April 02, 2016

Sudden Death Mel Hill

The name Mel "Sudden Death" Hill will forever be frozen in the etches of hockey history. That's because of his NHL record three overtime goals in the same playoff series.

Born in Glenboro, Manitoba, Mel played his junior hockey for the Saskatoon Wesleys, Sudbury Wolves and Sudbury Frood Miners. His last season in Sudbury (1936-37), which saw him score a league leading 18 goals in 15 games, convinced the Boston Bruins sign him as a free agent on October 26, 1937.

Hill was no immediate hit in Beantown by any means. It wasn't until his second season, 1938-39, that he gained regular ice time, scoring 10 goals during the regular season. It was in the subsequent post-season that he had his immortalizing series against the New York Rangers.

"The first game (2-1) was a real endurance test, " Hill recalled. " It went on for three overtimes. Bill Cowley fed me a pass down the wing and I beat Davey Kerr with a high shot to put us ahead in the series. I scored on Kerr again the following night in overtime (3-2) and we took a 2-0 lead over New York."

Boston won the third game as well before Rangers unthinkably roared back with three straight wins to set up a deciding seventh game at the Boston Garden. Once again the teams battled to an overtime after Ray Getliffe had scored for Boston and Muzz Patrick for New York to make it 1-1. Like in game one the teams played two scoreless overtime periods before Mel became the hero once more.

"It was around eight minutes of the third overtime, " Hill remembered. " Cowley fed me a pass from behind the net and I was right on top of Rangers goalie Bert Gardiner. I held the puck for a second then flipped it up into the net on the short side. The fans went wild and it was a tremendous thrill to win a series for my team. "

It was somewhat ironic that Rangers general manager Lester Patrick had turned down Hill years earlier because he was " too frail for big-time hockey".

In the Stanley Cup final against Toronto, Mel once again was a key figure as Boston won in five games. He assisted on both of Roy Conacher's goals as Boston won game four 2-0. He also opened the scoring in the Cup clinching game that Boston won 3-1. All in all Mel scored 6 goals and 3 assists in the playoffs that year.

Two years later, in 1941 it was time for Mel to once again sip champagne from the Cup. This time he scored the semifinal-series clinching goal against Toronto.

"That one ranks right up with the goals against New York, " Mel said, " I came out of the corner with the puck and fired a hot shot past Turk Broda. We went on and rolled over Detroit in four straight games to win the Stanley Cup."

Mel wasn't a star player and he played within his limitations.

"I was a basic, unspectacular player who usually performed well when it counted, but I just happened to get super-hot in that series with New York," he said.

Mel also admitted that carrying the tag of " Sudden Death" wasn't so easy at times.

"It wasn't an easy tag to carry the rest of my career. It seemed like I was expected to be the hero in every playoff game from that moment on. The name "Sudden Death" was easier to live with after I retired," Mel jokingly said.

Mel was sold to the Brooklyn Americans on June 27, 1941. There he played for one season before the team folded. He was then picked up by Toronto and racked up his best season statistically when he scored 44 points (17+27) in 49 games (1942-43).

Mel played in Toronto until 1946 and then continued to play in the AHL until 1948 (Pittsburgh Hornets). Then for the next four seasons Mel played senior hockey with the Regina Caps before retiring.

After hockey he went into the soft drink business in Regina, Saskatchewan. He built a house in nearby Fort Qu'Appelle where he lived for the next 25 years until he passed away in 1996

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