“He has big hands, fast reflexes, and an unorthodox, gorillalike crouch — ‘I feel more comfortable down there.’” So chronicled Life magazine’s unnamed writer in a February, 1952 feature profiling Detroit Red Wing goaltender Terry Sawchuk. Winnipeg-born on this date when it was a Saturday in 1929, Sawchuk was a mere 22 in ’52, and just halfway through his second season in the NHL, but already Life was prepared to proclaim him the greatest goalie ever. In 50 games up to that point in the season, he’d accumulated ten shutouts and a miserly average of 1.86 goals a game. He’d play all of the Red Wings’ 70 games that year, and be named to the NHL’s First All-Star while winning the first of his four career Vézina trophies. That same spring, Sawchuk would backstop the Red Wings to the first of the four Stanley Cups he’d get his name on before he died, aged 40, in 1970. Already in ’52, Life was registering the damage he’d sustained doing his duty, noting that it wasn’t so healthy for a man in his position to be guessing where the puck was going and getting it wrong: “Sawchuk has 40 stitches on his face to prove it.”
Sawchuk’s eventful story is the subject of a Canadian biopic due for release in 2019. It’s a narrative (as some early production notes explain) that explores Sawchuk’s youth as well as his 20-year, five-team NHL career — “during which he recorded 103 shutouts and 400 stitches to his face.”
Filmed mostly in Sudbury, Ontario, earlier this year, Goalie (Blue Ice Pictures) stars Mark O’Brien as the man himself. It also features Kevin Pollak in the role of Detroit GM Jack Adams. Adriana Maggs is directing; with her sister Jane Maggs, she also co-wrote the screenplay that draws on both the poems in Night Work (2008) by their father, Randall Maggs, and David Dupuis’ 1998 biography Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World’s Greatest Goalie.
Today’s a day (in 1976) that Clint Benedict died — Butch Keeling, too, as it happens (in 1984). Benedict, intrepid goaltender, hockey innovator, was 84. He spent his NHL years with Ottawa’s original Senators before departing, unhappily, for the Maroons of Montreal. He won four Stanley Cups, but those triumphs aren’t what he’s remembered for. In 1930, he was (almost without doubt, but not quite) the first goaler to wear a mask in an NHL game. He tried it for five games at the end of that season, but neither the mask nor Benedict was quite right, and the experiment ended with the latter, still shaken from puck-wounds, slipping out of the league. After a stint with the IHL Windsor Bulldogs, Benedict ended his playing days to take up coaching.
Franklin Farrell was the third of his name, following after his father and his grandfather, but he was alone (I’m almost certain) in the family in taking up as a hockey goaltender. The original FF was a Connecticut iron tycoon whose son followed him into the business, just as his son would do, eventually, too. Both of the younger FFs attended Yale University, which is where the man we’re interested in here played made the varsity hockey team in the late 1920s and into the ’30s. Because he wore glasses off the ice and on, he was (of course) nicknamed Specs. Post-grad, as a 25-year-old, he would go on to backstop the U.S. Olympic team that played host at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. This was February of 1932, and it was there and then (as previously mentioned) that Specs Farrell seems to have become the first of his position to don a mask at an Olympic tournament. The idea of goaltenders protecting their faces from hurtling pucks wasn’t new, of course — just two years had passed since Clint Benedict had tried his on while defending the nets for the Montreal Maroons.
That’s Farrell’s protection we’re seeing here, in the two images above, if not all that straight-on or clearly. What’s evident is that his was expressly intended to protect his eyewear rather than offer any kind of comprehensive defence against facial injury. Four years later, Japan’s Olympic goaltender Teiji Honma would sport a full mask of a sort that a baseball catcher might be satisfied to wear (below); Farrell’s tackle left his nose and mouth and chin painfully exposed.
Farrell’s half-mask does seem to have caught on, at least in collegiate circles: later in the 1930s, George Mahoney (here below) had a similar set-up while guarding goals for Harvard.
At Lake Placid, Farrell’s U.S. team came as close as they ever had in the Olympics to toppling the repeatedly dominant Canadians. In the tournament’s opening game, it took two overtimes for the Canadians to beat their North American rivals, 2-1. Nine days later, the teams played three overtimes without the breaking their 2-2 deadlock. That was enough for Canada to take the gold, leaving the U.S. with silver.
Regarding Farrell’s half-mask, one more note might be worth a mention. Ahead of the Olympics, in January, Farrell would seem to have been the first masked goaltender since Clint Benedict to face NHL opposition on NHL ice.
It was only an exhibition game. A few days after naming the line-up he’d be taking to Lake Placid, U.S. Olympic coach Ralph Winsor took his team into the Boston Garden to meet the NHL Bruins in a Friday-night friendly that also featured a second game, between the minor-league Boston Cubs and Poland’s Olympic team. Fans did not “turn out to see a whizz bang contest,” the Boston Globe’s account of the evening observed; for the crowd, this was more about “being on hand as an expression of well-wishing for the sojourn in the Adirondacks.”
On the Tuesday of that week, Boston had lost at home to Chicago by a score of 3-2. Saturday, they’d go down 2-0 to the visiting Detroit Falcons. Friday night, Bruins’ coach Art Ross didn’t roll out his full line-up. Goaltender Tiny Thompson was excused, replaced by his sometime back-up, Percy Jackson; regulars Dit Clapper, Cooney Weiland, and Lionel Hitchman were likewise given a rest.
But Eddie Shore played, and so did Bruins’ captain George Owen, along with front-line forwards Marty Barry and Art Chapman. The latter scored four goals in a 5-1 Bruins’ win, with Frank Jerwa adding another. Ty Anderson scored the only goal for the Olympians in the second of the game’s three 15-minute periods — it was “the only really difficult shot Percy Jackson had to handle,” according to the Globe.
Farrell shared the net with back-up Ted Frazier, “both getting considerable experience in killing off hard drives.”
Born on this date in 1900, the goaltender Lorne Chabot made his debut in Montreal, where he also died in 1946, just five days beyond his 46th birthday. In between, Chabot mostly did the work of trying to stop pucks, tending NHL goals in his time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and both Montreal teams, Canadiens and Maroons, as well as the Chicago Black Hawks and New York’s Rangers and Americans. He won Stanley Cups with the Rangers in 1928 and the Leafs four years later; with the Hawks in 1935 he was rewarded with the Vézina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. He probably should be in the Hall of hockey Fame, though the institution itself hasn’t so far consented to invite him in.
It was during his single season in Chicago that Timeput Chabot on its cover, making him the first NHLer to appear there. (Dave Kerr of the Rangers followed a few years later.) Also making news that February halfway through the turbulent ’30s? Time noted that U.S. President and Mrs. Roosevelt had welcomed trailblazing flyer Amelia Earhart to the White House. In New Jersey, Bruno Hauptmann was on trial for the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son, Charles Jr. British Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald, meanwhile, was denounced by an MP in favour of Scottish independence in language so strong that it was censored out of Hansard. “The Prime Minister is a low, dirty cur who ought to be horsewhipped and slung out of public life,” is some of what was excised, for the record.
Towards the end ofTime, Lorne Chabot was described in an unbylined feature as “a bulky, silent, languid French Canadian.” By way of biography, there were notes on his soldiering (underaged, in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, in the First World War) and his subsequent policing (as a member of the RCMP). Duly mentioned, too, was the famous 1928 episode when he was injured and left the Ranger net to the care of his manager, 44-year-old Lester Patrick.
He was superstitious, Time reported, insisting on donning “the same pair of lucky (hockey) trousers” that he’d always worn as an NHLer. Off the ice, he liked grey spats. His Chicago address was the Croydon Hotel, where he lived with his wife and two children. “More amiable than he appears when professionally engaged, Chabot, like most hockey players, has a summer job, as ice cream salesman. His Black Hawks salary is $4,500.”
As for his goaltending technique:
Chabot almost never leaves his net. Slow at regaining his feet when he falls down, he indulges in few of the acrobatic tricks that make the work of smaller goalies more spectacular.
These qualities give his style of play a peculiar indolence which he exaggerates as much as possible. Instead of chattering encouragement to his teammates, the method by which most goalies relieve their nervous tension, he munches slowly a huge wad of chewing gum, rarely speaks a word during a game. Instead of waving his arms, he lounges against his cage as if it were a mantelpiece. All this helps mask his real capabilities: preternaturally quick eyes, phenomenal ability to spread his bulky frame across his goal.
Chabot was said not to mind when the fans in Chicago tossed dead fish down from the gallery onto the ice. The only thing that bothered Chabot was when he failed to keep the puck out of the net. How bothered could he get?
“Last fortnight,” Time advised, “he clubbed a goal judge with his hockey stick for daring to assert that his opponents had contrived to score a goal. He was amused by news that the goal judge was suing him for $10,000.”