Pro goalies’ stories quirky, fascinating
IN The Goaltenders’ Union: Hockey’s Greatest Puckstoppers, Acrobats and Flakes, Greg Oliver and Richard Kamchen look at one of sports’ most exclusive fraternities: the National Hockey League goaltender. A followup to Winnipegger Kamchen and Torontonian Oliver’s 2013 effort Don’t Call Me Goon: Hockey’s Greatest Enforcers, Gunslingers and Bad Boys, the authors offer readers profiles of men who willingly throw their bodies in the paths of vulcanized chunks of rubber that at times travel faster than 160 km/h. The book traces the history of the goaltending position from before the establishment of the NHL to as recently as the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Needless to say, many of the players profiled appear to have a screw or two loose, while at the same time coming off as insightful and intelligent. Beginning with the early days, readers are offered brief profiles of legends such as Georges Vezina and Turk Broda as well as obscure goalies such as Riley Hern and Bouse Hutton. The section on Original Six ’keepers examines the rigours of playing at a time when teams carried only one goalie and play would often be delayed while he was stitched up after taking a shot or a stick to the face, all the while knowing there was a ready supply of goaltenders toiling in the minor leagues waiting for their shot. The Goaltenders’ Union offers endless examples of how tight the goaltending community is, whether offering each other tips on the art of stopping the puck or words of encouragement when one of their brethren is going through a rough spell. It would surprise most hockey fans to find out Billy Smith, who had an on-ice reputation for being miserable and violent, would visit an opposing team’s rookie goalie — after he had just been shellacked by Smith’s New York Islanders — to help rebuild the rookie’s confidence after a humiliating defeat. A book on flaky goalies would likely fill volumes. While The Goaltenders’ Union doesn’t have a specific section on the wacky behaviour for which goalies are known, it doesn’t shy away from mentioning the quirky habits of players such as Gary “Suitcase” Smith, who would remove his gear and take a shower between periods, or the wackiest of them all, Gilles “Gratoony the Loony” Gratton, who skated around the rink before games wearing only his skates and complained about injuries suffered in past lives. While the player profiles in The Goaltenders’ Union offer interesting details about goalies, there are some glaring omissions. When the story of Terry Sawchuk and his irascible demeanour is told, for example, there’s no mention of the family tragedy that led to him becoming a goalie (his older brother died of a heart attack and Terry inherited his equipment and position). Hockey fans will find The Goaltenders’ Union an interesting read for its tales of old-time hockey as well as its description of how the most dangerous position in sports has evolved — from the days when goalies weren’t allowed to leave their feet to make a save to the present, where they are covered in body armour and as likely to make a blind save from their back as they are to snag a slapshot from the point with their trapper. Gilbert Gregory is a Free Press copy editor who believes there is no greater goalie mask than Gilles Gratton’s lion.
Union: Hockey’s Greatest Puckstoppers, Acrobats and Flakes