September 22, 2015

John Henderson

Long John Henderson, a string bean at six-foot-four and 175 pounds, was once the tallest goalie in the National Hockey League.

Henderson was originally a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect. After several seasons with the Marlies junior team, where he found great success using his flexibility and athletic style, crouching much like Terry Sawchuk was making popular in Detroit.

But the Leafs insisted he reinvent his game as a pro, forcing him to play a strict stand-up goalie style that was archaic even back then. It almost caused him to quit hockey altogether, and eventually got him chased out of the Toronto organization.

"I couldn't stop the puck using that method. I just broke the stick over the net and skated off. I went in, cut the knob that they'd put on my stick off, and went back out and went back to my old style and started playing well."

The Leafs did not like such a show of disobedience and traded him days later.

Lynn Patrick, the Bruins GM, admitted to never having seen him play, but trusted his chief scout Baldy Cotton.

"He said he was the best goaltender outside the National league in the business."

After starting the 1954-55 year in Hershey Henderson was called up to Boston for the injured Sugar Jim Henry. Henderson ended up playing 45 games, winning 15, tying another 15 while dropping 14 decisions. He was strong with five shutouts and 2.49 goals against average. He stumbled in the playoffs, allowing Henry to take the net back in a five game opening round defeat.

Bruins coach seemed quite happy with Henderson, saying "we're quite satisfied with Henderson. He's shown enough to count on him as our future goalie."

It did not work out that way. The Bruins traded for Detroit's Stanley Cup great Terry Sawchuk in the summer.

Henderson was banished to the minor leagues in 1955-56. He was called up for two games to replace an ailing Sawchuk, though Henderson would only play in one game. He was unable to play in the first game as his size 13 goalie skates did not arrive at the rink, forcing the Bruins to use Montreal junior goalie Claude Pronovost in a shutout win. Henderson did play in a losing effort the next game.

Frustrated, Henderson asked to be traded.

"Trade me, or I pack it in - I'm quitting," Henderson threatened. "They said, 'Kid, we're not going to trade you because we need someone in case (Sawchuk) gets hurt.

Henderson did quit, going to work for a gas company while playing amateur hockey with the Whitby Dunlops. He would backstop the Dunnies to Allan Cup championships as Canada's senior champions in 1956-57 and 1958-59. He also helped the Dunnies represent Canada at the 1958 World Hockey Championships, winning gold.

"You got paid, but it was under the table and it wasn't a hell of a lot. It was just something I truly enjoyed doing," Henderson told Greg Oliver in his excellent book The Goaltenders' Union.

After 1961 Henderson quit hockey altogether. For four years anyway. He returned to play in the minor leagues for five more years.

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