terry sawchuk: big hands, fast reflexes, an already much-stitched face

Wheelmen: Detroit’s powerful 1959 line-up included (from left) Marcel Pronovost, Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, coach Sid Abel, Alex Delvecchio, and Gordie Howe.

“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.

lumley’s number one

Harry Lumley, already fluey, chases hard after this fella because there’s no-one else. And when fluey Harry Lumley falls — because, of course, he’s in his goalie gear — we have to laugh.

I make it sound like I was there, which I wasn’t. This is a charity game, in January of 1950, the first-place Detroit Red Wings are taking on a team of International League all-stars to raise money for the lesser league’s fund for injured players, which is kind of ironic, as we all make sure to say at the time. A comedy game the papers call it. Old Apple Cheeks, as we call Lumley, AC for short, old AC will sometimes take a regular stick and move up out of his net for face-offs down at the far end, which he does in this case we’re talking about here, he’s up when the puck gets by him, and so he has chase because the net is empty. Go AC, we call, ha, ha, watch out  — oh, no, Harry.

Sorry. That’s awful. Let me be clear: I wasn’t there. Nowhere close. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Apple Cheeks is true enough; they did call him that. And the charity game, and the chase. Here’s what Lumley recalled:

Well, the puck got past me and I ended up trying to chase this fella who was about to shoot into the open net. I tripped and fell and sprained my ankle. It was a bad sprain, too!

Actually, he got up and played on. Later in the game he was off again down the ice, trying to score. He was in on the All-Stars’ net, about to shoot when he, fffump, fell down. The trainers helped him to the dressing room. From there he went to Detroit’s Harper Hospital. The x-rays showed no fracture, just the sprain. Continue reading