This Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the first win in the career of former Leaf goalie Mike Palmateer, one of the most popular netminders in team history. On October 28, 1976 he allowed just one goal by the Red Wings for the first of his 129 wins, fourth on the club's all-time list.
Palmateer was selected by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round of the 1974 NHL Entry Draft. At 5-9 and 150 pounds, the undersized young goalie had the odds against him, playing the game more by means of passion and determination than skill.
Born and raised in Toronto, Palmateer played the majority of his career in his hometown starting out early on as a pee-wee with the Toronto Marlboros and continuing with the organization right through to the OHA (Ontario Hockey Association) level. It was with the Marlboros that Palmateer first forced skeptics to take notice as he was named to the OHA All-Star First Team in 1972-73 and in the same year was the winner of the Dave Pinkney Trophy for top team goaltending.
After signing with the Leafs, Palmateer spent two seasons in the minors drifting between the Saginaw Gears, the Oklahoma City Blazers and the Dallas Black Hawks. It was in the 1976-77 season that he was called up to join the team he had idolized since his pee-wee days of 5:15 am practices at Maple Leaf Gardens, home to his beloved Maple Leafs. It didn't take long for fans and teammates alike to accept the feisty goalie as a true blue warrior. He finished his first season with a record of 23-18-8 and earned his first NHL shutout with a 1-0 win against the Canadiens on November 17.
From the very beginning of his hockey career Palmateer was plagued with a series of knee and ankle injuries. Told at one time that he would not skate for more than one season, the gritty Palmateer, or Iron Mike as he was also coined, proved doctors wrong playing a total of eight NHL seasons, six of those with the Leafs. While with the Leafs, Palmateer held the NHL record (later broken) for most assists by a goaltender with eight and also led the NHL in playoff shutouts with two during the 1977-78 post-season.
In June of 1980, Palmateer was traded by the Leafs to the Washington Capitals for Robert Picard, Tim Coulis and Washington's second-round choice. He remained with the Caps for two seasons, playing only 11 games in 1981-82 after yet another injury took him out of the game. The following season to the delight of the fans, Palmateer returned to Toronto in a cash trade. In 1984, with the knee surgery count at 12, Palmateer was forced to leave the game; his body could take no more thrashings.
Now in his mid-forties Mike Palmateer is still notably involved in the NHL. Perhaps hoping to assist in the start of other young goalies with stories of perseverance and overcoming the odds similar to his own, he has worked within the NHL Central Scouting Service. In January 2001 he was named goaltender coach for the New York Islanders, bringing him closer to the game than he had been in year, but after more major knee surgery in August, he was told once again to stay off the ice. Thus, he left his position in New York and has since returned to the Central Scouting Service.
Twenty-five years ago a Toronto kid by the name of Mike Palmateer initiated an inspirational hockey career with his first NHL win. Twenty-five years later his legacy as a hometown hero is still remembered in the hearts of a Maple Leaf family.