Monday, April 4, 2011

When the Bell Rings

Last week, I wrote about Detroit goaltender Bob Champoux. How in the 1964 Stanley Cup playoffs, he was thrust into action due to an injury suffered by Terry Sawchuk. His time in the spotlight lasted only 55 minutes. Today, another story about a player coming out of nowhere and being given the opportunity of a lifetime. A different goalie. A different set of circumstances.

Frank McCool
In the 1944-45 season, rookie goaltender Frank McCool had an amazing run with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He lead all NHL goaltenders in games played, 50, and minutes played, 3000. He posted a 24-22-4 record and a 3.22 average. He lead the league in shutouts with 4. In the playoffs, he was in the net for 13 games, winning 8 and losing 5. Of his 8 victories, 4 were shutouts. On April 22, 1945, McCool would out battle Detroit's Harry Lumley to win game 7 of the Cup final 2-1. Besides winning the big prize, McCool won the Calder Memorial Trophy. Not bad for an opening act.

The following year, McCool was a training camp hold out, which extended into the regular season. Thus, begins the story of Gordie Bell.

Gordie Bell played one year of junior hockey with the Portage Terriers of the MJHL. The following season. 1942-43, he turned pro with Buffalo of the American Hockey League. Like many players from his generation, Bell's career was interrupted due to military service. When he returned for the 1945-46 campaign, he would face another challenge.

With Frank McCool in a contract dispute and Turk Broda still engaged in military service, Toronto had to look else where for a starting netminder. To begin the 1945-46 hockey year, Baz Bastien started the first 5 games. His record, 0-4-1, didn't evoke the confidence of coach Hap Day. This is when the bell rang for young Gordie.

Gordie Bell
On November 8, 1945, Gordie Bell played in first National Hockey League game. His opponent was the Red Wings with the game taking place in the Detroit Olympia. Although the Leafs lost, 3-2, newspaper accounts of Bell's performance were positive. The only criticism was his knack for allowing big rebounds. Two of Detroit's goals came as a result of this tendency.

Gordie Bell would get his first home start on Saturday November 10, 1945. The visitors were the Chicago Black Hawks. In a close contest, Bell and the Maple Leafs defeated Chicago 3-2. The game winning goal came off the stick of Syl Apps in the third period. Gordie Bell would go on to play in 6 more games with Toronto. He would post a 3-5-0 record and a 3.55 average.

On November 21, 1945, came news that Frank McCool settled his contract dispute. This spelled the end of Bell's time in Toronto. On December 12, 1945, Bell played in his first game with Providence in the AHL. He lead the Reds to a 7-2 win over the Indianapolis Capitals. Bell's only other NHL appearance would come in the 1956 playoffs, when he participated in 2 games with the New York Rangers. He would take off his pads for a final time in 1957-58 after playing for Belleville in the EOHL.

Joe Bell - New York Rangers - 1942-43 & 1946-47

In 2006, I wrote Joe Bell (pictured above), Gordie's brother, and asked him to comment on brother Gord.

 Career highlights. Voted MVP with the Portage Terriers, Canadian Junior champs. Turned pro in 1943 with the Buffalo Bisons of the AHL, recording 9 shutouts in a 50 game schedule. Buffalo won the AHL title and Gordie was voted to the First All-Star Team.
 Joined the Canadian Navy in 1943 and served on the HMCS Restigouche (Destroyer).
 At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, he reported to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp. He played several years in the AHL.
 His last action was with the Belleville McFarlands who represented Canada at the Olympics in Europe. They defeated the Russians and won the World Title. The following year while playing for Belleville, he was hit in the eye on a screened shot and lost his vision in that eye.
 He retired and worked for McFarland Construction for several years. He passed away in 1980 at age 55.
 Gordie was an outstanding "stand up" goalie, who would have made a fortune in today's 30 team NHL.
Gordie Bell. Another example of how tough it was for a young goalie to break into the NHL during the Original Six era. They were often denied an extended stay, but continued to pursue the dream of cracking a big league line-up.

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