TORONTO - Randall Maggs uses Terry Sawchuk as his core character to create a unique and marvellous literary work about NHL goaltenders of the Original Six era.
It took 10 years for "Night Work - The Sawchuk Poems" to be completed by the 64-year-old English professor and Corner Brook, N.L., resident, who stopped off at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Tuesday to introduce the book.
Johnny Bower, Jacques Plxante, Glenn Hall, Gump Worsley and Al Rollins also get space among Original Six netminders who Maggs found intriguing.
"This was the greatest group of goalies that ever played," Maggs contends.
The idea festered for decades - ever since Maggs played hockey in Winnipeg, which was Sawchuk's home city, while Sawchuk was winning championships in Detroit.
"I played in rinks he played in," Maggs explains. "We were very, very conscious of that. It was a phenomenal experience."
Sawchuk's nickname was "Ukey" because of his Ukrainian ancestry. He was NHL rookie of the year in 1951 and helped Detroit win three championships. He won the Vezina Trophy four times, including 1965 when he shared it with Johnny Bower in Toronto. The two helped the Leafs win their last Stanley Cup in 1967 - the last final of the Original Six days.
Sawchuk's 103 shutouts have never been surpassed. He had setbacks from serious injuries and he suffered from depression. He died on May 31, 1970, at age 40 after a blood clot stopped his heart a month after he'd suffered internal injuries in a freak accident involving teammate Ron Stewart after the hockey season. The usual waiting period for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame was waived and Sawchuk was immortalized immediately.
Sawchuk once threw a skate at a reporter. He hated dealing with the media. He often was, particularly towards the end of his life, a man to avoid.
"He could be a nasty person but there was another side to him," says Maggs. "When he was younger, you can see this in some of the photographs I've used from his earlier days, he was a pretty cheerful guy."
A coach insisted early in Sawchuk's career that he lose weight, and Sawchuk developed an eating disorder.
"He lost 35 pounds and couldn't put it back on," says Maggs. "His mother said his personality changed completely as a result of that.
"He was very proud but very insecure. I just think he gets a bit of a bad rap. When you talk to players who knew him, there's a lot of respect for him."
Maggs interviewed former teammates and acquaintances and there were countless hours of research.
"I won't write another hockey book," says Maggs. "I'm not a hockey writer."
But he succeeded in capturing the essence of a memorable era.
"It's very much about an age and a place - about Canada in those days before 1967," he explains. "Everything changed after 1967.
"You had Expo 67 and the protest movement back then. It was a different world."
His kid brother, Daryl Maggs, played in the NHL and the WHA, and Daryl's recollections of Bobby Hull slapshots at Original Six goalies helped him understand the perils of the profession.
Sawchuk was the first goaltender listed when The Hockey News published a list 10 years ago of the top 100 players of all time.
"He revolutionized the game with his crouch and he was the first great angle goalie," says Maggs. "I think we're going to be hearing a lot about Sawchuk in the next little while because Maertin Brodeur is getting close to that 103 shutouts record.
"That was a record I thought would never be broken. That'll maybe bring some attention back to Terry. He was a great one."
The incredible courage of Sawchuk and the others between the pipes was awesome.
"Bower never putting a mask on - this is hard to imagine," says Maggs. "Facing Hull's slapshot . . . 120 miles an hour . . . you just don't have time to react to a slapshot like that coming at your head.
"Sawchuk took 400 stitches to his face before he finally put on the mask. The book is about all those guys. They revolutionized the game by the way they played goal - Sawchuk with his low crouch, Plante coming out of the net to play the puck, and most people give Hall credit for initiating the butterfly."
Late defenceman Doug Harvey is included in the book, too.
"He was the big defenceman before Bobby Orr. There was almost a big trade made. Sawchuk was going to go to Montreal and Harvey was coming over to Detroit but at the last minute Jack Adams nixed it. I don't think he wanted Sawchuk behind all that scoring power in Montreal."
Maggs spent a lot of time talking to the late Red Storey.
"One of the last things Red Storey said to me was, 'Be good to Doug Harvey.' He just wanted him to be seen in a better light."
Maggs shines a light on a time worth remembering.