Hockey's Historic Highlights

Creative Cagecops

Hockey's Historic Highlights

Glen R. Goodhand


Creative Cagecops

Posted March 21, 2021

Viewed 905 times

Clint Benedict
Clint Benedict

    Even the most casual hockey fan will not soon forget November 28, 1979. On that occasion, for the first time in NHL history, a goaltender found a “1” in the “G” in the stats line score connected with his name. Billy Smith of the New York Islanders was credited with a goal against the Colorado Avalanche in the third period of his team’s 7-4 loss.

   The mile-high city sextet had a power play and as they moved into the New York zone, the puck slid into the corner. Rob Ramage nabbed it and slipped it back toward the blueline for a shot on goal. But no one was in position and the disc slid all the way down the ice into the Avalanche empty net. Smitty had been the last New Yorker to touch the puck.

  It is even harder to overlook an even more dramatic incident nine seasons later. On this occasion, December 8, 1987, a goal by a twine-tender was the genuine article. Ron Hextall actually shot the puck into the Bruin’s yawning cage. The Boston power play had fired the puck into the Philadelphia end. Strangely enough, the hyper puck-stopper had only to take a few steps to his left, pull it over in front of his own crease, and lofted a 180-footer on target. It slid barely inside the post and history was made! Being “credited” for a goal because he was the last Islander player to touch the puck was something like getting an “E” for effort on an exam. But in this case the tally came directly from Hextall’s paddle.

   A year and a half later, on April 11, 1985 the brash backstop repeated the feat — this time during the playoffs. Washington Capital’s decision to pull their netminder was somewhat of a delayed reaction, because the play was hemmed into their end of the rink. But with just over a minute remaining, a D.C. skater started down the ice, with Pete Peeters almost on his heels. He fired a long shot which went wide of Hextall’s net. But Ron personally skated out to gather it in; swept around past the post and let another looper fly.

  It went right by everyone, and the red light went on behind the vacated cage. Again, a first—a goalie actually scoring in the post-season.

  After that rare accomplishment one might expect a regular epidemic of reports about puck stoppers becoming puck snipers. After all; in the world of athleticism such novelty moves are contagious. Let word come out of the gymnasium that some hotshot has done a one-arm push-up, and suddenly everyone and his brother has conquered the difficult manoeuvre. If a Sunday afternoon golfer had managed an enviable drive from “T’ #1 with one hand, it would become the latest fad on the links.

  But such was not the case in the ice game. It would be seven years before another cage cop turned the trick. On March 7, 1996 the Hartford Whalers and the Detroit Red Wings faced off for what proved to be a close match. Detroit’s Sergei Federov gave them a 3-2 lead early in the third frame, and hope faded for the Green and White. But, typically, in a last ditch effort, Sean Burke was pulled for an extra attacker. Out of the scramble for possession with just a few seconds remaining in the contest, the old boot heel slid straight toward a waiting Chris Osgood.  Without hesitation he had time to collar the puck and fire it the length of the ice into the wide open Whaler net. Osgood demonstrated the action described by Foster Hewitt in his famous, ”He shoots! He scores!”

   Martin Brodeur came next in the growing parade of padded players to get into the act. On April 17, in a playoff match between his New Jersey Devils and the Montreal Canadiens, his tally in the last minute of play made little difference in final 5-2 victory for the Devils. But like any other feat of its kind, it brought the crowd to its feet. Lyle Odelein had been sent to the sin bin, and the Habs set up an extra attacker blitz. When New Jersey attempted to clear the zone, the puck went almost directly to Manson, who shot the disc right back. Whether just running out the time, or hoping for a bounce off the boards, the pick slid by the net on Brodeur’s right. He quickly nabbed it, skated behind the cage, darted out on the opposite side of the twine, moving all alone, he took careful aim, and lofted one in the general direction of Theodore’s crease. It was a perfect shot, hitting the net dead centre.

   His knee-jerk reaction was immediate. He jumped up and down, then continued to bang his stick on the ice, while his teammates made their way to congratulate him.

  This was the first of three times his name appears in the in the “G” column of league statistics. However, on the other two occasions he owed the credit to opposition players who made that dreaded deposit in their own coop, while he was the last of the attacking team to touch the puck. On February 15, 2000, the gift came from Philly’s Daymond Langkow; on October 29, 2013, he had Jordan Staal of the Hurricanes to thank for the point.

  When the Canadien’s Jose Theodore pulled this trick out of the hat he did so starting the year 2001 on the right foot. On the 2nd of that month he managed a double whammy. Not only was his shot on target, but he also added a shutout to his accomplishment. He was the only goalie out the list of seven to boast a goose-egg along with sniping ability.

   From a scramble of players between the Islanders and the Habs at the Montreal blueline, the puck slid into the boards only a step or two away from the Jose’s net. He quickly moved to settle it down, and then, practically leaning against his cage, he backhanded it out of danger—and all the way down the ice surface, and into the gap left by John Vanbiesbrouck. 3-0 was the final tally. A great way to start 2001.

   Evgeni Nabokov of the San Jose Sharks took his turn next almost two years later, with the Vancouver Canucks the red-faced victims in this case. With the latter pressing for a chance to cash in on the power play, the puck was only partially cleared out of harm’s way. There was a scramble at the blueline, with a Canuck finally nabbing the disc, and skating across ice he flicked a backhand into the San Jose territory. But a custom-made opportunity resulted, with the shot practically sliding right to Nabokov’s door-step. With lots of time to set up, he lifted a high shot over everyone’s head and watched as it slipped inside the empty net. The Sharks were already leading, but as the play-by-play announcer said: “This puts the cherry on top of this game”.

  Every time a twine-tender personally propels the puck 180 feet into an open net, left vacant because of adding a 6thman on a power play, there seems to be a little different spin on how it happens. It had been 11 years since Nabokov’s milestone when Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes gave it the old college try. On this occasion, the Arizona Six had risen to the occasion, keeping the Red Wings from gaining any real scoring opportunity. But with seven seconds left in the game, out of a crowd of skaters, Mikael Samuelsson shot from the blue line directly at Smith’s cage. Smith caught the weak shot, immediately dropped it in front of himself, and, in a flash, released an arch-like shot. With one tenth of a second remaining it slid across the line. Tout finis! No more time to write!

  Following Billy Smith’s second-hand point, thanks to an opposition player’s error, five other backstops were credited with a goal (Brodeur twice) On January 2, 1999, Ottawa’s Damian Rhodes tipped his hat to Lyle Odelein of the Devils for the contribution to his cause; Mika Noronen of the Sabres added the Canucks’ Robert Reichel to his Christmas list due his gift on February 14, 2004; Geoff Sanderson of the Coyotes assisted Nashville’s Chris Mason to  have his name added to this select list on April 17, 2006; and it seems that Brandon Sutter of New Jersey made it possible for Cam Ward to be credited with a tally.

   But the last cage cop to adjust his apparent reason for being on the ice was the Predators’ Pekka Rinne on January 9, 2020. The Nashville crew were hosted by the Chicago Blackhawks. With less than a minute left, with the Blackhawks trailing, they pulled Cory Crawford in favour of an extra forward. In what seemed to be a rather casual dump-in, Rinne snatched the sliding biscuit and lofted it down the ice. No netminder ever launched a more accurate shot; it hit dead centre — and did the same to Chicago’s last ray of hope. He became the 8th wearing the big pads to actually fire the puck between the uprights.

  There have been other NHL goaltenders who have personally propelled the disc into the opposition’s net. But in their case it was in exhibition games, and against amateur competitors. Perhaps the most often repeated story concerns “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, Chuck Rayner. Like so many others during World War II, Rayner was in the armed services — the Navy, to be precise.

  One night in a game against Army, the line-ups were dotted with big leaguers. It was a rough match, with so many penalties that seldom was there a full complement of skaters on either squad. At one point they were playing four aside. One opponent he especially recalls being involved in that scenario was Bill Carse, a former member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

   He had a terrific shot and one hit the Ranger backstop so hard it bounded out past the blueline — essentially past all players within reach of the rebound. Instinctively he charged after the loose puck. He said he was on such a roll he felt he couldn’t stop. With clear sailing, and the only hurdle being Art Jones, the Army twine-tender, he kept skating. Jones was so stunned by what was shaping up, he wasn’t sure what move to make (if any). He came out a short distance — just enough to allow Chuck to fire the puck about half way up the stick side — and on came the red light.

  Back in the NHL, he almost realized the fulfillment of his long-time dream—to score a goal in league action. He recalls one night in Maple Leaf Gardens, when Hap Day pulled goalie Turk Broda, creating the ideal scene. Like Hextall and others, he launched a shot toward the empty coop. It looked like it was dead centre; but at the last second, because of deceasing velocity, it swerved by the outside of the post. (He personally blamed poor ice for misdirecting it).

  It was once said of Terry Sawchuk that if you threw a handful of corn at him he would catch every kernel. There are still many who maintain he was the best netminder ever to play in the NHL. His style of play, his crouching to see the location of the puck, is complimented by other descriptive phrases, like “epileptic action”, and “human pinwheel”. Although George Hainsworth was his idol, he didn’t always play goal. But once it was learned there were pads at home (his brother’s), and he was asked to bring them. “Once they put me in goal”, he said, “I stayed there”.

   But there was at least one occasion when his puck-handling talents made headlines. Because they missed the playoffs that year, in 1956 the Boston Bruins went on an “east coast tour.” One stop was Bay Roberts in Newfoundland where they faced three different teams from the Conception Bay North Hockey league — each time on an outdoor rink.

  The game which made headlines was against the Shearstown Tigers.  It was a drizzly, foggy day, with visibility somewhat limited. In fact, all in the spirit of fun, team captain Fern Flaman borrowed an umbrella from a lady in the stands, and handed it to Sawchuk who not overly busy against the locals. But what is most remembered, is that he dropped the umbrella, gripped his big paddle, and stickhanded down the ice and deposited the old boot-heel behind Al Mercer, his goaltending counterpart.

   It may well be that a third member of the NHL backstop brigade can be added to this list. Marc T. McNeill of the Montreal Gazette reported in the January 23, 1936 edition of the paper that Tiny Thompson of the Bruins once skated the length of the ice in an exhibition match against the B’s farm team, the Providence Reds, to make an impressive deposit in the twine. His information, he said, came from a Beantown shinny scribe.

  Hub guru, Kevin Vatour, after a lot of research, has not been able to confirm or deny that claim. We can only say that this kind of venture fits with what we know about his puck control. Whenever Art Ross would allow it, Thompson would shed the big pads and practice as a forward “to relieve the boredom”. He constantly asked Uncle Artha to let him have a fling at it in a game — since “he could skate and puck handle better than most of his teammates.” The jury is still out on that one.

   Old timers from the game’s fledgling years said that it was not uncommon for the crease to be abandoned while the guardians used to move into the action for this very reason.

   This takes us, for instance, to the accounts recently shared in Eric Zweig’s weekly stories. His first reference is to the February 18, 1905 match between Quebec and Montreal Westmount of the CAHL. There are slight variations in the reports of precisely what took place, except the certainty of Montreal’s Fred Brophy scoring a goal. One version declares that both Brophy and Paddy Moran scored. Another maintains that like one-on-one basketball, because all other players were penalized,  they were the sole centre of action fighting for control, with Brophy gaining advantage. Still another adds that Quebec had a lone attacker who got into the act.

  But this much is certain; according to the Quebec Chronicle, Paddy Moran was in possession of the disc and attempted to add to his team’s total — but Brophy moved out to meet him and thwarted his intentions — with both backstops ending up in a heap in the corner. No time frame is pin-pointed, but subsequently, Westmount’s goaler gained possession and stickhandled down the ice to whip a shot past “a dumbfounded Moran”. His was the 15th of the victor’s amazing total in the 17-3 drubbing.

   As Eric goes on to note, Fred seems to make it a habit of out-performing his cage-cop opponents, because he pulled the same trick a little more than a year later. In his Trail of the Stanley Cup, Charles Coleman was more than generous when he described it this way: “….he stickhandled his way past Bowie, Eveleigh, and Bellingham”.

  La Presse toned the accomplishment down, and was supported by other journalists. It will be apparent why this newspaper chose to claim: “The game was utterly irrelevant and even turned into a burlesque when the Victorias allowed Montreal goalkeeper Brophy to score a point!”

   Their recollection was that “Davidson smiled and stepped out of the way; Bellingham collapsed onto the ice not to stop him; and Frye (goalie) let the puck in the net!” It does take way some of the glory, and dwindles in compassion to the tally a year earlier.

   What is curious is the omission of still another vintage exploit of the same nature by most publications.

On March 19, 1912 the Ottawa Victorias and the counterpart New Edinburghs faced off in a Interprovincial Amateur Hockey Association contest. The central figure in this tilt was Clint “Praying Benny” Benedict, goaler for the latter squad. The game was rough, and goals were score a plenty with the Edinburghs whipping the Vics 17-3.

   But the feature of the match took place during the second half when Benedict stopped a shot by a Victoria’s forward, and quickly followed the rebound as it bounced away. He took a run down the centre and stopped at the cover-point (blueline) position and suddenly let a shot fly. The opposition goalie, Haskell, who was so surprised to see his padded counterpart make the move, that he seemed to freeze, allowing puck to go by him.  The goal itself meant nothing as far as the score was concerned—it was the 15th of the 17 scored. But it was believed to be a unique feat in the “Senior” series at the arena, and probably in the city.

  The reason that those old timers and the “Original Sixers” profiled here were able to have total freedom to play the attacker’s role is that they were not limited by the “Gary Smith” rule instituted for the 1966-67 season. It forbade cage cops from skating beyond the bluelines in possession of the puck. It is so named because Smith was forever attempting to move close to opposition nets to attempt to score.

  There is one more unique spin on this whole activity — one probably considered to be in the lighter vein.

Legend has it that Johnny “Black Cat” Gagnon’s father wanted no part of his son playing hockey. In fact whenever he would procure hockey sticks and hide them, his dad would find them and break them.

  It would also explain why when, as a young man, he didn’t own a pair of skates. But, he was determined to participate in the game he loved. Naturally, his fire-power was hindered by the lack of blades. But, in the only position left open, he ended up in goal. He wore cleats to prevent him from losing his footing. One day, seeing the action, he got bored, grabbed the biscuit and galloped down the ice and scored. That only fanned the fire of his hunger to repeat that thrill. Somehow, he managed to get a pair of skates — and the rest is history.  By 1930 he was a member of the Canadiens, and after 10 seasons (also with Boston and the Americans) he totalled 121 regular-season markers.

  To hear of a goalie putting the puck past another goalie seems to compare with a policeman pulling another policeman over for speeding. But it happened at least 13 times, and each occasion holds a special place in hockey history.

(Note to reader: When this missive began to take shape I was unaware that Eric Zweig was going to touch on the same theme in one of his frequent blog posts. Hence in one section there will be duplication. We agreed for both of us to go ahead)

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