September 12, 2008

Ask The Hockey History Blogger
Who Is The Best American Born Goalie Of All Time?

Over the summer I began a feature called Ask The Hockey History Blogger. I invited the readers to send me hockey questions, historical or otherwise.

Questions answered in the summer included

What other books do you read besides hockey?
Who will make Team Canada 2010?
Is Lidstrom Better Than Harvey?

Well I'm going to turn that into a weekly feature. Starting today. Dan from Camden, NJ asks "Who is the greatest American born goalie of all time?"

My initial impression also proved to be my final determination. For me, there was no better American goaltender than Mike Richter, of Abington, Pennsylvania. His career ended prematurely due to injury, and he had his ups and downs like almost every goalie. But when he was "up" I don't know if I ever saw a more spectacular goalie. Unfortunately I had bird's eye views of Richter's acrobatics in his two most famous victories - the 1994 Stanley Cup and the 1996 World Cup of Hockey. My two most beloved teams are the Vancouver Canucks and Team Canada, the two victims of Richter's heroics. Richter was the biggest reason for his team's victories in those two showdowns, and in doing so I, somewhat strangely, became a huge fan of his.

The number two spot would have to go to a goalie none of us saw play. Frankie Brimsek of Eveleth, Minnesota was so good they dubbed him Mr. Zero. In his first 8 NHL games, Brimsek recorded 6 shutouts and wiped out a league record for consecutive scoreless minutes. "Mr. Zero" had arrived. That first year he sparked the Bruins to the regular season and Stanley Cup Championships, earning the Calder and Vezina trophies and a First Team All Star selection on the way. He would help the Bruins to two more regular season titles and one more Stanley Cup prior to being enlisted in the armed forces during WWII. He was later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

At number 3 I'd have to rank Bostonian Tom Barrasso, another goalie who had an incredible first season in the NHL. Who can forget the 1983-84 season as an 18 year old straight from high school he turned in one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the league, winning the Vezina Trophy as the leagues best netminder and the Calder Trophy as the top rookie thanks to a 26-12-3 record and a 2.84 GAA. He was named to the first all star team. His career would cool off a bit after that hot start, but he did earn two Stanley Cup rings in Pittsburgh in the 1990s. Because of Mario Lemieux's presence he probably never really got credit for those championships the way he should have. Barrasso's legacy is tarnished by his reputation for being unfriendly and unwelcoming to the media, but it is tough to argue against his statistics. 369 wins, 2 Stanley Cups, the most career points scored by a goaltender (48)

#4 goes to Detroit-born John Vanbiesbrouck. He was always second fiddle to former teammate Richter, and he never really won anything. But he was absolutely spectacular when he led the Florida Panthers to an unexpected Stanley Cup finals appearance, and he is the winningest American born goalie of all time. He has 374 career wins, compared to Barrasso's 369.

Another old time goalie, and the first full time American NHL goalie, deserves mention in the top five. Mike Karakas, another resident of Eveleth, Minnesota, won the Calder Trophy and iconic 1938 Stanley Cup championship. He backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks, who in the 1930s were trying to ice a team of all American players. He was either hot or cold in his career, thus keeping out of any Hall of Fame debate, but he was an important piece to the Hawks championship.

Soon guys like Rick Dipietro and Ryan Miller will challenge for spots in this top 5.

Rick Dipietro

If you want to ask the hockey history blogger, email your questions to teamcanada72@gmail.com

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