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Sawchuk was a shutout machine

by John McGourty
Terry Sawchuk started the Detroit Red Wings' 1951-52 season by shutting out the Boston Bruins, 1-0, and finished it by shutting out the Montreal Canadiens, 3-0, in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Between those games, he had 11 other regular-season shutouts and three more in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Sawchuk, who died in 1970, is in the news again thanks to New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who tied his all-time record of 103 regular-season shutouts Monday night in a 3-0 win again the Buffalo Sabres.
By all standards, the 1951-52 Detroit Red Wings were one of the greatest teams in NHL history. They won the six-team, regular-season race by 22 points over the Montreal Canadiens and swept the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadiens in the playoffs.

That season, Sawchuk tied his own record with 44 wins and had a sparkling 1.90 goals-against average to win the first of his four Vezina Trophies. The Red Wings thought he should have won the season before, his rookie year when he went 44-13-13 with a 1.99 GAA to win the Calder Memorial Trophy.

Sawchuk would lead the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup again the next season and again in 1955, capturing three Stanley Cups in four seasons. He led NHL goaltenders in wins in each of his first five seasons.

Sawchuk accumulated many awards and distinctions during his 21-year career. He's the only player ever to win the rookie of the year award in two minor leagues and then in the NHL. He played in eight NHL All-Star Games and was named to the First All-Star Team three times and to the Second Team four times.

He played 13 years for the Red Wings and holds the franchise career record for games played, minutes played, wins, losses, ties, goals allowed, and shutouts. He holds Detroit's single-season records for wins and losses. No Red Wings goaltender played more playoff minutes or had more playoff penalty minutes or beat his record for playoff GAA.

Sawchuk was the third of four boys growing up in Winnipeg's tough East Kildonan neighborhood, but he was left the oldest when one older brother died of scarlet fever and the other died of a heart attack at 17. Terry inherited his brother's goaltending equipment, but no one expected much because of his withered right arm. Sawchuk had broken his elbow playing football at age 12. Worried he'd be punished, Sawchuk told no one and the arm grew several inches shorter and had limited mobility.

But that was the only part of Sawchuk with limited mobility. His reaction time was second-to-none and his positional play was studied by his competitors and for generations to come.

For those who followed Hank Aaron's pursuit of Babe Ruth's record of 714 home runs, it was surprising to learn that Aaron had been ahead of Ruth at every stage of his career. With Brodeur and Sawchuk, it's just the opposite. Sawchuk had 56 of his 103 shutouts in his first five full seasons. He never had another double-digit shutout season from 1956-70, while playing with Boston, Toronto, the expansion Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers.

He did share another Vezina Trophy with Johnny Bower in Toronto in 1965 and they split goaltending duties while winning the 1967 Stanley Cup.

Brodeur didn't have a double-digit shutout season until he was in his fourth season. He had 32 shutouts in his first five seasons and he's had two other double-digit shutout seasons since then, plus two nine-shutout seasons.

"There are some things the same with Terry and Martin, but more things are different," said Brodeur's father, Denis, Canada's goalie at the 1956 Olympics. "Sawchuk did the side-to-side thing with his pads like Marty does, but Sawchuk had a very different style. Terry was tall, but you wouldn't know that because he was always crouching down to see the puck.

"You couldn't compare Terry to Jacques Plante or Johnny Bower or Glenn Hall or Gump Worsley or Al Rollins because of the way he crouched so low. It took a lot of nerve to crouch low in that time when they didn't wear masks. No other goalie of his time did that.

"Martin reminds me more of Jacques Plante, the way he goes into the corner to stop the puck. He's like Johnny Bower in the way he poke-checks. Martin is a mixture of styles. I don't see anybody to compare him with in the way he aims his rebounds."

Sawchuk's 103rd and final shutout came with the Rangers, a 6-0 blanking of the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden.

"Terry came to us in my second year in New York," recalled former Rangers defenseman Brad Park. "Don Simmons had been the backup to Ed Giacomin and then we got Terry. It wasn't a two-goalie system. Eddie was the starter and I think Terry only played eight games for us. He didn't like to practice so he'd hug the post and use his stick to block shots. But when he got into a game, he was the most technically sound goalie you ever saw. When he bore down, you didn't get a lot to shoot at. His angles were terrific."

"I was only 21 and he was 40 and a legend, but he treated me great, no haughtiness. He never thought he was better than anyone. He was a great teammate who had terrific stories and he was fun to be with. He could be very thoughtful and even at 40, he was very competitive." -- Former Ranger Brad Park on Terry Sawchuk

Sawchuk's Detroit teammate, Gordie Howe, remembers Sawchuk's disdain for practice.

"In practice, he was miserable," Howe recalled. "I'd come off left wing and he'd leave the whole right side open while yelling at me, 'Don't hit me.' They didn't have masks then and if you shot a rolling puck, you had no idea where it was going. One day, I hit him on the shoulder and he chased me halfway down the ice."

"Terry was 40 when he came to us  ... he was all business in the games," Park said. "What was great was we didn't have to change the way we played depending on whether Giacomin or Sawchuk was playing.

"I was only 21 and he was 40 and a legend, but he treated me great, no haughtiness. He never thought he was better than anyone. He was a great teammate who had terrific stories and he was fun to be with. He could be very thoughtful and even at 40, he was very competitive."

That was evidenced by the fact that he authored a shutout against the Penguins in his final season," says Park.

"I remember after that game was over, we all skated over to him as he was coming off the ice and he said, 'these things sure are a long time coming these days.'"

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