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NHL Centennial

Mud Bruneteau of Red Wings ends longest playoff game

Unheralded rookie plays hero, scores in sixth overtime to lift Detroit past Maroons in 1936

by Stan Fischler / Special to

As part of the NHL's Centennial Celebration, longtime hockey reporter and analyst Stan Fischler, "The Hockey Maven," will write a biweekly scrapbook for The scrapbook will look at some of the strange-but-true moments from the NHL's first 100 years.  

A sudden-death Stanley Cup Playoff game can be expected to end by the second or third overtime period.

After that time of night, there are very few exceptions.

But when it comes to the daddy of all endless playoff games, none can top the one on March 24, 1936, that extended into the next day.

It may seem incredible, but it's true the match between the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons drifted into six -- count 'em, six -- overtime periods.

That made a grand total of nine periods of hockey in one postseason game.

How could this have happened?

For starters, the Maroons and Red Wings were evenly matched, with bookmakers at a loss as to whom to list as favorites. On one hand, Montreal boasted one of the most formidable forward lines featuring Hooley Smith, Baldy Northcott and Jimmy Ward. However, the Red Wings countered that trio with a potent first line comprised of Larry Aurie, Herbie Lewis and Marty Barry.

Video: 1936 Semifinal, Gm1: Bruneteau ends six-overtime game

Barry, the scoring champion of the NHL's American Division, was considered the top threat in the series although the competition was keen. This was evident once the game started and drifted on, ironically with neither team scoring after three periods of regulation time. This, in turn, set up a melodramatic sudden-death period with nobody in the Montreal Forum crowd expecting what was to unfold.

Those who projected a swift ending to the game were wrong, primarily because of the excellent play by the opposing goalies. Normie Smith starred for Detroit and Lorne Chabot excelled for Montreal.

A problem that existed was the condition of the ice. Zamboni-type resurfacing machines were nonexistent then, which meant stick handlers were hampered by badly chopped ice that never would receive a manicure.

There was no scoring in the first, second and third overtime periods and the overhead clock ticked past midnight. Despite the late hour, the Forum remained full and the players fervently went at each other in pursuit of a goal.

Now it was early morning on March 25, 1936, and the sixth period -- or third overtime -- was about to begin. Although the crowd had previously been numbed by the endless 0-0 tie, it suddenly erupted with cheers when the players skated out; the assumption being the spectators' roars of approval would stimulate a goal being scored. But it didn't work.

There were close calls, to be sure; near the end of the eighth -- or fifth sudden-death -- period, it momentarily appeared Detroit was the winner. Barry, thoroughly exhausted, skimmed a pass to Lewis, catapulting him on a breakaway.

Lewis' shot was hard and fooled Chabot. But instead of a goal, all Herbie got for his effort was the clang of the goal post as he watched the puck rebound harmlessly to the boards.

Now it was Montreal's turn for a near-score when Hooley Smith captured the puck and launched a dangerous counterattack with his linemate, Northcott.

Faking a thrust on goal, Smith suddenly passed to Northcott, who blasted the puck as hard as he could. However, Normie Smith read the play and managed to stop it with his pad and steer the puck to teammate Doug Young.

Before the buzzer could signal the end of the eighth period, Young thought he had the game-winner when his shot changed direction after it hit Maroons defenseman Lionel Conacher's skate. The crowd gasped when the puck slid straight for the red goal line and an opening at the side of the net.

Now it was a question whether Young could reach it before Chabot and put it over and end the marathon. But a split-second before the Red Wings skater could reach the puck, Chabot smothered it with his glove.

Once the ninth period began -- and five minutes had elapsed -- the teams had broken the longest-game record, set by the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins four years earlier on April 4, 1932. That had been the longest NHL game and ended past 1 a.m.

Now it was past 2 a.m. and spectators were trying to keep themselves awake so as not to miss the goal that never seemed to be coming.

Meanwhile, the opposing coaches, Tommy Gorman of Montreal and Jack Adams of Detroit, were scheming to find some sort of edge that once and for all would end the game. Since their best players were exhausted, the coaches decided to use younger, less-experienced stick handlers. Adams' choice was a 21-year-old French-Canadian from St. Boniface, Manitoba, who had been groomed in Detroit's minor league system. His name was Modere Bruneteau but his teammates nicknamed him 'Mud.'

"I looked at the clock," Adams remembered, "and it was 2:25. Then I looked along our bench for the strongest legs and I decided to scramble the lines. I sent out Syd Howe, Hec Kilrea and Mud Bruneteau."

The rookie's resume was shallow. He had seen little action during the regular season, scoring two goals and no assists. But Adams didn't care; all he wanted to do was end what seemed like an endless tourney.

By now the sixth sudden-death -- or ninth period -- had reached the 12-minute mark. And although other players seemed to be skating in mud, Bruneteau was as a fresh as a newly minted nickel. Eager to get on the ice, he was in better shape than most of the competition and ready for the faceoff.

A few seconds before the draw, Adams shouted: "Boys, let's get some sleep, it's now or never!" Soon after the puck was dropped, Bruneteau corralled it in the Red Wings' zone and passed it to Kilrea. The attacking pair then challenged the Maroons' defense. Kilrea faked a pass and slid the puck over the blue line. Because Bruneteau was the speediest man on the ice, he was able to outflank the Montreal defenders and snare the puck.

He now was one-on-one with the Maroons goalie and released the puck. "Thank God," Bruneteau later recalled. "Chabot fell down as I shot the puck into the net. It was the funniest thing: the puck just stuck there in the twine and didn't fall on the ice."

For a moment, the crowd gasped because the goal judge failed to turn on the red light. But referee Bill Stewart signaled it was a goal, and after 116 minutes and 30 seconds of overtime, Detroit had defeated Montreal 1-0.

Wild with joy beyond all reason, Mud's teammates mobbed him and yanked off his jersey, and exuberant fans began pulling money out of their wallets and handing bills to Bruneteau.

"There I was, my stick under one arm and my gloves under another," he recalled. "I grabbed money in every direction!"

Generous to a fault, Bruneteau walked across the Detroit dressing room and arranged all the cash on a rubbing table. Motioning to trainer Honey Walker, Mud shouted, "Count it and split it for the gang, including yourself, Jack [Adams] and the stick boy."

For the record, the goal was scored at 16:30 of the sixth overtime. According to Eastern Standard Time, the puck crossed the line at 2:25 a.m.

Almost overlooked among the heroes was Smith, who had completed his first Stanley Cup Playoff game, stopping 90 shots in the shutout.

Reflecting on the monumental game years later, Smith said, "We were all pretty much all in, but very happy."

Eventually, the Red Wings repaired to their quarters at Montreal's Windsor Hotel, where they unwound from the marathon.

Bruneteau was sitting in his hotel room on his bed about to undress when someone knocked on the door. At first Mud refused to get up, hoping the intruder would go away, but more knocks followed and finally Bruneteau opened the door.

To his astonishment there stood the tall bushy-browed Chabot, who had come to pay his respects.

"Sorry to bother you, kid," Chabot said, "but you forgot something when you left the rink." Then, handing Bruneteau a puck, "Maybe you'd like to have this souvenir of the goal you scored."

Decades later, as a 53-year-old running a bar in Omaha, Nebraska, Mud would talk about that precious unexpected visit from the goalie he had victimized.

Bruneteau: "Can you imagine that such a great man as him would do such a thing for a rookie? I remember him standing there in the door, big, handsome guy with a kind of fat-looking face. I felt, I guess, funny. He came in and we sat on the bed, and talked for a long time."

Eventually Bruneteau became one of Adams' Red Wings regulars and scored 35 goals during the 1943-44 season, when many stars had enlisted in the armed forces.

Apart from the Red Wings' victory which led to their Stanley Cup championship, a valuable lesson was learned by the NHL and that was the need for better ice, especially in overtimes. As a result, the League wrote a new order that resurfacing between periods be mandatory. The regulation, by the way, was invoked long before the first appearance of Zamboni machines.

There also were other bittersweet outcomes of the marathon game, particularly for Smith, the Cup-winning goalie.

For souvenir purposes, the Detroit goalie had his stick signed by all of his teammates. Someone else had promised him half the puck that was in play at the finish of the longest game. But the stick was given to a local judge and Smith never got his half of the puck.

Unfortunately, Smith's name never was placed in the NHL Record Book describing the longest game. But you can bet Mud Bruneteau's name is still there.

Often reminded of his legendary feat, Bruneteau remained philosophical about his historic goal.

"It could have happened to a lot of guys who were better players," he concluded. "I was just another guy named Joe!"

Actually, Mud.

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