August 08, 2015

Gus Mortson

Gus Mortson was once one of the baddest men in hockey.

He, along with his defensive partner and fellow "Gold Dust Twin" Jim Thomson, perfected the art of defending the zone by playing the man instead of by playing the puck. They grabbed, hooked, pushed and shoved any puck carrying opponent who came into the Leafs zone. Their tactics were effective although often illegal. Mortson earned a career total of 1390 PIM in 797 games. In fact, four times he was the NHL's season penalty minute champ. Twice he was punished with lengthy suspensions for deliberately trying to injure another player

But he was also among the top defensemen. Mortson was an excellent skater and could carry the puck, and he even played left wing when he first turned pro in the minor leagues. But in the NHL he was never a tremendous offensive threat, as his career totals suggest: 46 goals and 198 points in 797 games.

"When you played hockey in our time, it wasn't so much how many goals you scored, it was how few you let be scored against you while you were on the ice," explained the New Liskeard, Ontario born Mortson. "Thomson and I, we kept track of all the goals against because that was your only arguing point when you had to go see (GM Conn) Smythe for a contract. All the years we played in Toronto, we had less than a goal against average."

The rugged defenseman joined the Maple Leafs in 1946 as part of a successful youth movement. Over the next 6 years, Mortson and the Leafs captured 4 Stanley Cups. And despite his status as one of the more hated defensemen in hockey, Gus received personal acclaim as well. In 1950 he was honored as a First Team NHL All Star. In addition, he played in 8 NHL All Star games in his career, 7 consecutively.

In 1952 the Leafs traded their prized defenseman (along with Ray Hannigan, Al Rollins and Cal Gardner) to Chicago in order to land a superstar goaltender in Harry Lumley. Mortson continue to excel in Chicago, but the team was much weaker than Toronto's team, as evidenced by the team's playoff participation in only 1 of Mortson's 6 years in the Windy City.

Mortson finished his career in 1958-59 with half a season with the Detroit Red Wings. He played another year and a half in the minor leagues, but then opted to get out of professional hockey. He successfully operated his own food brokerage business and later worked as a stock broker and sales representative for a mining operation near his home in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.

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