Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Baz Bastien : A Training Camp to Forget

 With NHL training camps coming to a close, coaches and players prepare for the upcoming 2011-12 campaign. While veteran players worked on their timing and getting into game shape, rookies made every effort to impress and earn a spot on the opening night roster. The goal of all concerned was to avoid any serious injuries.

During training camp for the 1949-50 season, goalie Baz Bastien suffered a devastating injury that would bring his playing career to a sudden end.

After playing for the Toronto Marlboros in the OHA Sr. "A" League, Bastien joined the Cornwall Flyers (QSHL) in 1942-43. Like many individuals, Bastien's life went in another direction when he enlisted for military service during World War Two. When he returned in time for the 1945-46 hockey season, he found employment with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With Turk Broda in the service, the Maple Leafs turned to rookie Frank McCool as their starting netminder for the 1944-45 season. McCool, a native of Calgary, Alberta didn't disappoint Conn Smythe and coach Hap Day. Of the 50 games he played in the Toronto goal, McCool posted a 24-22-8 record with 4 shutouts.

His outstanding play continued into the playoffs. In 13 contests, he won 8 and lost 5 with a 2.23 average. Of his 8 victories, 4 were shutouts. The 1945 Stanley Cup Final went to 7 games, with McCool and his teammates winning the deciding game 2 to 1 against Detroit in the Olympia. In addition to winning Lord Stanley, McCool was named winner of the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Baz Bastien
Playing at the top-of-his-game, McCool's, biggest challenge - negotiating a new contract - was still ahead of him. He quickly found out it was much easier to face Rocket Richard than an NHL owner. To make matters worse, his opponent in this battle was Conn Smythe.

As the 1945-46 hockey year started, the Leafs were missing both Broda and his replacement, Frank McCool. Without a new deal, McCool was absent from training camp and not in the opening night line-up. When Toronto played their first regular season game on October 27, 1945, their was a new sheriff defending the Leafs goal - Baz Bastien. Fresh off his military service, Bastien was recruited by Leaf management with hopes he could repeat McCool's success from the previous season.

Starting his first National Hockey League game at home in Maple Leaf Gardens, Bastien and the Leafs played Boston to a 1-1 draw.

The Globe and Mail gave Bastien a good review for his opening night performance. "Facing organized NHL firing for the first time, Baz Bastien handled his assignment in good style. He had more work than Paul Bibeault, the ex-Leaf, at the other end of the rink. But neither goalie was overworked."

The only Bruin to beat Bastien was right winger Bill Shill.

On November 1, the Leafs hit the road for a tilt against the Montreal Canadiens. The defending Stanley Cup champions fell 4-2 to the Habs. As expected, with the first defeat of the new year, Hap Day was questioned about his goaltending situation. "Have you sent for McCool yet?" asked one member of the media. Not wanting to add further pressure upon his rookie, Day deflected attention away from his goalie. "No. Bastien played very well indeed. Canadiens have three lines with centres like Lach, O'Connor and Reay. I think if anything, they're stronger than last year," said the Leaf coach.

In game three on the 1945-46 schedule, the Leafs played host to the New York Rangers. Once again, the Leafs failed to support their first-year goalie as the Rangers coasted to a 4-1 victory.

On November 4, Toronto travelled to Chicago for an encounter against the Hawks. And things didn't get any better for the visitors. Chicago pounced on the Leafs and took a 3-0 lead by the 19-minute mark of the first period. They went on to trounce Toronto 7-4. Of course, all eyes were once again on Bastien. One scribe suggested Toronto's slogan was now "Keep cool, boys, without McCool, the worst is yet to come.

The era of Baz Bastien as the Leafs goalie came to an conclusion following their next game. Just as his time in the NHL started against Boston at Maple Leaf Gardens, it would end versus the Bruins at home. On November 7, Boston downed Toronto 4-3. The brunt of fan frustration towards the Leafs slow start fell squarely on Bastien. There were chants of "Bring back McCool" and Bastien heard from the boo-birds late in the game.

When the Leafs played in Detroit on November 8 to tangle with the Red Wings, they had a new starting in their line-up, Gordie Bell. Although there was a new face in the Leafs net, the result was the same. The Wings skated to a 3-2 win.

The contract dispute between McCool and the Leafs was resolved on November 21, 1945. On February 6, 1946, Turk Broda returned to action after spending three years in the military. The Leafs and Broda had to settle for a 3-3 tie against the Bruins in Boston Garden. Broda surrendered his first National Hockey League goal since the 1943 playoffs. He was beaten by a 30-foot shot off the stick of Boston defenceman Murray Henderson in the opening frame.

Following his stay with the Maple Leafs, Bastien was assigned to play for the Pittsburgh Hornets in the American Hockey League. From 1945-46 to 1948-49, Bastien spent most of his time guarding the Hornets net. In 1946-47, he split his time between Pittsburgh and the Hollywood Wolves of the PCHL. He was named to the AHL First All-Star Team in 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1948 and 1949, Bastien had the fewest-goals-against in the AHL, thus earning him back-to-back Hap Holmes Memorial Awards.

In September 1949, Bastien and his Pittsburgh teammates were attending training camp in Welland, Ontario. During a training session, Don Clark took a shot from the blue line. Unfortunately, Bastien never saw the incoming shot which struck him in the face. The stricken goalie was transported to Welland Hospital where Dr. Henry McRea performed an operation to remove Bastien's right eye.

"I guess I've had it as far as goaltending is concerned, but I'm certainly not through with this game. I like hockey too much to drop it now and although I don't know exactly what I can do to stay with it I think I will find something," said Bastien concerning his future.

On October 17, 1949, the Maple Leafs and Hornets held a benefit night in Pittsburgh with proceeds going to assist Baz Bastien. A small crowd of 3,225 took in the game. It is believed many stayed away due to a steel strike. The parent club shutout Pittsburgh by a score of 4-0. A total of $4,804 was raised.

Bastien's goal of remaining in the game was accomplished on December 31, 1949. It was announced he would be taking over the coaching duties in Pittsburgh. His predecessor, Bob Davidson, would return to the Toronto management team

Aldege "Baz" Bastien remained in  the game until his death in 1983.

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