Few goaltenders in NHL history have been so good so soon like Terry Sawchuk.
Sawchuk ended his career as the owner of the NHL records for wins (447), shutouts (103) and games played (971); all three are now held by Martin Brodeur. However, Sawchuk still owns a mark that may never be broken: he had a goals-against average of less than 2.00 in each of his first five full NHL seasons, something no other goaltender has accomplished. He led the League in victories in each of those five seasons and sparked the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup three times in four seasons from 1951-52 to 1954-55.
After spending 14 of his first 16 NHL seasons with the Red Wings, Sawchuk spent three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He teamed with Johnny Bower to spark Toronto to its fourth Stanley Cup in six seasons in 1967, then spent one season each with the Los Angeles Kings, the Red Wings and the New York Rangers. He died on May 31, 1970, at age 40, after being injured in a scuffle with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart.
In his NHL100 profile of Sawchuk, author Bob Duff wrote that although Sawchuk made things look easy in the net, that wasn't always the case away from the rink:
"'Terry was someone who compartmentalized his life,' said David Dupuis, author of Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie. 'His teammates were his teammates, his family was his family, his friends were his friends and he never let someone from one compartment gain entry to another."
"On the ice, Sawchuk was plagued by serious injury and a shocking lack of confidence in his abilities.
"'As soon as I go into the net, I bend down and take a sideways peek at the goal posts,' Sawchuk told the Springfield Union. 'If they look close, I know I'm going to have a good night.
"Some nights, those posts look a mile away."
Marcel Pronovost, Sawchuk's close friend and teammate with Detroit and Toronto, felt Sawchuk's insecurities often got the better of him.
Video: Terry Sawchuk was four-time Vezina-winning goalie
'He was always worried about how he would take care of his family when he was done playing,' Pronovost said. 'He worried about whether he would be able to give them all he could.'"
Painting Sawchuk was especially gratifying for artist Tony Harris.
"This painting was particularly satisfying," he said, "because it combined two of my favorite things to paint: Goalies, who I've been drawing since grade 3, and Original Six uniforms."
Like Sawchuk, Peter Stastny was a success from the moment he stepped onto the ice in the NHL. But to get that far took a tremendous act of courage.
Stastny and younger brother Anton were two of Czechoslovakia's top stars. But while at a European club tournament in Innsbruck, Austria, during the summer of 1980, he made a long-distance call to Quebec Nordiques president Marcel Aubut, informing him that the two would be willing to defect and sign with Quebec as a package deal. After the tournament ended, the Stastnys were missing when the players got on the team bus; they were already in a rental car with Aubut, heading for Vienna and eventually to Quebec.
The Stastnys became non-persons in their homeland but excelled in the NHL. In 1980-81, Peter set NHL rookie records for assists (70, matched by Joe Juneau of the Boston Bruins in 1992-93) and points (109; surpassed by Teemu Selanne in 1992-93). He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie and went on to become the second-highest scorer of the 1980s with 1,059 points, trailing only Wayne Gretzky. He is also one of seven players in NHL history with six consecutive 100-point seasons.
But more important was the fact that by the mid-1980s, veteran Czech players were allowed to play in the NHL; by the early 1990s, players from the Soviet Union would follow. All owed a debt of gratitude to Stastny.
Author Bob Duff, in his NHL100 profile of Stastny, wrote that after being traded to the New Jersey Devils in 1990, Stastny became teammates with two longtime Soviet stars, defensemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov:
"'You'd look around that dressing room and see some of the best players in the game,' Stastny said. "'Players like Fetisov, Kasatonov, they were superstars in their own country. You always knew if they were given the chance to come here, they would excel."
'Stastny proved an enormous help. Fluent in Czech, Slovak, Russian, English, German and French, he was the club's unofficial go-between.
'"If I could help out in any way, I was happy to do it,' he said. 'I remembered what it was like. I was in their shoes.
"It's tough, it really is. I remember in Quebec, we had the goalie [Sergei] Mylnikov. He was our only Russian. They sent along an official interpreter, but on hockey-related topics, he had no idea.
'"I would talk hockey with Sergei. I think there was a special bond between us. He was very thankful, very grateful for the time I spent with him and that made me feel good.'"
Video: Peter Stastny became first rookie to have 100 points
While he'll never forget the day Soviet troops invaded his homeland, Stastny came to learn Russian players weren't all that different than he was.
"'It is ironic, because they were the hated enemy,' he said. 'But I learned from meeting these fellows that they all have huge hearts, they are very good human beings.
"'I don't think it's the people who are bad. Sometimes, the leaders, the system, they are what is bad."
Stastny's story and the uniform he wore made painting him especially interesting for Harris.
"I was pleased that Peter Stastny was in the top 100 because as much as I love the Original Six uniforms, there is something unique about the Quebec Nordiques," he said. "I think it was the particular shade of blue they chose that was different than any other team in the League."