Hockey Central

The Odd and the Unusual

Hockey's Share of Sporting Superstitions and Curiosities

Rocket Richard's 50 goals in 50 games, Bobby Orr, airborne, moments after scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal against St. Louis. The NHL's history is rich with tradition, filled with great players and teams and their tremendous achievements. Alongside the great moments, room must be made for the offbeat, the unusual and the often unbelievable events which color the history of the game.

The fellow who scored a goal in his first NHL game but never played again. The winger who skated with a Stanley Cup winner a decade after he played his final regular-season game. The guy who bought a ticket to a game in Boston and finished the night in the Bruins net. The team which won a game without scoring a goal. And the goalie who lost one without allowing a goal.

Moe Roberts was an amateur netminder with the Boston Athletic Association when he was among the 4,000 fans who packed the Boston Arena on December 8, 1925 to watch the Boston Bruins play host to the Montreal Maroons. In the second period, Bruins goalie Doc Stewart suffered a gashed leg when he came out to challenge Montreal forward Babe Siebert. He couldn't continue. Roberts was called out of the crowd to don the pads and he filled in admirably, providing shutout goaltending for his 25 minutes of work and earning Boston a 3-2 win. Nearly 26 years later, Roberts was serving as a trainer for the Chicago Blackhawks when he was called on to make another relief appearance on November 25, 1951. Roberts, 46, took over for Harry Lumley to start the third period after the Chicago goalie was felled by a knee injury. Again, he supplied shutout netminding in a scoreless period of a game the Blackhawks lost 5-2 to Toronto.

The Montreal Maroons ran into a similar goalie crisis on January 8, 1930, but as luck would have it, the club carried two netminders. Flat Walsh was bedridden with flu, so coach Dunc Munro told him to stay home and let Clint Benedict mind the nets that night against the Montreal Canadiens – which Benedict did, until a Howie Morenz shot slammed into his face, breaking Benedict's nose and cutting him for seven stitches. With no other qualified netminder in the building, the Maroons roused Walsh from his sickbed. He took a taxi to the rink and the game was held up until his arrival. Trailing 1-0 when he arrived, Walsh played shutout goal the rest of the way (approximately 50 minutes) and the Maroons rallied for a 2-1 win. Later that season, when Benedict returned from his injury, he did so wearing a crude leather mask, making him the first NHL netminder to don facial protection.

Claude LaForge was the first Detroit Red Wing player to wear a mask. But he wasn't a goalie. LaForge, who had suffered a broken cheekbone with Hershey of the AHL, wasn't going to miss his chance when he was called up by Detroit a few days later. On December 28, 1961, LaForge, a left winger, played against Chicago wearing a goalie mask. There is a famous picture from that game of LaForge breaking in alone on Black Hawks goalie Glenn Hall, who isn't wearing a mask. The following season, Terry Sawchuk became the first Red Wings goalie to wear a mask.

Hall, who set an NHL record by starting 502 consecutive games from 1955 to 1962, was also known as the guy who vomited before every game. It became such a ritual with Hall that if he came to believe that if he didn't throw up, he didn't play well. The St. Louis Blues were readying to play the Philadelphia Flyers in game seven of their 1968 Stanley Cup quarter-final series when Hall sought out coach Scotty Bowman, concerned that he hadn't coughed up his cookies. "He told me that if he didn't have it, I should pull him out of the game early," Bowman said. Bowman was momentarily panic stricken, but his personal nausea was relieved moments later when he saw a pair of goal pads sticking out of one of the washroom stalls. "He was throwing up," Bowman said of Hall, "and whenever he did that, he played a supreme game." Which is exactly what Hall did, blocking 26 shots in a 3-1 win.

Hall also had another superstition. He never fished the puck out of the net after a goal was scored. "I wasn't the one who put it there," reasoned Hall. No one put it there when Ottawa and the Pittsburgh Pirates battled on December 5, 1925, but that didn't stop the Senators from posting a 1-0 victory when Pittsburgh forward Herb Drury threw his stick in the path of a shot by Senators defenseman George Boucher. Under NHL rules of the day, referee Lou Marsh immediately awarded a goal — marking the only time in NHL history that a game was played and a team won without a puck ever entering the net.

Mario Gosselin could probably relate to the frustration that Pittsburgh goalie Roy Woters must have felt that night. When Kelly Hrudey was injured in the third period of a Los Angeles-Edmonton game in 1989, Gosselin took over in the Kings net. The Oilers led 6-5 at the time and that was still the score when Gossilin was pulled for an extra attacker. The Oilers scored into the empty net, but just before the game ended, the Kings made it 7-6, meaning Gossilin, who was the goalie of record when the empty-net goal was scored, was charged with the loss, even though he didn't allow a single goal while he was in the net.

Giving a red light a workout was never a concern when Hardy Astrom was in goal for Don Cherry's Colorado Rockies in 1979-80. "First practice in Colorado, was were working on breakout drills. I shoot the puck at Hardy from the far blue line and it goes right through his legs," Sherry remembered. "'Fluke' I figure, so I shoot another one. Right through his legs again. 'Next drill,' I said. Actually, Hardy was a nice guy. He just had a weakness with pucks." Not that legendary goalies also haven't had their off days. Alex Connell set the NHL shutout streak of 461 minutes and 29 seconds in 1927-28 and he was working on another goose egg when his Ottawa Senators played the Montreal Maroons in 1930. Deadlocked in a scoreless battle with time running out, the Maroons' Babe Siebert made a desperate rush and fired a long shot into the Ottawa zone. It carried well over the Senators net, but as Connell turned to follow its path, the puck ricocheted off the chicken wire behind the net, hit Connell in the face and bounced into the net for the only goal of the game.

Brave performances in goal are the stuff of NHL lore, but Clarence (Dolly) Dolson made his biggest save long before he donned his pads in an NHL rink. Dolson, who played three seasons with Detroit, was fighting with Canadian troops in France during World War I and spotted a hand grenade as it bounced its way into the crowded trench. Dolson blocked the shot, scooped up the rebound and heaved it back towards the enemy. The hand grenade exploded in mid-air, a split-second after Dolson had tossed it aside. Fortunately for Dolson, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his heroics, it was against the rules of the game in those days for a goaltender to smother the puck.

Such intestinal fortitude is a required quality for NHL puckstoppers. Frank (Ulcers) McCool was just a rookie when he backstopped Toronto to a Stanley Cup win in 1945 after winning the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. He posted three shutouts in a seven-game finals verdict over Detroit. But it was his upset tummy which most people remember. He battled stomach ulcers his whole life and the pranksters on the Leafs roster enjoyed tormenting their goalie by hiding his medication. One day, McCool decided to get even. He arrived at Maple Leaf Gardens hours early for practice, asking an equipment attendant for a hammer. While the equipment handler continued about his work of organizing sticks outside the dressing room, he couldn't help notice the thumping sound emanating from inside the room. Finally, curiosity got the better of him and he entered the room, only to find McCool carefully sliding nails through the lace hoops in each player's skates, then nailing them to the bench.

McCool made his point, but Aurel Joliat wasn't as fortunate. The Montreal Canadiens thumped Ottawa 10-3 on February 11, 1925. The rout was already on when — in the midst of play — Joliat skated up to the timekeeper's bench. "How many assists you got for me?" asked Joliat, who was battling Ottawa's Cy Denneny and Toronto's Babe Dye for the scoring title. "Three," answered the astonished scorer. "Should be four," scolded an angry Joliat. "Three," the scorer said sternly, "Four," responded an angry Joliat, who then jumped back into the play, picked up the puck, raced in and scored. After the goal, he swooped past the penalty box and glared at the scorer before assuming his left wing position for the face-off.

There was no such dispute over Roly Huard's first — and last — NHL goal. When the injury bug bit the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Bisons of the International League offered to loan Toronto the services of forward Huard for one game — a December 13, 1930 tilt with the Boston Bruins at Maple Leafs Gardens. Huard scored the opening goal in a 7-3 loss to the Bruins that night, then packed his gear and returned to Buffalo, never to appear in another NHL game. He is the only player in NHL history to play just one game and score a goal in that game. On the other hand, Dave Michayluk's NHL debut was uneventful, but his departure from the league was a dream come true. He played for Pittsburgh's 1992 Stanley Cup-winning squad, a decade after skating in his last regular-season game. Michayluk, assigned to the minors by Philadelphia in 1982, was called up when the Penguins were riddled with injuries during the 1992 playoffs. He produced a goal and an assist in seven games en route to the title. Michayluk never played another NHL game.

Not all debuts are so eventful. A budding amateur star turned professional in the late 1920s, but, as was often the case, found the monied ranks too tough. Realizing their error, the team moved quickly to deal the player before other teams caught on to the fact that he couldn't cut it. "Do I have to go?" asked the young player after he was told he'd been traded. "Yes, I'M afraid you have to," answered his manager. "Well, I'll tell you something right now," the youngster said. "I'll never turn pro again."

Rob Murray wasn't making his NHL debut when Winnipeg was playing in Detroit on November 19, 1992, but no one bothered to inform Jets teammate Teemu Selanne. When Murray scored, Selanne, thinking it was Murray's first goal, fished the puck out of the net and presented it to him. "Teemu skated up and said 'Congratulations,'" Murray remembered. "I said 'Teemu, I have scored in the league before.'" "Well, I'm not taking the puck back to the referee," answered Selanne.

According to the record books, Joe Ironstone played his first NHL game game for the New York Americans in 1926, but his first appearance on an NHL ice surface came about a year earlier. In the fall of 1924, Ottawa sold Clint Benedict to the Maroons and signed two amateurs — Ironstone and Alec Connell — to battle for the open slot in goal. Connell won the position and although Ironstone was on the roster, he didn't suit up for a single game. HE was sitting on the bench in street clothes, watching the Canadiens and Senators battle one January night, when a brawl broke out and the benches emptied. Reluctantly, Ironstone joined the flow over the boards, taking his trusty goal stick with him. He stood at centre ice, wielding his club like a ninja warrior, ensuring no one would challenge him.

The following season, the Senators and Boston Bruins also engaged in a bench-clearing brawl. Police had to be called out to quell the riot and fans pelted the ice with bottles, papers, peanuts, coins — and an Eskimo Pie ice cream, which struck Bruins forward Stan Jackson square in the face. "It didn't seem to hurt him much," noted a report of the game on the Montreal Gazette.

Occasionally, the unkindest blow of all can come from a teammate. Kings forward Luc Robitaille was drilled into the net during a scramble in a Vancouver-Los Angeles game. Instinctively, he quickly turned and drilled the first player he saw with a cross-check. Importunately, it was teammate Dave Taylor. As Taylor groggily rose to his feet, seeking revenge, Robitaille, in a state of panic, pointed at nearby Vancouver defenceman Doug Lidster. "It was him," Robitaille told Taylor, who immediately lunged at Lidster. Robitaille waited nearly two years before revealing what had really happened.

Joe Hall, an early NHL tough guy with the Canadiens, was another who acted instinctively when a whistle sounded during a Canadiens-Ottawa game in 1918. Hall quickly assumed his usual position in the penalty box. "What did you give him a penalty for?" Canadiens captain Newsy Lalonde demanded of referee Marsh. Marsh allowed that he had called no infraction and Lalonde posed the same query to judge of play Steev Vair. Again, his question was greeted with a shrug, so Lalonde told Hall to get out of the box "Sorry about that Newsy," Hall said as he sheepishly returned to his position on the Canadiens defense. "Force of habit, I guess."

Marsh, also a writer for a Toronto newspaper, was one of the characters of the league. He once punched a fan during a game but used his wit to deal with a female heckler one night in New York. "If you we're my husband, you gray-haired bum, I'd give you poison," the shrill-voiced woman announced just prior to a face-off. Marsh skated over to where she was seated and said loudly: "Lady, if I was your husband, I'd take it."

Such cross words have started many an NHL altercation, but it was a crossword puzzle which left the Chicago Black Hawks in stitches during a train trip in the 1920s. Chicago defenseman Helge Bostrom was fond of crossword puzzles, while partner Amby Moran was partial to card games. Bostrom was working feverishly on a puzzle during one trek and was down to the last word. "Hey Amby," he asked his partner, interrupting their game of hearts. "What's a four-letter word meaning bird?" "Goose," answered Moran, "G-O-S-E." "Hurrah," Bostrom shouted. "It just fits."

Spelling might not be a required element for NHL success, but the fear of spells is an entirely different matter. Over the years, many players have worked overtime to ward off the affliction of the evil hoodoo. When he's on a hot streak, current Nashville Predators goalie Ron Tugnutt wears the same clothes — right down to socks and underwear — to the rink on game day. "It's nothing disgusting, though," Tugnutt said. "I wash them."

The champion of the overly superstitions had to be Laurie Scott, who played with Toronto and New York in the 1920s. Scott never shaved before a game and insisted on being the last player to leave the dressing room. He would cross his fingers and spit between them whenever passing a cemetery. And he always set his stick blade up in the same pattern in his locker. Scott once threatened to retire from the game when teammate Leo Reise turned his sticks around the other way.

It was probably a good thing that Scott no longer played for them when the Rangers traveled to Maple Leafs Gardens for a December 14, 1929 game against Toronto. Colonel John Hammond, president of the Rangers, hired the Curtis-Wright Corporation to transport his club to and from Toronto via airplane, marking the first time an NHL club had traveled to a league game by commercial airline. Apparently, Colonel Hammond was not a superstitious ma, considering that the Rangers departed for Toronto on Friday, December 13. For the record, Toronto won a 7-6 overtime decision.

New York's other NHL team of the era, the Americans often played second fiddle to the Rangers. The Amerks employed many methods to convince fans to come see their games — entertaining crowds during intermissions with barrel jumping and dogsled races on the ice. In 1926, the Americans put players' names on the back of their jerseys, something that the NHL didn't make mandatory until the late 1970s. That same season, the club's public relations machine went over the top after signing Montreal amateur Rene Boileau. A January 22, 1926 press release billed Boileau as Rainey Drinkwater, a Native American. "It will be news to Rene Boileau to learn that he comes from the Cauhnawaga Indian reservation," noted the Montreal Gazette.

The NHL wasn't a big-money game in those days. Teams were limited by a $35,000 salary cap and signing players in midseason would challenge a budget. Charlie (Dinny) Dinsmore was a spare forward for three seasons with the NHL's Montreal Maroons in the mid-1920s. He was part of a Stanley Cup championship squad in 1926 but left the game in 1928 to take a job as a bond trader. While a lucrative occupation, Dinsmore found that playing the stock market didn't offer the same thrills as playing in the NHL, so he went to the Maroons in the midst of the 1929-30 season to inquire about getting his old job back. Team officials said that they had no more money to sign another player, but Dinsmore was insistent and finally a deal was struck. Dinsmore signed a contract which paid him one dollar for the remaining nine games. At a little more than a dime a game, it made him the lowest-paid player in NHL history. That was a dollar well spent and so was the buck which Detroit used to acquire Kris Draper from Winnipeg in 1993. "And you know what? I think it was even a Canadian dollar," said Draper, a checking-line center who played a key role in Detroit's 1997 Stanley Cup triumph.

At the other end of the financial scale, D'Arcy Coulson was the NHL's first million-dollar player — albeit through birthright, not wages. A defenseman with the Philadelphia Quakers in 1930-31, Coulson was the son of an Ottawa millionaire, perhaps explaining why his NHL career lasted just one season.

It was around the time that Coulson broke into the big leagues that legendary hockey innovator Frank Patrick — who, along with his brother Lester, helped revolutionize the way the game was played — predicted the time would come when NHLers commanded million-dollar stipends. In a 1930 interview, Patrick insisted that hockey would become a multi-million dollar business, with games being played in arenas capable of seating 20,000 fans. Patrick stated hockey would become a game "for not one coach, but two or three." He foresaw a day when all teams would carry two goalies, five defensemen and would use three forward lines throughout the game. "What happens when a player goes off-form?" he asked. "They yank him. Why shouldn't a goalkeeper in hockey be taken out for his understudy if he is having a bad night? You'll see it in hockey." You know something? He could be right.