September 07, 2016

Wayne Rutledge

In the Los Angeles Kings' inaugural season of 1967-68, the team had none other than the legendary Terry Sawchuk tending to the nets.

But did you know NHL rookie Wayne Rutledge actually played the bulk of the season, 45 games compared to Sawchuk's 36.

Wayne who?

That's what much of the NHL must have said to themselves. Mind you the NHL was full of minor league veterans in that first year of expansion. There were a lot of very good players finally getting a chance to finally play in the National Hockey League.

Rutledge's rookie NHL season saw him post a 20-18-4 record with a 2.87 goals against average and 2 shutouts. He won the first game in the Kings history on October 14th, 1967 - a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers - and earned the first shutout - against the St. Louis Blues in December of 1967. All told it was good enough to get the Kings into the playoffs.

How did the temperamental Sawchuk take to the rookie?

"At training camp, he wouldn't talk to me. If he was in a bar and I came in, he'd walk out. But once I made the team, he grew to accept me and took me under his wing."

Rutledge may have been new to the NHL, but not to goaltending excellence. The Barrie, Ontario native played junior hockey with the Barrie and Niagara Falls. His game really took off once he got his eyes checked.

"(Coach) Hap Emms used to tell me I was unbeatable inside the blueline, but I couldn't see the puck further out. He made me get my eyes checked. After that I wore contact lenses."

He turned into a OHL all star and, in 1963, an Allan Cup champion as a senior star.

By 1964 he turned pro and was a dominant goaltender in the Central League, playing with St. Paul and Omaha. He was actually part of the New York Rangers organization at the time, but the Rangers never protected the young up-and-comer in the NHL Expansion Draft.

Rutledge's NHL journey lasted three seasons, but his playing time steadily decreased. Gerry Desjardins established himself as the Kings new goalie, and Denis Dejordy arrived as the back up in year three.

Rutledge returned to the minors but in 1972 he found a new big league team to play for. The Houston Aeros were part of the new start up World Hockey Association. Rutledge would play with the Aeros for six seasons, splitting puckstopping duties with Don McLeod and then Ron Grahame.

"Playing with Gordie Howe and his family was a real treat," Rutledge said.

In 1974 he helped the Aeros win the Avco Cup championship.

"I didn't get to play much. Don McLeod was absolutely great that year. But it's always nice to part of a championship team," he said.

Rutledge retired to Huntsville, Ontario where he raised cattle and quarter horses on his farm. He also installed windows for a local outfit.

Wayne Rutledge passed away in 2004 after battling stomach cancer. He was 62 years old.

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