Friday, March 4, 2011

Hitting 100

Yesterday, I wrote about the Frank Mahovlich trade which occurred on March 3, 1968. Today, we take note of a milestone for goalie Terry Sawchuk. On March 4, 1967, Sawchuk posted his 100th shutout in a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Black Hawks.

Terry Sawchuk recorded his first National Hockey League shutout on January 15, 1950, as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. The Boston Bruins were Sawchuk's first victim, as they failed to put any pucks behind the Winnipeg native. The Wings defeated the Bruins 2-0.

Prior to reaching the astonishing number of 100 shutouts, Sawchuk first had to surpass the reigning Shutout King. The title belonged to George Hainsworth who retired with 94. On January 18, 1964, Sawchuk leaped over Hainsworth by blanking the Montreal Canadiens 2-0.

On March 4, 1967, the Chicago Black Hawks were in town to tangle with the Leafs in Maple Leaf Gardens. The Hawks were an explosive offensive club with Stan Mikita anchoring the Scooter Line. Not to mention the always dangerous, "Golden Jet", Bobby Hull.

As is usually the case, the toughest opponent at times, is often the easiest to conquer. Despite all their fire power, Chicago only managed to muster-up 22 shots on goal. Sawchuk's counterpart in the Chicago cage was Denis DeJordy. With the game being telecast on Hockey Night In Canada, the Leafs would only need one goal to claim victory. The opening tally was scored by Peter Stemkowski, who stripped defenceman Pat Stapleton of the puck and beat DeJordy. The Leafs took a 2-0 lead on George Armstrong's 250th goal of his Hall of Fame career. The final goal came off the stick of Bob Pulford.

When the final bell rang, Sawchuk became the first goalie to hit the century mark in shutouts. He was mobbed by his teammates and received a standing ovation from the fans who witnessed history being made. Sawchuk was named first-star by the legendary Foster Hewitt.

Goaltenders in the Original Six era, faced an enormous amount of pressure to perform at the highest level for each game they were between the pipes. Early in his NHL career, Sawchuk was being rated as one of the best goalies ever to play the game.

As the above newspaper photo and headline indicates, the question about Sawchuk was already being asked in February 1952 - Best Ever? To answer in the affirmative, would invite a wide range of arguments, both pro and con, concerning Sawchuk's place in the game. Names joining the debate concerning the number one ranking would range from George Vezina to Martin Brodeur. To put this debate into perspective, we look at one of the recent attempts to rank goalies who have played through the ages. In the insightful book, "Without Fear : Hockey's 50 Greatest Goaltenders" (2002), Kevin Allen and Bob Duff tackled this issue. They intelligently present their rankings with supporting facts and documented evidence.

The top five are..1. Patrick Roy 2. Terry Sawchuk 3. Glenn Hall 4. Jacques Plante 5. Dominik Hasek. Of note, Terry Sawchuk is at the top of the class when it comes to Original Six goalies. Hands-up everyone who agrees? Why are those Plante, Hall, Bower and company fans/supporters shaking their heads? Yes Virginia, there is no definite answer. The "Best Ever" question, in any sport, is what makes the game fun and interesting to talk about.

On the evening of March 4, 1967, there is little doubt Terry Sawchuk was King of the Goalies. He clearly answered the "Best Ever" question raised in 1952. Agreed? Take a minute or two and discuss amongst yourself.

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