With the NHL’s annual meetings all wrapped up and most off-season player transactions completed, hockey’s big league now slips into a slumber session for the next two months. With training camps scheduled to open just past mid-September, players and management alike are taking advantage some time for much-needed rest and relaxation.
However, we here at The Hockey Writers are already looking ahead to the 1965-66 season with great anticipation. So, to give you your summer hockey fix, we will, over the next little while, provide a look at the men who will be competing for goaltending spots with the six NHL clubs this fall. Now that the league is requiring two men be suited up and ready to go at all times, six more full-time NHL jobs have opened up. In most cases, this will provide some spirited competition during training camps as summer turns to autumn. Today, we will have a look at the Boston Bruins.
Bruins will make changes
The Bruins once again finished last in the NHL standings in 1964-65. They were the worst defensive team in the league, a combination of having a sub-par, inexperienced defence coupled with less than stellar goalkeeping. Manning the nets for the Bruins last year were veteran Ed Johnston and rookie Jack Norris.
Johnston was the number one man, suiting up for 47 games, with Norris handling the other 23. Johnston likely would have seen much more action had he not suffered a broken hand. That forced a not-ready-for-prime-time Norris to play much more than coach Milt Schmidt would have preferred.
New general manager Hap Emms comes into the position with no delusions about how well the goaltending cupboard is stocked. He was prepared to make changes during the summer, and promised that the netminding job will be wide open during training camp. To that end, he drafted Gerry Cheevers, the AHL’s best goalie last season, from Toronto. It was widely expected that Leaf general manager Punch Imlach would protect Cheevers in the draft, and leave veteran Terry Sawchuk, who once played for Boston, available for selection. Imlach surprised most people by protecting Sawchuk and then attempted to have Cheevers placed on the skater list.
NHL president Clarence Campbell ruled that Cheevers was not eligible to be listed as a skater (although there was no clearly written rule preventing the move), making him fair game for anyone wishing to pay the $30,000 draft fee. Boston, with the first pick, jumped at the chance to grab the youthful Toronto farm hand. Cheevers is expected to share the netminding duties with Johnston this season.
There are a number of men who will compete for the Bruins net this fall, and we’ll profile each of them below:
“EJ”, as he is known to his team mates, is the incumbent and professes to be ready to take on all comers in camp. He is 29 now, but gives one the impression he has been around for a lot longer than that. The Montreal native began his pro career with Winnipeg of the WHL in 1956-57 after three years in the Quebec Junior League. Property of the Canadiens, he played another three years in the lower minor leagues before his rights were peddled to the Chicago Black Hawks in 1959. He attended the Hawks training camp that September, but ended up with the Johnstown Jets of the EHL.
After a season with the Spokane Jets of the WHL in 1961-62, Boston picked him up in the inter-league draft. He won the goaltending job from Bobby Perreault in 62-63 and has been the main man between the pipes in Boston ever since. He played every game for the Bruins in 63-64.
Norris, who will be 23 this summer, had a rough initiation to the NHL last season. He started off with the Los Angeles Blades of the WHL and attracted the attention of then-Bruins GM Lynn Patrick. With the Bruins being the only NHL team carrying a single netminder, Patrick decided that Norris should be promoted to spell off the overworked Johnston.
On January 30, Norris was called up and was told that he would make his debut that night in Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens. The rookie goalie arrived in Toronto after traveling all night from the west coast and met the team at the Royal York Hotel. Norris left his gear with a hotel employee and decided to grab a couple of hours of much-needed sleep.
Norris hardly slept, nervous that he would snooze right past game-time. He did nap for a bit, and when he awakened, he found that his equipment had disappeared. He made his way to the Gardens and sheepishly informed his coach that he would be unable to play because of the loss of his gear.
As luck would have it, Johnston had to put his rest off for another game and he suited up against the Leafs. In the first period, Johnston complained of a hand injury, the result of a slash from an unidentified Toronto player. After the game, x-rays revealed that the hand was indeed broken.
Patrick, who had been merely upset with Norris earlier, was now livid at his young goaltender. In the second half of the home-and-home series in Boston the following night, Patrick told the rookie he was going to play goal against the Leafs, with or without equipment. Norris played the game wearing Johnston’s ill-fitting equipment, and he didn’t play poorly at all.
The rest of the way, new gear and all, Norris played 23 games and put up a 3.70 goals-against average with one shutout. Emms doesn’t seem to be a fan of the Saskatoon native, and it’s likely he will find his way back to Los Angeles this year.
Twenty-four-year-old Gerry Cheevers arrives in the Boston organization after a spectacular season in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans. The parent Toronto Maple Leafs were loath to lose the native of St. Catharines, Ontario, and GM Punch Imlach tried every trick in the book, and even a trick NOT in the book, to avoid losing the talented young goalie, but was unsuccessful, much to the glee of Bruins GM Emms.
Cheevers came up through the Leafs’ St. Michael’s Majors system, winning a Memorial Cup in the 1960-61 season. He turned pro in 61-62, splitting time with Saute Ste Marie of the EPHL and Rochester. He has been with the Americans ever since, but did appear in two games with the Leafs in 61-62, filling in for an injured Johnny Bower.
This past season he was the AHL’s first all-star goalie, and he led the Americans to the Calder Cup championship. He is generally regarded as the best goalkeeper outside of the NHL and seems to be a shoo-in to gain regular NHL employment this season.
Bernie Parent could be the dark horse in the Boston goaltending derby. In his final year of junior hockey, the 20-year-old led the Niagara Falls Flyers to a convincing Memorial Cup championship, playing for Emms, who owns the Flyers. He led the league in goals-against average and won his second straight Dave Pinkney Trophy as the OHA’s best netminder.
Parent grew up in Montreal and idolized former Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante. Elements of Plante’s technique are readily visible in Parent’s style. If he can duplicate even a fraction of his idol’s success, he could be in for a long run in the NHL. Emms absolutely loves Parent’s skill and attitude and firmly believes that Cheevers and Parent will form a most formidable goalkeeping duo for years to come.
The Bruins have a few others who will be around in training camp looking for work somewhere in the organization. These include:
- Doug Favell, 20, who was Parent’s backup in Niagara Falls
- Wayne Doll, 20, a graduate of the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior League
- Andre Gill, 24, who has been with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.
Retired police detective, involved in hockey at all levels for over 50 years. Member of Society for International Hockey Research and presently a video analyst for the leader in advanced hockey analytics (we work exclusively for 2 NHL clubs, and provide advice on an ad hoc basis to many other clients). Currently the Assistant General Manager for the Pelham Pirates of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Previously owned the Faceoff computer hockey simulation and also provided all player ratings for the EA Sports series of NHL computer games from the late 90’s into the mid 2000’s.