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Rollins was unlikely Hart Trophy winner with last-place Black Hawks

Goalie honored as NHL's most valuable player in 1953-54 after surviving season-long barrage

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Legendary hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler writes a weekly scrapbook for Fischler, known as "The Hockey Maven," will share his knowledge, humor and insight with readers each Wednesday. Once a month, he will let a picture from his vast collection do the talking in his "Picture is Worth 100 Words" feature.

This month, he writes about goalie Al Rollins, one of the most unlikely Hart Trophy winners in NHL history.

If the NHL ever awarded a goalie trophy for style, Al Rollins would have had some additional silverware to go with his Vezina and Hart trophies.

Stylistically, the native of Vanguard, Saskatchewan, displayed perfect stand-up form. The photo, taken at Madison Square Garden in 1952, depicts Rollins, then with the Chicago Black Hawks (they didn't become the Blackhawks until 1986), at his upright best while foiling an offensive thrust by the Montreal Canadiens.

Author and hockey historian Andrew Podnieks waxed ecstatic about Rollins in his 2003 book, "Players: The Ultimate A-Z Guide of Everyone Who Has Ever Played in the NHL."

"The fact that he was a No. 1 goalie in the six-team NHL for almost seven years leaves no doubt that Rollins was one of the greats," Podnieks wrote.

Toronto Maple Leafs boss Conn Smythe acquired Rollins from Cleveland of the American Hockey League during the 1949-50 season to back up aging Turk Broda. Rollins wasted no time making an impact, going 27-5 with eight ties and a 1.77 goals-against average in 40 games during the 1950-51 season. He shared the Vezina Trophy with Broda and was in goal for Game 5 of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final when Toronto won its fourth championship in five seasons.

But prior to the 1952-53 season, Rollins was traded to Chicago, which had finished last in the NHL in each of the previous three seasons. He was second in voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the NHL's most valuable player, after helping Chicago end a six-year playoff drought.

Unbelievably, Rollins won the Hart in 1953-54, even though the Black Hawks finished last and he was 12-47 with seven ties and a 3.21 GAA (though five of his 12 wins were shutouts). Although he surrendered 212 goals, voters chose Rollins as MVP, though in this case those letters could have stood for "Most Valiant Player."

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