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NHL Centennial

Sam LoPresti of Black Hawks stopped pucks, saved lives

Goaltender faced NHL record 83 shots in one game before becoming World War II hero

by Stan Fischler / Special to NHL.com

Sam LoPresti will never be considered one of the greatest goalies in hockey, yet he does have a pair of unique claims to fame.

In the first place, he holds a record of facing more shots on goal than anyone in NHL history.

In the second place -- a far more distant one, on the high seas -- he saved the lives of 20 crew members after their ship was sunk in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II.

The Minnesotan's ice heroics took place on the night of March 4, 1941, when it could be said LoPresti had the ultimate case of "Goaltender Rubber-Itis."

Playing for the Chicago Black Hawks against the Boston Bruins at Boston Garden, he faced an incredible 83 shots on goal. Frank Brimesek, the Boston goalie that night, faced 18 shots; LoPresti met a barrage of 36 pucks in the first period alone, followed by 26 shots in the second and 21 in the third.

 

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More amazing than the amount of shots on goal was the amount LoPresti directed out of danger that night. Three goals got by him, and it wasn't until a late third-period score by Bruins forward Eddie Wiseman that the game was decided. The final score: Boston 3, Chicago 2.

"The Bruins didn't get the winning goal until the end of the game," LoPresti once recalled. "Wiseman got it on a rebound. But we couldn't do anything right from the opening faceoff; just couldn't move the puck out of our zone.

"They were shooting from every angle and I didn't see half the shots. They were bounding off my pads, chest protector, my arms, my shoulders. I didn't even know where they were coming from. I lost between eight and 10 pounds that night."

Nine months after LoPresti's remarkable feat, he unknowingly set the stage for an even more astounding episode in his life. Again, it was all about saving, only instead of pucks they were human beings.

Following his second NHL season, LoPresti enlisted in an unusual branch of Uncle Sam's Navy called the U.S Naval Armed Guard. This was a branch working with the Merchant Marines.

Every one of the thousands of Liberty Ships that plied the Atlantic carrying military supplies to England, the Soviet Union and later France carried one large gun mounted on its deck. Only a crew of certified Navy personnel could operate the cannons.

After enlisting in the Navy, LoPresti was dispatched to the Armed Guard base in Brooklyn. When he was asked about his new challenge, he chuckled and said, "It's probably safer to face Nazi U-Boats in the North Atlantic than vulcanized rubber in North America."

Instead of fending off rubber, Sam manned a lone gun on the merchant ship SS Roger B. Taney, which ferried supplies to England. This time, LoPresti was fending off enemy planes. But on Feb. 8, 1943, his ship was torpedoed. As fire spread across the decks, a second German torpedo sunk the ship.

Miraculously, LoPresti and 19 other survivors were able to climb into a single lifeboat. Though it had minimal food and water, it did have a boat hook that eventually saved the lives of all the sailors.

But there was a major problem: day after day went by with no rescuers in sight. Supplies were gone and food was necessary to survive if their lifeboat was to continue to float in the Atlantic without discovery -- and help.

It was then that LoPresti came up with a desperate idea. The goalie lashed his sheath knife to the boat hook and scanned the water around him. Suddenly, he saw a dolphin swim close to the lifeboat.

He dove overboard, stabbed the 35-pound dolphin and, with the help of his mates, managed to get it aboard. The sailors actually drank the dolphin's blood to sustain themselves and then used the meat for more nourishment.

After a death-defying 42 days at sea, they sailed 2,500 miles before being picked up off the coast of Brazil to complete one of the longest open-boat voyages in history.

LoPresti and his mates were revived at a hospital in Santos, Brazil.

LoPresti never played in the League again, and eventually returned to the ice playing minor league hockey until 1951.

This unique hero died in 1984, but not before he had the pleasure of watching his son, Pete, play six NHL seasons with the Minnesota North Stars through the 1970s and the Edmonton Oilers during the 1980-81 season.

But when it came to big-time heroics on the ice and the sea, there was only one LoPresti to pull off those feats and that was Sam, the double-edged hero of the NHL and U.S. Navy.

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