Monday, February 28, 2011

Gil Mayer : AHL Legend

As the American Hockey League celebrates it's 75th anniversary, we take a look at another AHL Legend - Gil Mayer.

Gilles Mayer was born on August 24, 1930. The diminutive goaltender (5'6' - 135 lbs.) hails from Ottawa, Ontario. His thin build earned him the appropriate nickname of "The Needle". He played junior in the Ontario Hockey Association with the Barrie Flyer's. In his final year of junior, 1948-49, Mayer lead the league in victories (26), shutouts (5) and average (2.91). Unlike the previous year, 1948, when Barrie participated in the Memorial Cup final against the Port Arthur West End Bruins (Barrie lost in 4 straight), the Flyer's failed to advance past the Eastern Canada Championships.

Gil Mayer turned pro the following season, 1949-50, with the Pittsburgh Hornets in the American Hockey League. The Hornets were affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mayer had a decent rookie campaign winning 20 of 50 games and posting a 2.84 average.

The highlight that season for Mayer didn't come in the AHL, but in the National Hockey League. In November of 1949, Maple Leafs guru Conn Smythe, was in a titanic battle with netminder Turk Broda. It was Smythe's contention that Broda weight, 197 pounds, was hampering his performance. The Major set a weight limit of 190 for Broda and when the scale hit 197, Smythe suspended his starting goalie. To add an exclamation to his point, Smythe summoned a goalkeeper who was the direct opposite of Broda in stature - Gil Mayer. Newspaper accounts described the Pittsburgh Hornet as "Little Gil Mayer" and "The midget netminder".

On the evening of December 2, 1949, Gil Mayer, wearing sweater number 25, skated to his crease at Maple Leaf Gardens for his first NHL contest.

As expected, Mayer entered the game feeling a tad nervous. In the first period, he faced 5 shots and the Detroit Red Wings scored 2 goals. Mayer didn't face his first shot until the 5-minute mark, perhaps giving his nerves time to percolate. He didn't allow another goal in the remaining 2 periods, but unfortunately for Mayer, his teammates couldn't get their offence in gear. Detroit netminder, Harry Lumley, recorded the shutout in the Wings 2-0 win.

Smythe, having made his point to the entire team ("Operation Diet" included several players on the roster),  reinstated Broda who dropped to 189 pounds the day  prior to Mayer's NHL debut.

In his sophomore year, 1950-51, Mayer would lead all AHL goalies in minutes played (4,350), shutouts (6) and average (2.40). By allowing the fewest goals against, Mayer earned his first Harry "Hap" Holmes Memorial  Award. Also, he was named to the AHL First All-Star Team.

If there were concerns Mayer's size would be an impediment, they were dismissed on February 6, 1952. In the second period of a game against the Syracuse Warriors, Mayer took a shot which fractured his nose. After receiving medical attention, he returned and finished the game. His durability, grit and determination knew no size barrier.

When the Pittsburgh Hornets franchise folded in 1956, Mayer joined the Hershey Bears. In Pittsburgh he won 2 Calder Cup championships (1952 & 1955). Mayer would add 2 additional championships with Hershey (1958 & 1959), but in each case he didn't participate in any post-season action.

Gil Mayer, because of his slight physique, possessed quickness and reflexes which helped him perform at the highest level. In 7 of his seasons in the AHL, he won 30 or more games. He was an AHL First All-Star Team selection 3 times (1951, 1954 & 1955) and a Second All-Star Team choice twice (1953 & 1956). His resume includes 5 Holmes Memorial Awards - 1951, 1953, 1954, 1955 & 1956.

Mayer would play  9 NHL games, going 2-6-1 with a 2.67 average. His finest effort would come in a game which was played in the Montreal Forum. On October 21, 1954, Mayer, replacing an injured Harry Lumley, defeated the Canadiens 3-1.

After playing 3 years in Hershey, Mayer would join the Cleveland Barons in 1959-60 and the Providence Reds in 1961-62. His playing career came to an end following the 1962-63 season.

Gil Mayer would be inducted into the American Hockey League Hall of Fame in 2007.

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