February 10, 2010

Olympic Hockey Legends: Jimmy Foster, Great Britain

This is Jimmy Foster. He was Canada's first nemesis in international hockey, despite being Canadian.

Foster was born in Glasgow, Scotland in September 1905. At the age of six he and his family moved to Canada. Jimmy grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, falling in love with the great Canadian game.

As the new kid on the block he had to play goal when he first started out. Which was fine by Jimmy, as he loved stopping pucks. He would go on to become one of the best goaltenders outside of the National Hockey League, despite badly breaking his leg in two places early in his career.

Foster played with the University of Manitoba before moving to New Brunswick and becoming a star with the Moncton Hawks senior team. He led the Hawks to the 1932 Allan Cup finals, posting an amazing 417 minute shutout streak including back to back shutouts. Although the Hawks would not win the amateur championship of Canada that year, Foster led Moncton to the Allan Cup in both 1933 and 1934.

In 1935 "Jimmy the Parson," so named because he nearly devoted his life to the priesthood, was lured back across the Atlantic where he would play in net with the Richmond Hawks of the English National League. Percy Nicklin coached Moncton and was lured to England to coach not only Richmond but the British Olympic team. He badly wanted Foster to come with him to play in goal.

Foster jumped at the opportunity to see his native homeland. But he was also motivated financially. Foster had seen many senior league teammates and foes turn professional, only to be buried in the minor leagues not making a lot of money. Foster was said to have made a good wage working in Britain while maintaining his amateur hockey status.

Foster became a big star over in Britain. He backstopped the Hawks to second place in the league and was named as an all star. The following year he moved to Harringay where he would backstop the Greyhounds for three seasons, including a league championship in 1939.

His biggest moment came not in the British leagues, but rather the 1936 Olympics. Britain, masterminded by Bunny Ahearne, recruited a team full of Canadian players who were originally born in Britain, and iced a powerful team. The key recruit was the ace puckstopper Foster, who would allow just three goals in the Olympics, and had four shutouts in seven games en route to an unexpected gold medal.

One of the wins unthinkably came against Canada. At this time Canada's dominance on the international stage was unquestioned. For Great Britain to defeat was a huge upset in hockey history. That being said, Great Britain had essentially iced a second team Canada to defeat hockey's top dog.

Controversy swirled around Great Britain's team. Canada had suspended 16 players, including Foster, who left Canada to play in Britain without first gaining the consent of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association. When named to the Britain Olympic team, the IIHF upheld the suspensions on Foster and Alex Archer on the eve of the Olympics. Suddenly Britain was without their star goalie.

Three days into the Olympic games Canada lifted their Olympic protest and granted Britain permission to use Foster and Archer, but only for the Olympic games. As Andrew Podnicks wrote in his book Canada's Olympic Hockey Teams, Canada only did so "in the spirit of Olympic warmth," and with the agreement a new rule would prohibit such country jumping in future international events.

With the gum-chomping Foster in net, Great Britain knocked of Canada's Olympic team, represented by the Port Arthur Bearcats, 2-1 on February 10th, 1936. Soon after more controversy erupted. An obscure and, according to the Canadians, unfair rule interpretation made it impossible for Canada to win the gold medal despite clearly being the best team. It was decided that Great Britain's victory over Canada would carry forward into the semi-final and final rounds of the tournament. Because Britain had defeated Canada once, they would not have to face them again. Inexplicably, the two points between any possible game between the two countries would automatically go to Britain and no game would be played. Under those auspicious circumstances, Canada lost their first international hockey title.

Despite the deceiving behaviour by Britain and the IIHF, Foster's performance should not be discounted. He very well may have been the best goaltender outside of the NHL at this time. He would post 16 shutouts in 31 World Championship and Olympic games for Britain. He also led Britain to the 1937 and 1938 European Championships. Until 2002 he was the only Scot to have won a gold medal in the winter Olympics.

Foster returned to Canada in 1940 and continued his outstanding ice hockey career in Glace Bay and Quebec City.

Jimmy Foster, Great Britain's greatest goaltender, died in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 4th January, 1969, aged 63.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There was no deceiving behavior by Great Britain before the 1936 Winter Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament. The playing format was explained to all the Teams by the Olympic Committee before the Tournament began and all but 1 of the British Players was Born in the UK. Teams have also used Players not Born in their own Countries in other Olympic Ice Hockey Tournaments. Great Britain won the Gold Medal because they had the best Goaltender that Olympic Year in JIMMY FOSTER who was Born in Scotland which Thank God is still part of the UK. I think JIMMY FOSTER should be inducted into the Regular and International Ice Hockey HALL OF FAMES!