August 08, 2020

Norman "Hec" Fowler

This is Norman Fowler. He was better known by his nickname Hec, sometimes spelled Heck. The origins of the nickname remain unknown to me. Perhaps it was because he gave his opponents heck. He was a a brawling puck stopper, an early day Ron Hextall.

Born in Saskatoon in 1892, Fowler rose through the goaltending in the junior ranks in northern Saskatchewan city, earning praise and notice.

He turned his youthful passion into a career that took him to some unusual places. In 1916 he moved to Spokane, Washington to play for the Canaries of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. He would later play with the PCHA's Seattle Metropolitans and Victoria Aristocrats/Cougars.

When the Boston Bruins joined the National Hockey League in 1924, they acquired Fowler from Victoria to be the Bruins first goaltender.

The excitement soon faded for the Bruins and especially for Fowler. After seven games he was dumped. He had won just one of those games and allowed 42 goals.

There is even some suggestion that Fowler burned some bridges by admitting he was allowing extra goals against in hopes that the Bruins would go out and get some better players. Manager Art Ross opted to do just that, but named Fowler as their scapegoat and let him go.

Ross apparently even suspended and fined Fowler as much as $1,000. Fowler returned home but found a new team in the Edmonton Eskimos. Somehow though, Ross bound Fowler to a contract for just $1. In order to secure his release the Eskimos paid Fowler's $1000 fine.

Fowler took his $1 and framed it. He reportedly posted it on the walls of a printing shop he opened in Saskatoon after retiring from hockey.

Fowler would play two seasons in Edmonton before relocating to California to play for a team called Oakland Shieks! He was somewhat of a celebrity in the sunshine state, dubbed a "human blanket" for his puck stopping abilities.

I found one article from 1951 by Vern DeGeer of the Montreal Gazette which paints "Heck" Fowler as one of the most colorful hockey players ever. Here's the highlights:

  • "Probably the roughest and toughest goaltender to hit major professional hockey in the last 35 years . . ."
  • "Fowler was a physical culture fanatic with arms like a village smithy and legs hewed from steel."
  • "He often participated in speed contests against Phil Taylor (formerly of the Ice Follies and Ice Capades) and Norman Faulkner, a prairie champion before losing a leg in the First World War."
  • He was an avid baseball player, uniquely playing short stop like a goalie. "He played the position hockey-fashion, blocking grounders with his feet and shins, then making the pick-up for the throw."
  • "During the summer months he used to get out on the sidewalk in front of his house and invite neighboring kids to fire pucks at his unprotected shins."
  • He also was quite the amateur soccer goalie.
But it was his temper and physical play that set him apart from most goalies.

"Insisting that a goaltender's cage was his castle, Fowler wouldn't permit an opponent within a stick's length. Oldtimers who campaigned against him will tell you Fowler was the original wood-chopper. He delighted in laying on the lumber. If you got too close for a good belt with the hickory, he'd throw a punch.

"He served time in every penalty box within skating distance during his eventful professional career. In his campaigning days when a goalie was penalized no substitute was permitted to serve his sentence as is done today. He engaged in a dozen fist fights in the Coast League, several in the NHL and despite the burden of equipment, didn't lose many decisions. In a duel with the sticks, which was the favorite skull denting approach until the moderns encouraged a milder form of physical encounter, he could swing his heavier war club vigorously enough to fell one of California's famous Redwood trees. But he preferred his fists. Claimed he was always breaking sticks and his tough knuckles took the punishment easier."

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