckstopping in 1981, he also saw NHL service with Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Detroit, Hartford, and the Colorado Rockies. He subsequently worked selling cars and ads, picking fruit, and driving taxis. He wrote, too, in his later years, novels, including The Parade Has Passed and The Tragedy of Lake Tuscarora, and a long poem called Raymond Hollywood, and the play Confessions To Anne Sexton.