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100 Greatest NHL Players

100 Greatest Players

Turk Broda: 100 Greatest NHL Players

Goalie thrived in playoffs, led Maple Leafs to five Stanley Cup titles, including three in row

by Stu Hackel / Special to NHL.com

"In the net," one hockey writer observed about Turk Broda, "he looks like a harmless, jolly tub of lard, but the Leaf goalie dives for the puck like an angry cat." Walter "Turk" Broda was even better than an angry cat. He was money. When the Toronto Maple Leafs of the 1930s and 1940s needed to win a big game, Broda was at his best.

"The Turk was inclined to loaf during the regular season, especially against weak clubs, and let in too many soft goals," Toronto columnist Jim Hunt wrote in his 1967 book "The Men in the Nets." "But once the playoff money beckoned, no goalie in hockey was tougher to score on."

 

Video: Turk Broda earned reputation as big-game goalie

 

Hunt's critique of Broda's regular-season play might have been a bit severe. In his 14-season NHL career, Broda won 302 games - the most in NHL history when he retired in 1952 - at a time when the schedule was between 48 and 60 games. Broda had 62 shutouts and a lifetime goals-against average of 2.53. He won the Vezina Trophy twice for fewest goals allowed, was a First Team All-Star twice and made the second team once.

But no one can argue with Broda's postseason prowess. His name was stamped on the Stanley Cup five times, including three consecutive years, the first time an NHL team accomplished that feat. And he was the guy in goal when the Maple Leafs staged their historic 1942 comeback to win the Cup, beating the Detroit Red Wings in seven games after trailing in the series 3-0.

In addition, Broda retired with the all-time record for playoff victories with 60, which stood until 1968, and he had a remarkable lifetime playoff goals-against average of 1.98. He also held the all-time playoff record for shutouts (13) for nearly two decades as well as the all-time mark for Stanley Cup games played in goal (101) until 1968.

 

TURK BRODA CAREER TOTALS | View Full Stats
Games: 629 | Wins: 302 | Losses: 224 | Ties: 101 | GAA: 2.53

 

But Broda was no Superman. He was more of an everyman. Only 5-foot-9 and of variable weight - usually overweight - Broda smiled often, parted his hair down the middle over his broad, cheery face and eschewed the position's more technical aspects in favor of reflexes and pure determination. He said he was "just a guy who likes to play hockey."

And hockey fans everywhere liked Broda. He was so wildly popular that when the Montreal Canadiens arranged a 1947 postseason goodwill tour to promote their team in Western Canada through a series of games against a select group of NHL stars, it was Broda, not Canadiens stars such as Maurice Richard, Toe Blake or Elmer Lach, who was mobbed at each locale, upstaging his hosts.

"Broda's stylish play and cheerful, friendly personality charmed fans at every stopping place in British Columbia," a Vancouver paper reported.

His Toronto teammates, who often played wide-open hockey and left him vulnerable, loved him as well.

"He never blamed the forwards or defensemen when he gave up a goal," teammate Harry Watson told authors Kevin Allen and Bob Duff in their book, "Without Fear." "It was always his fault."

Watson once accidentally shot the puck past Broda and Turk told him, "Don't worry about it, Harry. I should have stopped that shot."

The media loved him, too, in part because unlike many other goaltenders, Broda was always good for a quote and loved to mug for the camera. He joked often, even when discussing his profession.

"I wish they'd stop complimenting me," he once said about his press clippings. "It makes me nervous. Every time I read those nice things about me, I get a nasty hunch that Conn Smythe's getting ready to sell me to (last place) Chicago. I don't carry enough life insurance to play for Chicago. I'll have to go out and play a bad game."

Those same character traits were Broda's secret weapon on the ice.

"Turk's happy-go-lucky nature fooled some people, but was an asset," wrote Smythe, the Maple Leafs owner and manager, in his autobiography. "When he got beaten 9-0 or something, to him it was just another game. It was over. The next night it was Turk Broda against the other team again. He knew he could play goal and rise to the heights, and the past never worried him, not like some guys who have a bad night and then go all to pieces."

Early in his NHL career, rising to the heights meant four consecutive playoff runs, three of them to the Stanley Cup Final, from 1938-41, in which his goals-against averages were 1.73, 1.94, 1.74 and 2.05. Each time, Toronto fell short, but Broda could not be faulted. He was a primary reason the Leafs were even contenders.

Things looked dim again in 1942 when the Leafs fell behind 3-0. With no margin for error, he would limit Detroit to seven goals in the last four games, including a 3-0 win in Game 6, and a 3-1 victory in Game 7. At the team's Stanley Cup victory party, Maple Leafs captain Syl Apps announced, "Before each game, we'd skate up to Turk and tell him, 'Get your teeth in the puck.' He must have strong teeth because after each game, those pucks had plenty of teeth marks."

Born in Brandon, Manitoba, on May 15, 1914, Broda's was originally nicknamed "Turkey Egg" in grade school when his freckled face reminded classmates of a turkey's egg. That shortened over time to "Turk." His Leaf teammates, however, called him "Old Slippery," which eventually morphed into "Slip."

His unlikely path to the NHL was a testament to his determination and resilience. Broda dreamed of a hockey career as a defenseman, but he skated poorly. When his school principal formed a team, Broda was bypassed until the principal remembered he hadn't selected a goalie. The portly youngster happily agreed to give it a try and his principal taught Broda goaltending by firing pucks at him from all angles each afternoon in the school basement.

Winding his way through the youth ranks in Brandon, he steadily improved, the high point coming when he helped the junior Brandon Native Sons to the 1933 Memorial Cup Western Canada Final as an emergency replacement. A Detroit scout spotted him the next year playing junior in Winnipeg and recommended him to the Red Wings. GM Jack Adams invited him to training camp, where Broda's good humor made him a popular figure. The organization was stacked with veteran goalies, but Adams decided to keep him around as the Wings practice goalie to help team morale, and he largely spent the 1934-35 season in Detroit as a 'target.'

However, stopping NHL shooters daily sharpened Broda's skills to a surprising degree and the following season, Adams inked the 21-year-old Broda to his first pro contract, assigning him to the Red Wings top farm club, the Detroit Olympics. With the Olympics, he first stunned the Red Wings in the preseason three-game exhibition City Series, winning two and tying one, and then posted the International Hockey League's best goals-against average and most wins, leading them to the IHL championship.

Meanwhile, knowing Toronto was seeking a young replacement for the aging George Hainsworth, Adams brought Smythe to a game between the Olympics and the Windsor Bulldogs to sell Smythe on Windsor goalie Earl Robertson, another Detroit farmhand. The game went poorly for Robertson and Smythe told Adams, "I like the fat kid better." He purchased Broda in May 1936 for $7,500.

From early in the 1936-37 season until entering the Army in the summer of 1943, Broda was a constant presence in the Maple Leafs net, missing only one game. As popular as he would eventually become, his early inconsistency - especially on long shots - made him a target of boos from the Toronto crowd.

"I'm satisfied as long as management and the fans don't expect me to be the shutout king of the NHL," he would say.

"When a soft goal slipped by him, the most annoyed person in the rink was Mr. Broda," author Ed Fitkin wrote in a 1950 biography on Broda. "He got absolutely furious at himself and, sizzling mentally, he soon was sizzling physically. The opposition usually suffered. They couldn't have gotten the puck past Turk with a machine gun."

No one griped when the postseason arrived and Broda turned it on.

"The key to Broda's great success as a playoff goalie was his unflappable disposition," Hunt wrote. "On the afternoon of a Stanley Cup Final, his teammates would be pacing the floor and chain smoking cigarettes in an effort to calm their nerves. Meanwhile, Broda would be in his hotel room sleeping. Once, as Conn Smythe delivered an impassioned plea to his team just before they took the ice for an important game, he looked over and saw Broda sitting on a stool in front of his locker sound asleep."

How did Broda explain his clutch performances? He usually answered playfully. "Maybe I was just too dumb to know the situation was serious," he'd say. Or, "I always needed the money."

By the time Broda returned from the Army in 1946, new NHL rules had changed the game. Installing the red line permitted forward passes into the neutral zone, opened up the ice and speeded up play. Some returning veterans couldn't make the transition, and things got especially tough for goalies as defenses backed off from the neutral zone, resulting in more crowds in front of the net. Broda's solution was to move higher in the crease to see the puck around the traffic. He played as if he had never been gone.

After their first non-playoff season since 1930, Smythe rebuilt the Leafs as a younger squad in 1946-47 and at 32, Broda was now a team elder. Few expected much from the club but Smythe said, "If Turk stands up, we may surprise a lot of people." They did surprise, with a second-place finish.

Toronto's playoff prospects took a hit early in the first round after the Red Wings lit up Broda for nine goals in Game 2, tying the series. Then Broda got going, limiting Detroit to one goal in each of the next three games to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. After Montreal scored six goals in Game 1, Broda surrendered seven goals in the next five games, including a bounce-back Game 2 shutout, as the Leafs skated away with the Stanley Cup."

The following season, Toronto finished first in the regular season, and Broda won the Vezina Trophy and was named a First Team All-Star, his second of each honor. His 2.38 goals-against average topped the NHL. The powerful Leafs then defeated the Boston Bruins in five games and swept the Red Wings for their second straight Cup. Broda's nine-game playoff goals-against average was 2.15, his lowest since 1941.

After two straight Cups, Broda's and Toronto's regular-season showing dipped in 1948-49. Finishing below .500, the Leafs placed fourth and Broda had a 2.68 goals-against average. But once the playoffs began, Broda's shutout of the Bruins in Game 1 of the semifinals set the tone. "Old Slippery" returned to form with a 1.57 GAA in the playoffs as the Bruins and Red Wings fell in a combined nine games.

Broda was part of one of hockey's most legendary postseasons in 1951 when all five games of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canadiens went to overtime.

Broda's playoff performance in 1951 proved to be his last hurrah. Sharing goaltending duties with Al Rollins, the 36-year-old Broda played in eight playoff games, although only in the first two in the Final. Still, he surrendered nine goals, for a 1.10 GAA.

"I couldn't beat him," Maurice Richard said. "Toe Blake couldn't. None of the Canadiens could."

It was Broda's fourth Stanley Cup victory in five years.

He would appear in only three more games during 1951-52, playing part of one regular-season game, before retiring. A Turk Broda Night followed at Maple Leaf Gardens, as did a testimonial dinner where Smythe promised him one more playoff game, to bring his total to 100. So that spring, Broda faced the powerful Red Wings, the eventual champions, in Game 2 of the semifinals and surrendered one goal in a 1-0 loss.

Hoping Broda might inspire the Leafs again, coach Joe Primeau turned to him for Game 3 at home, but in losing 6-2 he looked all of 37 compared to the acrobatics of 22-year-old Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk. It was a symbolic passing of the torch to a great new generation of goaltenders.

"He always did play real well in the playoffs," recalled former Bruins center Milt Schmidt. "He was one of the best money players ever."

 

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