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Terry Sawchuk

A Dark Temper

But even in those early years, Sawchuk revealed a dark, depressive temper. The first time Detroit sports writer Joe Falls ever saw Sawchuk in 1953, "he was raging with anger and shouting obscenities and throwing his skates at a reporter," Falls is quoted as saying in McDonell's Hockey All-Stars. A 1954 photograph taken at the Red Wings' Olympia Stadium shows Sawchuk climbing a metal fence to get into the crowd and confront a heckler. He got married in 1953, to Pat Morey, the eighteen-year-old daughter of a Detroit-area golf course owner, but he often took his drunken rage out on her after spending nights carousing with Detroit Lions football players. In February 1955, coach Jack Adams briefly benched Sawchuk because of his drinking and ordered him to undergo psychiatric counseling. (Adams only told the press he was resting Sawchuk.)

In 1955, Adams traded Sawchuk to the Boston Bruins. The trade shook Sawchuk's confidence. He did well during his first season in Boston, posting nine shutouts, but faltered in 1956-57. He came down with mononucleosis, missed several games, and came back to play before he was fully recovered. He didn't play as well after his return, still feeling sick and weak, and worried about his performance until he began to suffer from insomnia. Miserable, he told the Bruins he was retiring from the game rather than let his team down on the ice—and his angry coach labeled him a quitter in the papers. He went back to his home in Detroit, where the Red Wings' team physician examined him and declared he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He called a press conference, explained his decision, and announced he might return to hockey if his health improved. He tried to work as a car dealer, insurance salesman, and bartender. When the Red Wings decided they wanted him back for the next season, he gladly returned to hockey. But his mental instability had become public knowledge, a famous example of the self-doubt and lonely despair that can take over a goalie's mind.

Sawchuk spent seven more seasons as the Wings' goalie, but the team wasn't quite what it once was. He was still a solid, talented goalie, but never posted the amazing statistics of his first years. During the 1960-61 season, as more teams began to carry two goalies on their rosters, he had to share goaltending duties with Hank Bassen. "It really rocked his world," his wife, Pat, told Dupuis for his book. "If he sat out a game, there are no words to describe his depression." He still drank heavily, which caused pain to flare up in his legs. He frequently lashed out at his wife and children, and his infidelities became obvious. Twice, his wife filed for divorce but reconciled with him.

Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie

On January 10, an ankle injury forced Terry from the second period of a game at the Forum. He was expected to miss the next game against the Leafs two nights later, but ever the warrior, Terry recovered and suited up….

With sixty-three seconds left in the opening period, Terry dove to make his ninth save of the game and had Leaf Bob Pulford fall over his outstretched body. Terry put his catching hand down on the ice in an attempt to keep his balance. At that exact moment, Pulford, trying to get back on his own feet, accidentally stepped on the back of Terry's hand. The pain shot up Terry's left arm. Throwing off his glove, he looked at the back of his hand.

"It looked like a little cut at first," he said later, "then it opened up and I could see the knuckle bones. I tried to open my hand as I was going off the ice but the fingers snapped right under. Funny thing, it hurt very little."

Terry was rushed to Toronto East General Hospital, where he was diagnosed as having three severed tendons above the knuckle. The one-hour surgery included gouging the hand to refind the severed retracted tendons, multi-stitching to reconnect the tendons, and then closing the wound….

Terry's injury led to an innovation. Wings' trainer Lefty Wilson designed and attached a hard protective covering over the exposed knuckle area of Terry's catching glove. The feature was quickly adopted by all goalies in the NHL.

Source: Dupuis, David. Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1998, pp. 158-159.

Awards and Accomplishments

1950-51 All-Star First Team
1950-51 Calder Memorial Trophy
1951-52 All-Star First Team
1951-52 Vezina Trophy
1952-53 All-Star First Team
1952-53 Vezina Trophy
1953-54 All-Star Second Team
1954-55 All-Star Second Team
1954-55 Vezina Trophy
1958-59 All-Star Second Team
1962-63 All-Star Second Team
1964-65 Vezina Trophy
1970-71 Lester Patrick Trophy
1971 Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame

In his twenty years as an NHL goaltender, Sawchuk suffered repeated injuries and was in and out of hospitals all the time. As a young player, he had multiple elbow surgeries to remove bone chips from youthful injures. In his first years in the NHL, when each team had only one goalie and no one wore a mask, games would stop if a shot or a stick cut a goalie's face, the team's trainer would quickly sew up the wound, and the goalie would keep playing. Sawchuk got an estimated 400 stitches in his face and head before he started wearing a mask in 1962. He broke bones and suffered concussions. Once, in 1963, a teammate's skate slashed his hand open. "It looked like a little cut at first," he said (according to Dupuis's Sawchuk), "then it opened up and I could see the knuckle bones." Doctors had to reattach his tendons in surgery.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsHockeyTerry Sawchuk Biography - Growing Up, Rookie Of The Year, Chronology, A Dark Temper, Sawchuk: The Troubles And Triumphs Of The World's Greatest Goalie