Tiny Thompson did some counting before he retired in 1940. Thompson, of course, was a fixture in goal for the Boston Bruins for a decade in the ’20s and ’30s, helping them win their first Stanley Cup championship in his rookie year. After Frank Brimsek displaced him in Boston, Thompson played a couple of seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before calling quits on his NHL career. That’s when he came up with the estimate that he had stopped 100,000 shots in his time tending goals.
Whether or not Thompson notched his stick to keep track of shots incoming, I don’t know. Hard, really, to say whether that’s a realistic number or pure fiction. Thompson, we know, played 553 regular-season games in a 12-year NHL career and another 44 in the playoffs. He played another nine or so in minor leagues, before that, in the 1920s. No-one was keeping official track of shots on goal in those years, so it’s impossible to pronounce on Thompson’s tally one way or the other. We do know that the all-time NHL leader in saves, Martin Brodeur, made 33,758 of them through 1,471 games, regular-season and playoffs. Does that help?
The incumbent Boston goaltender, Linus Ullmark, has played in 199 NHL games, and his save count is up to 5,353. As you maybe noticed, the 31-year-old Swede and his numbers were much this week as he had himself, well, a week, right in the middle of having himself, well, a year.
Both have been extraordinary, but let’s focus here on the week’s doings.
Heading into Boston’s game in Vancouver on Saturday, February 25, Ullmark had nothing but wins to his credit for the month, winning all of his four starts to that point. Against the Canucks, Ullmark and his Bruins won again, 3-1, with the goaltender hoisting a late-game shot at Vancouver’s empty net to finish the night in style, scoring the first goalie goal in Boston’s 99-year franchise history. (He still has some work to do before he catches the all-time NHL goalscoring leader: Brodeur collected three in his day, including a game-winning goal.)
Still, that was exciting.
Three nights later, on Tuesday, February 28, Ullmark was the hero in Calgary as the mighty Bruins rolled on, beating the Flames 3-2 in overtime. Again the goaltender made history, this time for prodigious puck-stopping, as Ullmark turned away 54 Calgary shots, setting a new franchise high for a single game.
The Bruins, thrilled, were quick to herald this on Twitter, broadcasting the image below. If they didn’t quite get it right on the night, well, it was a big thrill, and facts can be hard to corral when you’re so very … thrilled.
Not to take anything away from Ullmark, but the finer points of the case do deserve an airing. As the NHL’s PR department was careful to clarify, Ullmark’s achievement involved, in fact, a somewhat narrower time-frame than all of eternity.
As reported next morning in the NHL’s Morning Skate daily news digest, “Ullmark made a career-high 54 saves and registered the most on record by a Bruins goaltender (since 1955-56 when shots on goal began being tracked), besting Tim Thomas(51 saves on March 1, 2007).”
Good to know. As is what came next in the NHL release: “Of note, Boston has featured one instance of a netminder making more saves in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tuukka Rask (59 saves in Game 1 of 2013 SCF).”
Right you are. Just why there should be, in this case, a distinction made between a regular-season feat of this nature and one performed in the playoffs isn’t clear (to me, at least), but then again the dubious distincting between regular season and playoffs is not anything unseen before in NHL record-keeping. It does, nevertheless, seem like a bit of a statistical slight to Tuukka Rask.
Which brings us back to Tiny Thompson. As the PR people at the NHL pointed out, the league didn’t start officially accounting for shots (and thereby, saves) until 1955, well after Thompson’s time, which means there’s no reliable official record of what he and his early netminding brethren were doing in the early decades of the league. That’s too bad.
It doesn’t mean that shots and saves were never counted in the pre-1955 NHL: sometimes they were. Not in every arena, not all the time, nor in any systematic way. There’s no verifying the accuracy of the tallies that contemporary newspapers reported in those years. But report they did, sometimes, and even if those records are anecdotal, these numbers hold their places in hockey history if not in official ledgers.
Well, the 90 shots that Normie Smith of the Detroit Red Wings was reported to have diverted in March of 1936. That’s some goaltending. That game still stands as the longest game in NHL history, wherein Detroit beat the Montreal Maroons 1-0 in the sixth overtime of a Stanley Cup semi-final. (Lorne Chabot of the Maroons stopped 68 shots.)
Or what about Chicago Black Hawks goaltender Sam LoPresti, who stopped 83 Bruin shots in a game in 1941. (Three others that got by him secured a 3-2 win for Boston, who had Brimsek in their goal). Also something.
You’ll find, too, in the annals of Bruins history a Stanley Cup game played in April of 1933 that the Bruins themselves may well have forgotten, something the team tends to do when it comes to its own history, bizarrely, given how rich that history is — but that’s another story, one you can read about here (and here), if you feel the need.
But. 1933. Boston met the defending Cup champions, Toronto’s Maple Leafs, that year in a best-of-five semi-final series that was decided at Maple Leaf Gardens in another epic six-overtimes battle. Tiny Thompson was in the Boston net, facing Lorne Chabot at the other end. Both men were nursing shutouts when Leaf right winger Ken Doraty finally ended the thing (and the series) at five to two in the morning when he beat Thompson for the winning goal.
Distressed by the loss, exhausted, Thompson probably didn’t care how many shots he saved that night, but the number does seem to have been a remarkable one nonetheless. As reported in the Toronto Daily Star the following day, the Leafs fired 115 shots at Thompson, who saved 114 of them. 114! Chabot, for his troubles, stymied 93.
It’s worth noting that most of the summaries that went out from Toronto that night included shot counts, period-by-period. Some, including in the Boston Globe and in both Montreal’s Gazette and Daily Star, offered different numbers when it came to saves, 111 for Thompson and 89 for Chabot. Again, there was no official count. These lesser totals seem to have been the result of someone, somewhere along the line leaving out shots fired (by both teams) the final (sixth) overtime period.
This, again, doesn’t change anything that Linus Ullmark achieved last week. Well done, him. But Tiny Thompson does seem to have stopped more than twice as many shots one long in Toronto in 1933. That seems pertinent, and of interest to Bruins’ fans, according to me.
As is (finally) another entirely unofficial incident from two seasons earlier.
Tiny Thompson is, again, our man. He was 27 in February of 1931 and (apparently) feeling frisky. It wouldn’t happen nowadays, but midway through that NHL season, Boston took the time between two of its scheduled regular-season games to travel to Providence, Rhode Island, to play a benefit against the minor-league Reds of the Canadian-American League. The cause was a good one in those Depression years: all proceeds from the game — $3,800 — went to support the unemployed.
“For the Bruins,” the Boston Globe reported, “it was little more than a workout.” They won easily, by a score of 7-1, powered by a pair of goals by Harry Oliver.
“Everything was in all seriousness until the final minute,” the paper assured its readers. Then? Tiny Thompson decided that he wanted in on the scoring action. So he headed up the ice. Stickhandling the whole way? Maybe. It sounds like the Providence defence parted for him. Did he have any kind of wrist shot? I can’t say. The Globe: “He went in alone from the blueline and beat [Reds goaltender] Mickey Murray on the far side of the nets.”
All in all, it was “a spectacular finish,” the Globe decided — a goalie goal that Linus Ullmark himself might have been proud to score, 92 years later.