Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Big Pants to Fill

Bill Durnan was a National Hockey League goalie who spent his entire 7 year career (1943-44 to 1949-50) with the Montreal Canadiens, His record reflects just how brilliant his time in the Habs net was - 6 Vezina wins and 6 first team all-star selections - falling short of a  sweep in both categories in 1948, losing out to Toronto Maple Leaf Turk Broda.

After his playing days were over, Durnan turned to coaching. In 1959-60 he was behind the bench for the Kitchener-Waterloo Dutchmen in the OHA  Sr. League. A member of his squad was a young goalie named Cesare Maniago.

Having a coach who played the same position only reaped benefits for Maniago. Durnan wouldn't hesitate to pass along tips to his goalie, as he knew how difficult it was to guard the nets. And it wasn't only instructions on technique. Maniago, being a large 6'3" required help in another regard. While on the ice, he discovered that he was being exposed in a manner that left him in the cold. Literally. The long johns he was wearing were not providing much coverage to his lower extremities. Wanting his goalie to have every edge, Durnan provided the perfect remedy. Going through his old equipment, Durnan found a pair of long johns that would be an improvement, and spare Maniago from further exposure.

In 1960-61 Maniago would reach the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was called up to replace Gerry McNamara, who was playing due to an injury suffered by starter Johnny Bower. When McNamara met a similar fate, Maniago played in 7 regular season games with the Leafs.

He compiled a 4-2-1 record and a 2.43 average. By allowing only 17 goals in 420 minutes, Maniago made a huge contribution towards Johnny Bower capturing the Vezina Trophy. In addition to the prestige of winning the prize, there were remunerative rewards for Bower - $1000. for winning the Vezina and $1000. for allowing fewer than 200 goals (145) - important contractual benefits back in the Original Six era.

In his 7 game stint, Maniago became part of NHL history. The game in question was played on March 16, 1961. With the Leafs in town, the largest crowd of the season, 15,011, jammed every inch of the Montreal Forum. The astute fans in Montreal clearly understood that there was a different slant to this contest. They would be in attendance to witness Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion's 50th goal of the season. This would match Rocket Richard's accomplishment 16 years earlier. The large crowd would not be disappointed. Taking a pass from Gilles Tremblay at the edge of the crease, Geoffrion stopped the puck, then banged it in the net.

In the same game, Jean Beliveau set an NHL record for most assist in a season, 58, passing Bert Olmstead's mark of 56.

The Canadiens secured a 5-2 win, but Maniago couldn't be blamed for the loss. A newspaper report declared "for two periods it was any body's contest, thanks to the heroics of goalie Cesare Maniago".

In total, Maniago would play in 568 regular season games with Toronto, Montreal, New York, Minnesota, and Vancouver. He would post a 3.27 average with 189 wins and 30 shutouts.

"Hail Cesare".

3 comments:

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    1. sorry; reply removed due to typos in original. please read next comment.

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  2. Hockey Footnote: Wasn't it Cesare Maniago in the nets for the New York Rangers in 1966 when Bobby Hull cracked the 50-goal barrier with his 51st goal of the season?
    Add that to allowing BoomBoom Geoffrion's 50th goal in '61 and that makes TWO recordbook goals for Maniago.
    Well, if a goalie MUST choose any two flying pucks to beat him, then recordbook goals must become consolation prizes!

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