terry sawchuk: he groped for his stick and gloves and, defiant, went to work

Like The Gangster in the Howard Hawks Film: Terry Sawchuk’s last NHL duty was with the New York Rangers in 1969-70. He also padded up for Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Los Angeles during his 21-year career.

Born in Winnipeg on a Saturday of this same date in 1929, Terry Sawchuk was a four-time Stanley Cup champion and a four-time Vézina Trophy winner; he was elected to hockey’s Hall of Fame in 1971, the year after his death at the age of 40. Did any goaltender in NHL history wear his puck-stopping pre-eminence so painfully? Here’s Dick Beddoes writing in 1990, recalling a night in ’67, when a 37-year-old Sawchuk helped the Toronto Maple Leafs to a Cup.

His single most commanding performance occurred that spring, on April 15, in the fifth game of an engrossing Cup semi-final between the Leafs and Chicago Black Hawks. He replace a shaky Johnny Bower in the second period of the fifth game with the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 in games, and this pivotal game tied 2-2 in goals.

The Hawks, in the noisy three-tiered cavern of Chicago Stadium, pressed in the first two minutes of the second period, clamorous action boiling around Sawchuk. Bobby Hull pivoted 15 feet to Sawchuk’s left, almost parallel to the goal, an impossible angle from which to score. Hull shot, hard and high. The puck struck Sawchuk’s left shoulder like a crowbar and knocked him down. Other players skated around the Toronto net, circling, looking, needling.

Pierre Pilote, the Chicago captain, crafty, canny, aimed his barbs. “How’d you feel, Terry? Should’ve let it go, Terry. Might’ve been a goal.”

The scene was caught, pinned forever in a reporter’s memory. Bob Haggert, the Toronto trainer, skidded across the ice from the Toronto bench to Sawchuk. “Where’d you get it, Ukey?”

Sawchuk, on his knees, “On my bad shoulder.”

Haggert, leaning down, “Think you’re okay? Can you stay in the game?”

“I stopped the fucking shot, didn’t I?” Sawchuk struggled to regain his feet. “Help me up and I’ll stone those sons of bitches.” He groped for his stick and gloves and, defiant, went to work.

It is a 23-year-old story, a footnote in clutch exhibitions, how he went home again to glory, how he stopped 36 shots in Toronto’s 4-2 conquest, frustrated the most insatiable shooters in the game, shut them out with the remnants of the young Sawchuk: down the glove, out the arm, over the stick, up the glove, shutting off daylight the shooters thought they saw — all in a kind of desperate epileptic action. You were left wondering who choreographed the most stylish goaler in the galaxy.

pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall

Stamp Act: From 2017, Canada Post’s Official First Day Cover for a new stamp commemorating Paul Henderson and his 1972 Summit Series teammates.

The second day of September was a Saturday in 1972, and in Montreal the forecast called for the morning’s sun to give way to clouds and afternoon showers with no chance whatever, come the evening hours, for a Soviet win over our invincible homegrown hockey heroes.

It’s 48 years ago today that the momentous Summit Series first hit the ice, at Montreal’s famous Forum. For Canadians, nothing went as it was supposed to that night, of course, with the good guys ending up on the wrong end of a 7-3 rout. For a sense of just how much that result dazed and confused the nation, I’ll refer you to the prophecies that hockey’s non-Russian cognoscenti were making on the morning of that shocking day, weighing in with predictions for the eight-game series.

“Canada will win handily,” ventured Toronto Star columnist Milt Dunnell; “they might lose one in Moscow. Say seven to one.”

Mark Mulvoy, from Sports Illustrated, was just as generous: “Canada, seven to one.”

“Here’s a flatly positive that Canada will win at least seven of the eight games,” wrote Southam columnist Jim Coleman. “This prediction isn’t based on flag-waving chauvinism. This is a cold-blooded prognostication.”

Foster Hewitt, who’d be up in the gondola on play-by-play when he puck dropped: “Canada’s two goals a game better. It looks like eight to nothing Canada.”

 “The NHL team will slaughter them in eight straight,” advised Gerald Eskenazi from The New York Times.

Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jacques Plante agreed: “Eight straight for Canada.”

Fran Rosa, from Boston’s Globe? “Eight to nothing Canada — and that’s the score of the first game.”

Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes had placed his bet a few days earlier. “Make it Canada eight games to zero. If the Russians win one game, I will eat this column shredded at high noon in a bowl of borscht on the front steps of the Russian embassy.”

To his credit, if not his digestive delight, Beddoes was true to his word, and took his soup a few days later.

department of throwing stuff: bernie parent’s mask

Fling a waffle to the ice in Toronto in the early decades of this parlous young century of ours and chances are you’ll end up kicked to the Bay Street curb and banned for ever more from the premises. Lobbing a catfish you happen to have been carrying around in your underwear in Pittsburgh may well get you arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, possessing instruments of crime, and disrupting meetings and processions.

Maybe, in Pittsburgh, the charges won’t go forward. The outrage associated with the waffle and what it represents will, in time, fade away, even if the ban persists. The overall message, though, is clear: today’s NHL (or, I guess, yesterday’s) has decided that the time has come to break hockey’s vivid tradition, long and lustily favoured by fans, of expressing themselves by hurling whatever they might have at hand at the ice.

Fans were throwing stuff well before 1917, but it was in the NHL that the practice truly evolved into (a messy, disruptive, and often dangerous) art form. In Montreal, fans used to toss toe rubbers by the dozens to express their approval of the all-conquering Canadiens; in Chicago, live rabbits, dead squirrels, whisky bottles, and a life-sized dummy of Toronto’s Frank Mahovlich used to rain from the upper balconies of the old Chicago Stadium. Cataloguing hockey’s debris is an ongoing effort — evidence of my attempt to keep is in my 2014 book, Puckstruck, and peppered across this site, here and here and over here. And if, at some point, it becomes clear that the stuff that’s thrown sometimes goes the other way, from the ice to the stands? I think we have to look into that, too. Why not now?

Today is, after all, Bernie Parent’s 75th birthday. Born in Montreal on a Tuesday of this date in 1945, Parent had just 26 back in 1971 as his Toronto Maple Leafs headed into an opening-round playoff quarter-final against the New York Rangers.

Parent had already been a Philadelphia Flyer at this stage of his career. A trade had brought him to Toronto in February of ’71. He stay another season in Toronto before decamping to the WHA’s Philadelphia Blazers and, thereafter, back to the Flyers. It was in this second stint in Philadelphia that Parent was instrumental in the Flyers’ Stanley Cup triumphs of 1974 and ’75, as he won (let’s not forget) Vézina and Conn Smythe trophies in both those years.

But back to the Leafs in ’71: Parent was sharing the net that year with a 42-year-old Jacques Plante. It was Plante who started the first game of the playoffs early that April at Madison Square Garden, a 5-4 loss. Parent got the call for the second game the following night, and in that one, the Torontonians roared back to even the series with a 4-1 win.

Both teams were feeling sourly on the night. In the second period, New York left winger Vic Hadfield roughed up Toronto defenceman Bob Baun, and vice-versa. Hadfield and Leafs forward Jim Harrison were penalized for punching each other, too. In the third, when those two clashed again, they started a brawl in the Toronto zone, at the Seventh Avenue end of the rink. In the foolery that followed, Parent made his way into the melee, where he got a hold of Hadfield, if only briefly — Rangers’ goaltender Ed Giacomin was quick to attend and haul Parent away.

At some point during these proceedings, Hadfield got hold of Parent’s mask and donated it to the Garden crowd.

“Hadfield ripped off my mask,” Parent said in the immediate aftermath, “and threw it into the crowd.”

That’s now how Hadfield recalled it.

“He jumped me from behind,” he said. “Then I saw the mask sitting there, so I just threw it. But I lost a glove, too. Somebody threw a glove of mine into the stands.”

Initially, Parent stuck to his story. “Hadfield took the mask off my head and threw it in the seats,” he insisted. Somewhere, somehow, the goaltender relented. “When things settled down,” Parent writes in Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!, his exclamatory 1975 autobiography, “Hadfield picked up my mask and threw it in the stands.”

On the night, MSG police did their best to recover the mask, but the fans weren’t interested: it was, as The New York Times noted, “passed along, bucket-brigade style, around half the Garden. Appeals for its return rang from the arena PA. “But,” as Dick Beddoes reported in the Globe and Mail, “exuberants among the demonstrative 17,250 fanatics chanted ‘Don’t give it back! Don’t give it back!’”

The Leafs’ 68-year-old vice-president, King Clancy, thought he might be able to help with the search, though he soon found himself in hostile territory, and ended up retreating to his seat near the Toronto bench.

“Hadfield throwing the mask away was the most childish thing I ever saw,” Clancy said. “Those things cost $150 and the Rangers have to pay for it.”

Parent did have a back-up mask, but it was at home, in Toronto.

“I wouldn’t continue in the game without the mask,” Parent wrote in his autobiography.

His coach, Johnny McClellan, didn’t blame him, even if others did. “Parent has played with a mask since he was a 12 years old,” he said after the game. “He has never been in the net without a mask in 13 years, so you’re not going to send a guy into the net without a mask. He could get a shot in the face and that’s it.”

So in went Plante, who knew what that was like — though, of course, in 1959, the Andy Bathgate shot he took in the face just before he donned his mask for the first wasn’tit. This time out, he was only called on to play the final 4:42 of the game, stopping two shots and preserving Toronto’s win.

Another brawl ensued 30 seconds after he’d stepped in, when the Leafs’ Jim Dorey engaged with New York’s Ted Irvine. Going to teammate Ron Ellis’ aid, Plante (by the account of the New York Daily News’ Dick Young) “skated over and began banging on [Glen] Sather’s head.” That brought Giacomin back: “skating the length of the rink and taking a flying leap onto Plante.”

Giacomin, for what it’s worth, wondered at the time that Parent didn’t continue bare-faced. “That’s what I would have done,” he said. “Hell, for four minutes, why let Plante credit?” Though, of course, Plante didn’t get the win; that went into the books as Parent’s.

“Some writers actually suggested I was a coward for not playing without the mask,” Parent recalled in his book, take up Johnny McClellan’s line. “This one New York writer even said I’d never be the same goalie again. In other words, this writer thought I was chicken. Bull. If I got hit not wearing a mask, I might really never be the same again. A goalie is putting his life on the line out there.”

 

Danger Close: Having tossed Bernie Parent’s mask over the boards on April 8, Vic Hadfield added insult to injury on April 13 by scoring on Parent (and his new mask) at MSG.

With the series set to shift to Toronto, Leafs’ GM Jim Gregory put out an appeal. “If a guy who’s got a mask returns it, I’ll get him two tickets for Saturday’s game and pay his way to Toronto.”

In Toronto, meanwhile, NHL president Clarence Campbell visited a CBC studio to catch up on what had gone down in New York. The fact that the footage didn’t show Hadfield with the mask didn’t concern him too much: he said there was a standard $50 fine for throwing equipment overboards. “I wanted to get a general impression of what this affair looked like to the people who saw it there and on television,” Campbell said.

Upon further reflection, Campbell fined each team $5,000 — to that point, the largest bad-behaviour tax ever to be levied in the NHL. Further individual fines to players from New York added up to $3,300, including $400 to Giacomin for twice departing his crease. Toronto’s players were punished to the tune of $3,250, including $200 each to Plante and Parent for straying from their creases.

The missing mask was the one Parent had started using when he arrived in Toronto from Philadelphia. It was very comfortable — and happened to have been made by Fibrosport, Jacques Plante’s company, based in Magog, Quebec. The back-up Parent didn’t have in New York when he needed it was his old Flyers’ mask, which he’d used for about two years previously.

He didn’t have to revert to that one, as it turned out: with his connections, he relied on Plante getting on the telephone the morning after the night to call his Fibrosport partner, Marc Andre Beaudin, in Montreal. He in turn called in a couple of employees from their Good Friday holiday and got going on crafting a new model in time for Saturday’s game.

“The three of them would have to work all day to make the mask,” Plante said. “They would have the mold already, but there is a lot of work to making a hand-crafted mask.”

Saturday morning it was handed to an Air Canada pilot for the flight from Montreal to Toronto — the pilot, no less. Howard Starkman from the Leafs was there to retrieve it when it landed — he later went on to serve as PR director for the baseball Blue Jays — and he delivered it to Maple Leaf Gardens. Parent put it to use that night in helping defeat the Rangers by a score of 3-1.

The Leafs’ momentum didn’t last, though: with Parent and Plante and their respective masks sharing the net, the Rangers won the next three games to take the series and advance to play the Chicago Black Hawks.

That’s not quite the end of the story. There’s the part, too, about Vic Hadfield scoring a hat trick against Chicago at MSG towards the end of April, his first in the playoffs. Picking up one of the hats that landed on the ice in his honour, Hadfield put it on before skating to the boards and flinging it to the fans.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” he said. “I felt so good about scoring all those goals, I wanted to show my emotion. It was a tremendous feeling, one of the highlights of my career.”

As for Parent’s mask, Leafs’ VP Harold Ballard said he was invoicing the Rangers. “We should send the bill to Bill Jennings,” Ballard said, “but I guess we’ll send it to [New York coach and GM] Emile Francis — it’s his department.”

I can’t confirm whether any such paperwork was submitted. But Jennings, who was the president of the Rangers, did send a bill of his own to the Leafs in the amount of $175 — for Vic Hadfield’s bespoke glove, said to have been manufactured and specially sewn in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Francis’ hometown.

Ballard took it for a spoof. “At least,” he said, “I hope Jennings isn’t serious.”

The story might end there, which is to say right here, except for, no, sorry, there’s more.

Towards the end of that same April, the Chicago Tribune made fleeting mention of the mask’s having been returned to Parent by a 7-year-old boy. “It was mailed back to Bernie in a shoe box,” was how that story went, but no further.

That seems to be fanciful. In 2006, the mask did show up in a sports memorabilia auction, and then again in 2012, when a buyer, unnamed, decided the time had come to get the goaltender and his mask back together. Greg Wyshynski reported on this at the time for Yahoo! Sports — you can read about that here.

The old goaltender knew the mask he’d once worn the moment he set eyes on it, 41 years after Hadfield absconded with it. “Life is full of surprises,” Parent said. He only got to visit with the mask briefly, apparently: the owner’s plan was to keep it for himself, then donate it, posthumously, to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In Phil: Bernie Parent in Flyer kit + mask in the mid-1970s.

 

thirty seconds in september

For the Russians, the vast Ukraine-like wheatlands of Manitoba and a rather dour crowd of 10,000 provided what Coach Vsevolod Bobrov described as “the most suitable environment yet.”

“We are very happy with Winnipeg. We found the people much like our own.”

• Tim Burke, Montreal Gazette, September 7, 1972

September 6 was a Wednesday in 1972. Four days had passed since the Saturday when Canada’s hockey team lost, shockingly, to the visiting Soviets in a rout. They’d redeemed themselves, a little, to the west, with a Monday win in Toronto. Now the teams had moved on to Winnipeg, where they were preparing to meet again under the gaze of the world’s largest rink-portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.

Tuesday, in Munich, at the Olympics there, eight Arab terrorists had made hostages of 11 men from the Israeli team. After long hours of violence and blood, false hopes and failed negotiations, rescue efforts that didn’t succeed, the Israelis were dead.

The sports went on. Tuesday morning, even as the crisis continued, the International Olympic Committee’s American president, Avery Brundage, announced that the Games would continue as planned. “Canoe racing had already begun,” Red Smith wrote in his New York Times column. “Wrestling started an hour later. Before long, competition was being held in 11 of the 22 sports on the Olympic calendar.”

Not until 4 p.m. did some belated sense of decency dictate suspension of the obscene activity, and even then exception was made for games already in progress. They went on and on while hasty plans were laid for a memorial service tomorrow.

Wednesday morning 80,000 people filled the Olympic Stadium to mourn and pay tribute. “This service,” said an IOC statement issued beforehand, “should make clear the Olympic idea is stronger than terror and violence.”

I don’t know that there was any talk of cancelling the hockey game in Winnipeg. There was a discussion about how the hockey players might honour those who’d died in Munich. A minute’s silence before the puck dropped seemed like an appropriate gesture. A couple of directors from Hockey Canada wanted to go further: Maple Leaf Gardens president Harold Ballard and Alan Eagleson, the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, decided that Team Canada should wear black armbands. Ballard hoped all the players would. “But I don’t know,” he said, “if the Russians will go for it.”

Ballard had other plans, too. He was going to organize some kind of trophy, or plaque. “It’ll have the names of the Israelis engraved on it,” he told Dick Beddoes for The Globe and Mail. “I’d like to have Mark Spitz dedicate it for the Hockey Hall of Fame before the first Leaf game in the Gardens this fall.”

Georgi Guzinov was the Soviet team’s trainer. The day before the first game in Montreal, he’d predicted that after three games the teams would have a win each to their credit along with a tie. He was right, of course: in Winnipeg the score was 4-4.

Paul Henderson blamed himself. “I blew three chances,” he said afterwards. Tim Burke wrote in The Gazette that if not for the goaltenders, Canada’s Tony Esposito and Vladislav Tretiak for the USSR, the score might have been 10-10.

Canada’s assistant coach, John Ferguson, said he was relieved “to settle for half a loaf.” Canada had been leading by 3-1 before they surrendered two shorthanded goals in the second period. Canada’s scorers were J.P. Parise, Jean Ratelle, Phil Esposito, and Paul Henderson while Vladimir Petrov, Valery Kharlamov, Yuri Lebedev, and Alexander Bodunov got the Soviet goals.

The Munich tribute didn’t go quite as planned. A few hours before the game, officials from the two teams met to discuss the armbands. Canadian coach Harry Sinden announced the outcome: there wouldn’t be any. “We decided that as one group of athletes paying tribute to another group of athletes, the minute’s silence was sufficient.”

He was half-right, anyway. On the ice, so as not to interfere with timing for the TV broadcast, that hushed minute was cut down to 30 seconds.

As for Ballard’s trophy, not sure what happened there. Mark Spitz was absent when the Leafs opened their season at home to Chicago on October 7, as was the Leafs’ Moscow hero, Paul Henderson, who was day-to-day (The Globe suggested) with aches and emotional drainage.

I’m not even sure that Ballard was at the game. But then he did have a lot on his mind that fall. He’d been convicted in August of fraud and theft, and he watched Canada and the Soviets play while he was free on $50,000 bail. Lawyers had agreed to postpone sentencing until after the all-important series was over. It wasn’t until October 20 that he learned he was going to a penitentiary for three years.

bidini and me (and keon)

keon and meDave Keon wouldn’t fight. Dave Bidini wanted to know why.

There was lots more he wanted to know, too. What was it like to grow up in Etobicoke in the 1970s, when Bidini was growing up there, and how were you supposed to figure out what kind of person you were going to be? What was up with the hellacious Flyers of Philadelphia, menacing their way to Stanley Cups? And what about, at school, the bully Roscoe: what was his problem?

Part memoir, part quest, part hockey picaresque, the book that Bidini has crafted to contain his inquiries is Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs (Viking Canada). It’s his eleventh, and it’s lovely: heartfelt and honest, funny and poignant. It’s as compelling in its portrait of a Canadian childhood as it is in examining how hockey shapes and sharpens and — all too often — confuses us. For instance: if Bidini’s favourite Leaf was indeed the greatest ever to have worn the blue and the white, why has the team so doggedly failed to recognize his stature, and what does that have to do with Toronto’s lingering case of not winning Stanley Cups?

Bidini has, of course, long been in the business of chronicling the country, with a particular emphasis on what we do when we find ourselves with hockey sticks and/or guitars in hand. He is, it has been pointed out, the only of us to be nominated for Juno, Gemini, and Genie awards, and the CBC’s national these-are-our-necessary-books contest, Canada Reads.

As a founding member of the great, late Rheostatics, Bidini journeyed around the country singing its history and legends and praises for more than 20 years, yielding eleven albums along the way. He’s in front of BidiniBand these days, with a new album, In The Rock Hall, that he’ll be taking out on the road early in the new year. As a writer he continues to contribute a weekly column to The National Post. He’s also working with Olympic cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes on a memoir of hers.

Fifty now, he lives with his family in midtown Toronto. There was wind blowing through the neighbourhood one afternoon back in the fall, and in the sky it looked like weather was coming. Bidini arrived on his bike, wearing his hat, and over a lunch of Greek salads and vegan bacon cheeseburgers with fries, submitted to questions.

Maybe more than your other books, is this the one you’ve been writing all your life? 
Yeah, probably. And waiting for a long time to write. Waiting for the right moment. And waiting for the right angle into it. I started it — the idea was almost to write a fictionalized version of my life as a Leafs fan. I invented all these characters. And I got 10,000 words into it when I just decided it was either going to take too much work or it wasn’t going to be personal enough, that way. It was kind of a comedy. And I abandoned it. I went straight back to it being more of a personal thing.

And so the structure, with your childhood paralleling Dave Keon’s remarkable career and refusal to be provoked, how did you come to that? 
That was late. I’ll give you a bit of the anatomy. The book started out, I was originally going to go to northern India, to this tournament they have in the Himalayas, played by … monks …. The IHF were going to have, I believe they were going to have their first sanctioned hockey game at a rink they’d built at the foot of the Himalayas. But I could never really get confirmation that the rink was working, that the players were going to show up …. It was going to be called Eat, Pray, Leafs.

So that was going to be the original thing. It was going to be an inner journey, it was going to parallel Indian mysticism … didn’t happen. And then I was going to write Diary of A Loser, which was going to be that comedic fictionalized look at my life, and that ended up becoming the Keon thing.

The way it goes down in the book, the Keon figure emerged over this series of incidents in which his name appeared, it sort of rose, and I realized, that’s the guy.

This might be your most personal book. Was it difficult to reach back to uncover what it was like being 11 in Toronto in the 1970s?
You start trying to get that, the chrysalis of memory, the true impression of what it was like, and then ultimately you start wondering whether that’s the way it actually felt like. That’s where it really dances between fact and fiction. Non-fiction, you’re sitting in a room, it’s all very austere, trying to do it very properly, and then fiction comes in a fucking checkered suit and a loud hat, right, and starts the party. Especially when I was reconstructing stuff like my cousin’s room, or hanging out with my parents, parties at my uncle’s place. It’s like, okay, I sort of have a sense of how this was, but I can sort of colour the edges. Which is how I kind of did it.

Is there ever a worry about writing about the people close to you, especially family? Does that ever hold you back?
Usually it does, but with this one I realized I had to just …. My dad read the book, and it was good. There was a lot of stuff that he had forgotten. He was glad that he was able to revisit it through that. I did tell him this was my impression, it wasn’t going to be totally accurate.

My wife actually told me a couple of books ago, I want you to totally take me out of anything you write in the future. She was like, you’ve gone down that road enough.

Although she does have a great line in this book about Mark Messier, that he looks like Agamemnon.
It’s true.

You talk in the book about the joys of just simply talking hockey, whether it’s with kids on the street or, in fact, when you finally track down Keon. Is that also one of the pleasures in writing a book like this: the jawing about last night’s game that we do as Canadians?
Yeah. And I do say in the book how, I think that used to be a lot more common in our society. And I think that’s what’s kind of nice about the book, in a way, it has kind of recharged it in our time. The Leafs playing well helps, obviously. Continue reading