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The Verdict: Blackhawks blessed with terrific goaltending tandem

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

DALLAS—Generally, a hockey team will have two goalies because it really doesn’t have one. But with 48 games in 99 days, these are not general times in the National Hockey League – or normal times. Which is why the Blackhawks are blessed to possess a pair of quality netminders who are playing exceptionally well.

Some people with high blood pressure might feel compelled to define the situation as a controversy. More accurately, it is a convenience, bordering on a necessity.

Admittedly, Corey Crawford has had more anxious assignments than making 18 saves Saturday night while the Blackhawks crushed the Dallas Stars, 8-1, behind two goals each by Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Still, Crawford boosted his record to 13-2-3.

Meanwhile, his experienced sidekick, Ray Emery, remains the first masked man in NHL history to start a season at 10-0-0. Their yield in 28 games is only 60 goals. Only the Boston Bruins, with two fewer starts, have been stingier. Not surprisingly, the franchise closest to Chicago in the Western Conference standings, the Anaheim Ducks, operate with virtually interchangeable goalkeepers—Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth.

When Head Coach Joel Quenneville talks about keeping players fresh during this jam session of a regular season, he includes goalkeepers in that mix. Likewise, when NHL rivals survey roster depth, what the Blackhawks have between the pipes is a subject of envy.

When the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin, games will be more stressful, but the schedule more conventional. If the Blackhawks play four games in eight nights, they won’t be doing so in four different cities, as they are on this current trip. Also, back-to-backs are rare in the postseason.

Besides the brief two-game retreat, when the Blackhawks yielded six goals each in consecutive losses, their primary source of angst occurred in St. Louis on Feb. 28 when Crawford departed after the first period with an upper body injury. Emery relieved to complete a 3-0 shutout, but even Coach Q drew a blank when asked what would have happened had Emery also taken ill or been hurt?

The NHL has a provision should both goalies in uniform become incapacitated: a third goalie shall have “reasonable time to get dressed” and a two-minute warm up. Sounds fair, but who and where is the third goalie? When probed, Coach Q did not volunteer.

Back in the dawn of time, circa Original Six, teams carried only one goalie. Glenn Hall played all 70 regular season and 12 playoff games for the Blackhawks during their 1960-61 Stanley Cup run—just a slice of his 503 consecutive NHL games, all bare faced. Hall didn’t have a backup, nor could he ask for one, whether he was wounded, sick or exhausted. No wonder he promises that you will never meet a retired goalie who says he misses hockey.

When a team’s goalie could not continue, an “emergency” goalie was in place at every arena. The backup goalie during the late 1950s and through 1961 in Chicago Stadium was Walter “Gunzo” Humeniuk—a trainer who served as Hall’s opposite in practice. He later went on to be a very successful entrepreneur of hockey equipment.

Gunzo’s counterpart in Detroit was Lefty Wilson, trainer and full-time employee of the Red Wings. However, on three occasions, he was pressed into duty. Wilson’s resume includes a stint as emergency netminder not only for the Red Wings, in relief of Terry Sawchuk, but for the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The most famous instance of an emergency goalie in Blackhawks’ lore occurred in 1938. Despite a 14-25-9 record, the Blackhawks qualified for the playoffs, then defeated the Montreal Canadiens and New York Americans in a best-of-three series. However, in the clincher against New York, goalie Mike Karakas incurred a broken toe. When the Blackhawks traveled to Toronto for the Stanley Cup finals, he couldn’t get his foot into his boot.

Bill Tobin, Chicago’s manager, learned that Dave Kerr was in the area—he being a star goalkeeper for the New York Rangers. But Conn Smythe, who ran the Maple Leafs, refused. Kerr was dangerously good. Instead, Smythe suggested to the outraged Blackhawks that they locate Alfie Moore, a journeyman minor leaguer in Toronto’s system.

Coach Bill Stewart of the Blackhawks sent out an all-points alert and, alas, Moore was found—in a local watering hole. He was taken from the tavern to the rink, filled with hot coffee, and put between the pipes. Amazingly, Moore won, 3-1. When the Blackhawks returned to Chicago, Karakas had a special skate for his swollen toe and he led his team to a miraculous Stanley Cup. Moore received cash, a gold watch, and a spot in history for his emergency effort.

“What a surprise,” Hall once commented on the Moore saga, “that you would find a goalie in a bar.”

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