January 27, 2007

Gump Worsley 1929 - 2007

Hockey fans know there's only one man known as Gump.

Lorne "Gump" Worsley was hockey's hard luck goalie for over a decade before joining the Montreal Canadiens. Nicknamed for his likeness to cartoon character Andy Gump, Worsley was one of hockey's greatest characters. A seemingly happy-go-lucky soul who would bravely stand in his net, collecting over 200 stitches while claiming "my face is a mask."

Born in Montreal in 1929, Worsley grew up in extreme poverty. The great depression left his family penniless, but this did not stop Gump from dreaming of becoming a big league goalie. Worsley, who had to borrow equipment for much of his youth, did not dream of playing for Montreal Canadiens. Instead he admired Frank Brimsek of the Bruins and Davey Kerr of the Rangers.

Employing the old stand-up style of netminding, Worsley advanced from the Verdun Cyclones junior team, he would turn pro in 1948 as a New York Ranger farmhand. Despite numerous All-Star seasons with several teams in several leagues, it wasn't until 1952-53 that Worsley got a shot at the NHL. Rangers starter Chuck Rayner was injured for much of that season, and despite a last place finish Worsley impressed enough to earn the Calder trophy as the NHL's best rookie.

The short and stocky Worsley never would have expected what would happen next. The following season the NHL's best rookie never had a chance to play. Instead he was sent to Vancouver of the old Western Hockey League. While earning a league championship and top goalie and MVP awards with the WHL Canucks, Worsley watched his replacement in New York, Johnny Bower, flounder.

1954-55 saw Worsley return to the Big Apple for the next decade, though that wasn't necessarily a positive thing. The Rangers continued to be completely hapless, surrendering nightly onslaughts of 30 and 40 shots against, leading the quotable Worsley to term his experience there as a "jailhouse." A reporter once asked Worsley which team game him the most trouble. Gump quickly answered, "The Rangers."

Gump came across as loveable and admirable on the ice and in the eyes of the public, but he actually suffered from depression and alcoholism during his tenure in Manhattan.

After ten years of being a live target with the Rangers, Gump was traded to the defense-oriented Montreal Canadiens. The trade salvaged Gump's legacy as a loveable goalie on a terrible team to a legacy of Stanley Cup championships and a Hall of Fame nod. Worsley backstopped the Habs to Stanley Cup championships in 1964-65, 1965-66, 1967-68 and 1968-69. He was selected to the NHL's First All-Star Team in 1968 and to the Second Team in 1966. Worsley and partner Charlie Hodge shared the Vezina Trophy for lowest goals-against average in 1965-66. Gump and Rogie Vachon shared the same award in 1967-68.

Early in 1969 he suffered a nervous breakdown due to his petrifying fear of flying, the new norm in NHL travel thanks to western expansion. His career seemed to be over, but the expansion Minnesota North Stars took their chances with the goaltending icon by picking up his rights. The 40 year old goalie returned in 1970, playing some of his best hockey ever. His enthusiasm helped the Stars get into the playoffs for three straight years.

Gump ended up playing in 24 seasons, allowing a 2.91 goals against average in 862 games, and recorded 43 shutouts. Elected into the Hall of Fame in 1980, Gump was not only one of the greatest players, but one of the games most likeable characters.

More - Red Fisher. Montreal Gazette - Dave Stubbs, HabsInsideOut.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great article about Gump. Hard to imagine no face protection even considering the slower shot speeds of yesteryear.