July 14, 2013

Sugar Jim Henry

After Dave Kerr, one of the true Rangers greats, retired after the 1940-41 season, the Rangers needed a new goaler. They signed the acrobatic Jim Henry out of Western Canada. Universally known as "Sugar Jim" because of his childhood love of brown sugar, The proud Winnipeger was a star with the junior Brandon Elks and then the Allan Cup winning senior Regina Rangers.

The next season he made the jump to the Big Apple, and made quite the impression. He played all 48 games that season, winning a league high 29 games en route to leading the Rangers to first place.

Henry's career, like that of many NHLers, was put on hold due to World War II. He enlisted in the Canadian military and later transferred to the navy. Based in Canada, he continued to play hockey with the Allan Cup winning Ottawa Commandos in 1942-43, and later in Red Deer and Calgary.

Henry returned to the Rangers for 1945-46, but found the Rangers had secured the great Chuck Rayner while he was away. But coach Frank Boucher knew Henry was a good goalie too and kept Henry around. Boucher, years ahead of his time, formed the first two-goalie rotation in NHL history. Rayner and Henry, who quickly became best friends and later business partners, would alternate games and even periods, and reportedly would even alternate shift to shift on a few occasions.

The two-goalie system eventually proved cumbersome, and after four seasons with the Rangers, Boucher traded Henry to Chicago for Emile Francis and Alex Kaleta just prior to the 1948-49 season.

Henry toiled valiantly for the weak Blackhawks, but the most he could do was lift them out of the cellar. When the great Frank Brimsek became available to the Blackhawks, they bought him and Henry was demoted to Kansas City of the minor leagues. Brimsek couldn't lead the Blackhawks out of the doldrums either, so desperate for a quality netminder, Chicago made a big trade with Detroit involving Henry and others going to Detroit in exchange for Harry Lumley. Henry wasn't going to beat out Terry Sawchuk in Detroit by any means, so he was farmed out again, to the Indianapolis team of the USHL.

Unable to come to contract terms with Frank Brimsek's successor Jack Gelineau, the Boston Bruins bought Henry from Detroit just before the 1951-52 season. Henry almost never made it to Boston. Henry, in partnership with Rayner, opened a hunting and fishing camp in Kenora, Ontario. Henry was severely burned in a shed fire.

Lucky to be alive, Henry refused to listen to doctors who said he would never play goal again. The badly scarred goalie made it to Boston in time for NHL training camp, and would play the next 210 games in succession.

Henry had a fine first year, recording 7 shutouts and leading Boston to the playoffs, losing to the Montreal Canadiens in a memorable first round series. In those 1952 playoffs Henry is remembered in one of the most dramatic hockey photos of all time. The image showed Henry, right eye blackened, shaking hands in the ultimate sign of respect with Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the man who scored the over time winning goal in game seven.

Henry continued on in Boston with strong regular seasons, but he tended to get injured in the playoffs. In 1953 he hurt is ankle and was not able to play all games as the Bruins bowed to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final. In the 1955 playoffs Henry suffered a broken jaw, an injury which would force him to retire from the NHL.

He returned to Manitoba where he could live a life based around his love of fishing and hunting. He did don the pads on occasion for senior league games.

In 406 NHL games he recorded 27 shutouts, had a 2.87 career goals-against-average and was a Second Team All-Star in 1952-52. He passed away in 2004.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Jim Henry should be in the HHOF!