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October 08, 2015

Gil Mayer

Training camp stories rarely stand the test of time and become a part of hockey lore.

But in November of 1949 a titanic battle ensued at the Toronto Maple Leafs camp. Their star goalie and four time Stanley Cup champion Turk Broda showed up for camp overweight, as he was known to do, and this angered Leaf boss Conn Smythe. The "Battle of the Bulge" ensued, and the media loved every minute of the often witty and short-tempered Broda.

Smythe  ordered Turk to cut his grocery intake enough to lose some weight. He wanted Broda to play at 190lbs, down from 197. Smythe then brought up minor leaguer Gilles Mayer and brought Al Rollins from Cleveland Barons (AHL). The Toronto press had a field day and called the goaltending trio "The Long" (Al Rollins 6'2"), "The Short" (Gilles Mayer 5'6") and "The Fat" (Turk Broda).

The whole event turned into fantastic publicity stunt, with Broda leading the way. The press knew all about his diet of grapefruit and soft boiled eggs. And of course the press was there when Turk tipped the scales at 190lbs before game day. It was front page news!

But to make his point, Smythe had the tiny Mayer start the season. As mentioned, he stood just 5'6" but he only weighed 130lbs! He was a stark contrast from Broda, and perhaps that was Smythe's point.

Mayer debuted on December 2nd, 1949, wearing number 25, as the Leafs faced off against the Detroit Red Wings. Mayer allowed two goals on the opening five shots before settling down. However the Leafs could not get on the scoreboard and lost the game 2-0.

Broda returned and Mayer returned to the AHL where he embarked on a AHL Hall of Fame career. He won 30 or more games seven times, and 346 total victories in his career. He led the league in shutouts five times. He won five Hap Holmes award for lowest goals against average and was a five time All Star. He backstopped his team to Calder Cup championship in 1952 and 1955, and though he did not play in the post-seasons he won two more Calder Cups in 1958 and 1959. And late in his career - 1959 - he became the first goalie in AHL history to wear a mask.

Despite the Ottawa native's impressive minor league resume, he only returned to the NHL for rare injury fill in jobs. He totalled nine career NHL games, going 2-6-1 with a 2.67 average.

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