Thursday, January 20, 2011

Now Playing Forward

For a young minor hockey player starting out in the game (tyke or minor atom), the position of goalie is often considered the least glamorous. A kid in House League who has limited skating skills, is usually assigned the netminding responsibilities by the coach. He quietly watches as his defencemen and forwards garner all the attention.

In the case of Gerry Cheevers, his yearning to explore his abilities beyond the goal crease, continued as he progressed through junior hockey. At the age of 20, you would think his main focus would be crafting his goaltending skills. There was no doubt his talent wasn't lacking between the pipes. In the 1959-60 season, playing for St. Michael's Majors, Cheevers captured the "Baby Vezina" for the least number of goals scored against. He had a 3.08 average in 36 games and lead the league in shutouts with five.

On December 16, 1960 his hockey career would take a major turn. In a game against the Toronto Marlboros, Cheevers played right wing in a 2-2 draw. St. Mike's coach, Father David Bauer, explained the experiment in this fashion.

Gerry has been wanting to try it for some time so we are taking him off our goaltenders' list for three weeks to see if he shows signs of developing. We've got to develop more up front and have to try this now if Cheevers is going to be any help in March. Gerry has played forward in a few of our "fun" games. He's a good skater - as good as almost any player on our team - a fair stick handler and has an excellent sense of timing.

The replacement in goal for Cheevers was 19 year old Dave Dryden. The brother of Canadiens famed goaltender, Ken Dryden, he would go on to play 203 NHL games. His first action was with the 1961-62 New York Rangers. The bulk of his big league tenure would be spent with the Chicago Black Hawks and Buffalo Sabres.

Fortunately for Cheevers and all hockey fans, the experiment didn't continue beyond the three week period. The 2-time Stanley Cup champion with the Boston Bruins was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985.

One wonders if Cheevers had any hesitations in junior concerning his skills to become a winning NHL goalie. At the NHL level, any thoughts of this nature were certainly wiped out with the Cup wins and  the 1971-72 season. In that year, he set an NHL record for the longest winning streak by a goaltender in the regular season. The record, 32 games, still stands to this day.

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