Friday, January 21, 2011

An Eye Opener

Yesterday, I wrote about the adventures of Gerry Cheevers when he player junior hockey. In a quirky twist to his time at St. Mike's, Cheevers made an attempt to play forward. Continuing with this theme, there was another junior goalie who had to endure a quirky twist to his game.

James "Sugar Jim" Henry, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, started his junior career with the Winnipeg Lombards of the WjrHL in 1937-38. The following year, he would graduate to the Brandon Elks of the MJHL.

"Sugar Jim" Henry

As a teen, Henry suffered an eye injury, but there was no loss of sight. The only residual problem was a muscular reaction when impact was made with or around the eye. On the occasion this would happen, Henry's eye would close as tight as an NHL owners wallet. You would expect this to be a major impediment for a goalie. The solution to a problem of this nature was simple - tape the eye open. And this is exactly what "Sugar Jim" did in junior hockey.

Three years prior to his first NHL season in 1941-42, Henry, playing for Brandon against Edmonton, had to tape his eye open in the playoffs. Although uncomfortable and to say the least distracting, Henry continued with his playing career. His final season prior to turning pro (S-SJHL) was in 1940-41 with the Regina Rangers. Henry is credited with leading Regina's come-from-behind capturing of the Allan Cup.

The start to Jim Henry's time in the National Hockey League began with a bang. The rookie goalie for the New York Rangers lead the league in games played (48) and wins (29). His durability turned out to be one of his major assets. In 9 NHL seasons, he lead the league in games played 5 times. This was quite a feat, taking into account his vulnerability around the eye area. A problem which didn't seem to cause major problems beyond junior hockey.

In the 1952 playoffs, Henry participated in one of the most exciting events in hockey - a game 7. With Detroit already advancing to the Cup final, Boston , with Henry in goal, were facing Montreal to determine the Wings opponent. In the second period of game 7, Rocket Richard suffered a head injury which required stitches. However, that didn't stop the Rocket. With the score tied 1-1, he scored one of the most incredible goals in playoff history. Taking a pass from defenceman Butch Bouchard in his own zone, he eluded 4 Boston players. Bearing down on "Sugar Jim" Henry, the Rocket hooked a one-handed shot past the netminder.

At the conclusion of the contest, this famous picture was taken of the two battered warriors, Richard and Henry shaking hands. One look at Henry's eye reveals that it was a physical series, but his difficulties in junior didn't seem to hamper his performance against the Montreal Canadiens.

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