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The Legend of Shrimp McPherson

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs


Fans in the stands impact a hockey game. Cheers and boos mimic the ebb and flow of play. A jeer here or cheer there can impact individual players and alter the final box score at the end of the night.

Several of your friends surely have a story where they claim to have caused that player you can't stand to take a penalty. However, only one man has ever dressed for an NHL team and caused a penalty without leaving any trace of playing a game.

Alex 'Shrimp' McPherson was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1908 and he eventually made his way to North America from Scotland. At 5-foot-6, 154 pounds, he earned the nickname 'Shrimp' as a small man in an era with smaller people altogether.

Despite his stature, Shrimp found himself at home on skates and a sheet of ice. Upon his arrival in Canada, McPherson developed a flair for hockey and ultimately became a professional hockey player. He arrived on the pro circuit in the AHA, playing his rookie season with the Tulsa Oilers in 1929. His arrival in the pro game coincided with the arrival of the forward pass.

With the introduction of the forward pass, hockey was a changed game. Goal totals shot up across the sport and Shrimp became a potent offensive threat in the AHA. He was consistently among his teams' top scorers over the course of his career, which made stops in Tulsa, Detroit, St. Louis, Wichita and Kansas City. In fact, McPherson served as both a player and head coach for the St. Louis Flyers from 1934-36 and won a championship as a player-coach in 1934-35 before his playing career came to an end in 1940.

With such a strong showing at the AHA level, it seems odd that McPherson never got the call to join the NHL ranks. Surely 138 goals in 386 AHA games was worth someone giving Shrimp a chance during the 1930s.

The strange part there, however, is he did get the call -- and with the Toronto Maple Leafs no less. There's just no record of it whatsoever.

During a playoff game, Dick Irvin's Maple Leafs had been badly bitten by the injury bug. As a result, the Leafs bench boss picked up the phone and gave McPherson the opportunity he had been waiting for. Shrimp McPherson suited up for the Maple Leafs.

Despite being called up, McPherson spent the game watching from the bench for the Leafs. However, another injury provided a window of opportunity. Irvin called McPherson's name, tapped him on the shoulder and he hopped over the boards with vigor. Shrimp McPherson's time was now.

Yet, in seizing his opportunity, Shrimp caused a small problem.

The injured Leaf hadn't been able to return to the bench yet. The Leafs had too many men on the ice and the officials blew the play dead the second his skates hit the ice. Dejected, Shrimp returned to the Leafs bench. He never played on NHL ice ever again. With that turn of events, McPherson is the only NHL player to cause a penalty while never actually being credited with playing in an NHL game -- playoffs or otherwise.

You will not find Shrimp McPherson's name in any NHL record book or player register.

McPherson eventually found his way back to the NHL in 1967. Following his hockey career he settled down in St. Louis, where he had played many years with the Flyers. With the advent of NHL expansion, McPherson took a job with the St. Louis Blues upon their entry into the League. Shrimp was an assistant trainer for the Blues in their expansion season and he held the role until his death in 1974. He passed away in Oakland, Calif., following a game between the Blues and California Golden Seals.

Following his death, McPherson's obituary began: "Former Toronto Maple Leaf centre and assistant trainer for the St. Louis Blues"

The record books may disagree with the former, but we know the truth. Until those records are corrected, the Legend of Shrimp McPherson lives on.

Special thank you to Maple Leafs team historian Mike Ferriman for sharing the tale of Alex 'Shrimp' McPherson

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