lift-off

Flyboy: Like Frank Brimsek and Mike Karakas (and … well, Bob Dylan, too), Sam LoPresti hailed from Minnesota’s Iron Range. He guarded Chicago’s goal for two seasons in the early 1940s before volunteering himself out of hockey and into the U.S. Navy. Posing here in 1940-41, he puts Emile Francis to shame, I’d say, sailing across his net in search of a puck that may or not ever show up.

 

far flung

It’s said that Frank Brimsek hated having his photograph taken for fear that the flash would harm his eyes and thereby his puckstopping prowess. I don’t know how true that is — he does seem to have posed unblinkingly for a whole lot of (very handsome) portraits during his NHL career, in several classic poses, including the Standing Tall and the Pucks Have Been Known To Feint Dead Away, Facing My Icy Glare. Those aren’t the only ones available to the goaltender facing a photographer, of course. Roy Worters perfected the Ennui I’m Projecting Oughta Stop At Least A Few. And as Emile Francis demonstrates here, in 1947, there’s also the No Way That Puck Is Going To Dip Down Under The Crossbar, But Oh Well, Best Maybe To Fling Myself Across The Net Just In Case. Now 91, Francis is maybe best remembered now as a long-time and even legendary coach and general manger of the New York Rangers, but his career as a guardian of NHL nets lasted six years before that. Brimsek and Chicago’s Mike Karakas are generally credited with introducing a pocketed catching-glove to the goaltender’s armour in the late 1930s, but it was Francis who adapted a first-baseman’s mitt into what we recognize today as the goaltender’s trapper. In Francis’ first season as a Black Hawk, Detroit coach Jack Adams tried to have the glove banned as oversized and therefore illegal. He wasn’t successful, and after NHL president Clarence Campbell took a look and deemed it permissible, the Francis trapper became standard gear in NHL creases. The man they called the Cat would play two seasons in Chicago Black Hawks before a trade took him to the Rangers, where he served mostly as a back-up to Chuck Rayner.

 

a.k.a. zilch

Stopper: Born this day in 1915 in Eveleth, Minnesota, Frank Brimsek earned the nickname Mr. Zero in his rookie year, 1938-39, when he replaced an injured Tiny Thompson in the Boston Bruins’ net and recorded shutouts in six of the first eight games he played. His nine seasons with the Bruins bracketed a two-year stint during World War II with the U.S. Coast Guard. Working the Boston nets, he won Calder and Vézina and Stanley cups, before finishing his NHL career with a single season, ’49-’50, as a Chicago Black Hawk.

 

boston thronged

Iceward: Boston’s Bruins make their way to the ice at the Garden, circa 1939. Leading the way is Frank Brimsek, followed by Eddie Shore, Charlie Sands, Dir Clapper, Cooney Weiland, Jack Portland, and Roy Conacher.

 

(© Arthur Griffin. Courtesy of the Griffin Museum of Photography. Photograph may not be reproduced in any form per the copyright holder. All rights reserved.)

flash mob

Press Ganged: The 1938-39 Boston Bruins line up for Boston photographers. From left, best-guessed: Bobby Bauer, Cooney Weiland, Frank Brimsek, Bill Cowley, Mel Hill, Tiny Thompson, Charlie Sands, Eddie Shore, Ray Getliffe, Terry Reardon, Harry Frost, Milt Schmidt, Woody Dumart, Flash Hollett, Roy Conacher, Dit Clapper, Jack Portland, and Gord Pettinger.

(Image © Arthur Griffin Courtesy of the Griffin Museum of Photography, photograph may not be reproduced in any form per the copyright holder. All rights reserved.)

toronto cost me eight stitches  

brimsek

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.

hot spot on ice

(Top photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

bru crew

 

Boston Cream: Never mind the world at war, the big hockey news in Boston in the winter of 1939-40 was that, in his 14th year as leader and idol of the Bruins, Eddie Shore was on his last turn. It wasn’t a particularly glorious ending: Shore played in just four Boston games that year and though the Bruins said they’d never trade him (right up to the moment they did), he ended the year (and his career) with the New York Americans. Without the man they were calling Old Mr. Hockey, a new generation of Boston stars took the team to the top of the NHL standings, where they finished the regular season. With his 22 goals and 52 points in 48 games, centreman Milt Schmidt led the league in scoring, followed in the charts by Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer, his two Kraut-Line wingers, each with 43 points. The Bruins couldn’t keep it going in the playoffs, though, losing out in the first round to the eventual champions, the New York Rangers. Above, in hats and spiffy jackets, a bevy of Bruins gather in a Garden stairwell. Front, from left, that’s: Jack Crawford, Schmidt, Bauer, and Dumart. Behind, left to right: Flash Hollett stands with Art Jackson, Frank Brimsek, Roy Conacher, Jack Shewchuk, and Dit Clapper.

(Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)