Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Gerry Cheevers was a colorful character in an era filled with colorful characters and he ushered in an even more colorful era in hockey history - and did so in black and white.
Cheevers, who was born on this date in 1940 first broke into the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs for two games as an injury replacement in the 1961-62 season.
Gerry Cheevers after his NHL debut with Billy Harris,
who had a hat trick in the Maple Leafs 6-4 victory
Unable to crack the Toronto lineup, mainly due to the presence of future Hall of Famer Johnny Bower, he spent the majority of the next four seasons with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League, where he set a single season record with 48 wins in 1964-65 which still stands today. In the playoffs that season, Cheevers led the Amerks to the Calder Cup championship.
He moved to the Oklahoma City Blazers in 1965-66 and also made his Boston Bruins debut with seven games, but failed to impress with an 0-4-1 record.
The following season Cheevers split time between the Blazers and Bruins and saw action in 22 games before taking over as the Bruins number one goaltender in 1967-68 just as the lowly Bruins were gearing up to dominate the league with both Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito now in the fold as well.
After playing an NHL career high 52 games and posting a record of 24-8-8 in 1969-70, Cheevers backstopped the Bruins to the 1970 Stanley Cup by going 12-1 in 13 playoff games.
The 1969-70 Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins
In 1971-72 Cheevers set another record when he went undefeated in 32 consecutive starts (24-0-8), a record which has never been equalled. His final record for the season stood at 27-5-8 and in eight playoff games he won six and lost two as the Bruins again captured the Stanley Cup.
Despite the success the high flying Bruins were enjoying at the time, Cheevers accepted a lucrative $1.4 million offer to join the Cleveland Crusaders of the fledgling World Hockey Association for the 1972-73 season. His workload dramatically increased in Cleveland, rising from an average of 40 games with Boston the three previous seasons to 54 for the next three years in Cleveland.
Following his second season in the WHA, Cheevers was selected to play for Team Canada in the 1974 Summit Series against the Soviet Union for his first taste of international hockey. In a series dominated by the Soviets, Cheevers went 1-3-3 and was in goal for the only Canadian victory of the series.
After another season an a half in Cleveland, Cheevers asked to be bought out of his contract midway through the 1975-76 campaign and immediately returned to the Bruins.
Still in top form, Cheevers played another four seasons with a high of 30 wins in 1976-77 and was named to the Team Canada roster for the 1976 Canada Cup and the NHL All-Star team which faced the Soviet Union in the 1979 Challenge Cup before wrapping up his playing career following the 1979-80 season.
In all, Cheevers won 230 games in the NHL and 79 while in the WHA for 309 career victories.
Never one to embrace practice, Cheevers was hit by a puck one day and used it as an excuse to beat a hasty retreat to the dressing room. He relates, "I was trying to get out of practice one day when this shot that couldn't have broken an egg hit me in the mask. I faked a serious injury and went into the dressing room. I was sitting there having a Coke when [Bruins head coach] Harry Sinden came in and told me to get back out onto the ice. All the guys were laughing, so I knew I had to do something. I told the trainer to paint a 30-stitch gash on the mask. Then I went out and told Harry, See how bad it is!"
From then on, whenever Cheevers took a puck to the head, Frosty Forristall, the Bruins trainer, would calculate where the impact took place and how many stitches it would have resulted in, giving rise to the colorful era of the decorated goalie mask with his iconic black and white design.
Cheevers was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, where his ground breaking mask also resides.
Today's featured jersey is a 1979-80 Boston Bruins Gerry Cheevers jersey. The origins of this design can be traced back to 1967, a design which was simplified in 1974 when the yellow shoulders and lace-up collar disappeared. The secondary logos were added to the shoulders in 1976 and the names on the back arrived one year later. The jersey would remain unchanged through the 1994-95 season.
Today's video segment begins with his profile from the excellent Legends of Hockey series.
Next, a profile of Cheevers from his days in the World Hockey Association with the Cleveland Crusaders.
Finally, a tribute song to Gerry Cheevers from the band Chixdiggit.