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Tiny, Big In Net for the Bruins

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins

By Joseph Beare, student correspondent,

Throughout Boston’s storied history, a great many legendary skaters have led the Black & Gold to glory and achieved historic levels of success.

Bobby Orr, Eddie Shore and Ray Bourque are just a few of the many Hall of Fame caliber players to have racked up points and re-written NHL record books as Bruins fan favorites. But it was a man between the pipes who, alongside Shore, led the franchise to its first Stanley Cup championship.

Cecil R. Thompson, best known in the world of professional hockey as “Tiny” Thompson, was born on May 31, 1905 in Sandon, British Columbia and began his professional hockey career in the Alberta Senior Hockey League.

Eventually he matriculated to the American Hockey League and after a short time Thompson made an unbelievably smooth transition to the National Hockey League.

During the 1928-29 season, his first in the NHL and first of 12 campaigns as a member of the Boston Bruins, Thompson, who at 5’11 and 175 pounds was actually sizeable for a goaltender in his era, was handed the number one slot as a rookie in favor of former B's starter Hal Winkler.

The move paid off immediately for Boston as Thompson promptly shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates 1-0 in his NHL debut on November 15. 1928. His initial game proved prophetic given that Tiny would lead the team to 26 wins that year, appearing in all 44 of Boston’s regular season games and posting an unreal 1.15 goals against average.

And, as if his regular season accomplishments weren’t enough to make B's head coach Cy Denneny look like a genius for starting the young netminder, Thompson’s glorious performance between the pipes continued throughout the playoffs, when he helped the Bruins win their first championship.

In an interesting twist, Tiny’s first Stanley Cup final would also be the first in which two brothers faced off against one another as Thompson’s brother, Paul, skated for the New York Rangers. Their interfamily battle would be the last between two brothers until legendary Hall of Fame forward Phil Esposito matched up against his brother, Hall of Fame Chicago Blackhawks goalie Tony, some forty years later.

The following year saw several rule changes put into place that opened up passing and offense in the NHL game, but Thompson made the adjustment flawlessly, posting a league best 2.19 goals against average while posting a remarkable 38-5-1 record -- a winning percentage that still stands as one of the best in league history.

Despite regular season success a second championship was not to be as the Bruins fell to their most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens.

And although Thompson’s level of performance remained at a remarkable standard of excellence, he would never again repeat the playoff success of his rookie campaign. But even though his Stanley Cup winning days were behind him, the 1930s were a decade of great individual and regular season success for Thompson.

In 1930 Tiny earned his first Vezina Trophy as the league’s most outstanding goaltender. The next year he was named a second team All-Star. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Vezina repeats would occur in 1933, 1936 and 1938. Those impressive performances were interspersed with four straight all-star appearances in 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938.

Contrary to many athletes of his era, Thompson always maintained a high level of fitness, and kept himself healthy enough to appear in 40 or more games for ten straight seasons. He also led the league in games played nine times, an accomplishment impressive even today in an era when seasons are over twice as long.

Thompson’s 10 year run in Boston was chock full of league leading statistics and shattered records. He led the league in goals against average on four separate occasions, but even his gaudiest of numbers seem almost pedestrian when compared to his four Vezina trophies, a record that would stand until 1949.

Some other interesting highlights:

  • On April 3, 1933, Thompson held the Toronto Maple Leafs off the board for 104 minutes, 46 seconds of overtime play until he was finally beaten in what was the longest playoff game in NHL history at the time.

  • Three seasons later, Thompson again made league history when he became the first goaltender to earn a point when his pass found Babe Siebert, who deposited the puck for a goal, giving Tiny his first career assist.

  • In 1938, Thompson and his brother Paul were both named first team all-stars.

    On November 16, 1938, the Tiny Thompson era came to a close in Boston when he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Norman Smith and $15,000 cash.

    Tiny would never find the same success in the Motor City as he did in the Hub, and after a short stint with Buffalo of the American Hockey League, where he acted as a player-coach, Thompson called it quits.

    By the time his NHL career ended, Thompson had appeared in 553 games, posting a 284-194-75 lifetime record. He boasted a phenomenal 2.07 regular season goals against average and saved his best performances for when it counted most and posted a miniscule 1.87 GAA in 44 playoff games.

    Thompson's achievements over 12 years in the National Hockey league did not go unrecognized, however, and though his records haven’t held up in the modern era of the NHL, he was honored with a Hall of Fame induction in 1959, just over 20 years after his final appearance in a Bruins uniform.

    His Hall of Fame induction stands as a testament not only to his outstanding contributions to the Bruins, but as one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history.

    Thompson passed away on February 11, 1981 at the age of 75, but he is immortalized in the hearts and minds of Boston fans that will forever remember him as the man who backstopped the Bruins to their first ever Stanley Cup championship.

    As long as the black and gold banner that he helped win hangs from the rafters at the Garden, Thompson’s contributions will certainly never be forgotten.
    Joseph Beare is a student at Northeastern University

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