Tall Boys #6 – Terry Sawchuk and the goaltending carousel

Posted: February 11, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Terry Sawchuk - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys

As a young player, Terry Sawchuk was hefty and happy-go-lucky. Jack Adams then put him on a diet from which he never recovered. His nerves and temperment went with it.

(originally published January 8, 2013)

It’s not really surprising that the chatter in Toronto would move seamlessly from lockout talk to goalie talk.  In Toronto, at least to some extent, it is always about the goalies.  Even in those brief, shining moments where we’re all happy(ish) with the netminding, it’s only a matter of time before the basic, fundamental Toronto question of “who is going to play goal for this team?” arises again.  Somebody leaves, somebody gets hurt.  It never lasts.

It must have been a shock to the system of most hockey fans to see this card in 1964.  It’s not that Toronto wasn’t used to two goaltenders – the Leafs had run some form of Bower-plus-a-backup ever since they’d decided Ed Chadwick couldn’t carry the load by himself in 1958.  It’s just that two goalies of this stature on the same team at the same time was basically unheard of.

It worked, though.  Even though Toronto’s tandem was 75 years old between them (older even than Gordie Howe), they managed to work Sawchuk’s wonky back and Bower’s random wonky age-related bits all the way to the 1964-65 Vezina.  They split the games and shared the trophy.

After that, though, it was murder to hold it all together.  Toronto actually used five goalies in both 1965-66 and 1966-67, with Boston escapee Bruce Gamble picking up most of the balance of the starts.  In 1966-67, he played almost as many games as either Sawchuk or Bower did.

Sawchuk was gone after just three seasons in Toronto, lost in the expansion draft to LA.  For all his playoff brilliance in 1967, only once did he appear in more than 30 regular season games as a Leaf.

This carousel or netminders dates back to 1949.  Turk Broda, Leaf starter since 1936, was still great but aging.  The Leafs had an heir apparent in Pittsburgh named Aldege “Baz” Bastien.  He’d been waiting in the wings for years just in case Broda faltered and was a really solid candidate, despite the fact that he was now pushing 30.  He’d been the first team AHL All-Star three years running and had led the league in GAA the past two.

In the Leafs’ 1949 Leafs training camp, though, he was struck in the eye with a puck.  He lost the eye and his career was finished.  The Leafs were now left with a 35-year-old Broda and no plan.  (Howie Harvey, brother of Doug, was the Leafs’ top amateur goalie, but he had to retire with a skin condition.)

They quickly traded for a young Al Rollins, who put in a very good pair of seasons, but never seemed able to convince Conn Smythe of his abilities come playoff time.  The Leafs went so far as to coax Broda out of retirement in 1952 when the Rollins-backed Leafs dropped a pair of playoff games.

Smythe fixed this with a fairly expensive deal for Harry Lumley, who was very, very good, but also almost inexplicably moved out after just four seasons.  Ed Chadwick, who had looked good in a brief trial, held the reins for two years before taking the fall for a lousy team in front of him.  This ushered in the Bower era.

What’s really remarkable about the Leaf goaltenders since Broda is how short all their tenures were, even if we liked them.  After Bower’s run as number one, Gamble had about three and a half years.  Plante was in for three, Parent just a season and a half.  It was then the cast of thousands until Palmateer landed, but he too was gone in just four years (a very banged-up version would return a while later).  Allan Bester played parts of eight seasons but was only a regular in five of them, while Wregget played parts of six and was the real starter for only three.

Even the good run the Leafs had between 1991 and 2003 involved four distinct good goalies.  Fuhr was here a year and a half.  Potvin, who has played the most games by a homegrown goalie since Broda and is third overall in wins, had five and a half years as a starter.  Joseph gave us four, Belfour three of which only two were good.  And even during that time, think of the plethora of moderately frightening backups (not counting Potvin’s brief stint, there were 12 of them).  The last backup goalie that really inspired confidence (other than maybe Reimer/Giguere) was Damian Rhodes, and he left in 1996.

Since the end of the last lockout, the Leafs have used no less than 15 goaltenders and we still aren’t dead sure we have one we like.

So it’s no surprise that we’re back into goalie talk.  It’s what we do around here.

Terry Sawchuk - 1964-65 Topps Tall Boys back

Despite all those seasons, Topps was never above randomly misspelling Terry’s surname.

  1. commishbob says:

    I’ll never forget how he died in such a strange way while he was still active as the Rangers’ back-up to Eddie Giacomin. Just wrestling around with his housemate Ron Stewart. One of the oddest hockey stories ever.

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