Esso Hockey since 1936Legends Of Hockey
Esso Hockey since 1936
Sawchuk, Terry

Sawchuk, Terry

Called "the Uke" or "Ukey" because of his Ukrainian heritage, Terry Sawchuk played more games and recorded more shutouts than any goalie in the history of the NHL. When he was 12, Sawchuk hurt his arm badly playing a friendly game of rugby. He kept the injury to himself and two years later doctors discovered the arm had been badly broken and subsequently healed poorly; it was two inches shorter than his left arm, but even this did not dampen his dream to become a pro hockey player.

Although he was originally Boston property, he was traded to Detroit before he played in the NHL. His big break came toward the end of the 1949-50 season when Red Wings incumbent Harry Lumley was injured and Sawchuk had to play seven games toward the end of the season. He allowed just 16 goals in those games and along the way earned his first shutout.

Detroit general manager Jack Adams showed enormous confidence in Sawchuk based on those seven games he'd played. The Wings won the Cup that spring of 1950 with Lumley back in goal, but over the summer Adams was so sure of Sawchuk that he traded Lumley to Chicago. The next season, 1950-51, Sawchuk played every game for the Red Wings and led the league in wins and shutouts, winning the Calder Trophy in the process. Sawchuk's first years as a pro were remarkable in that he was the first player ever to be named rookie of the year in three different leagues: with Omaha in the USHL, with Indianapolis in the American Hockey League and in his first full year with Detroit in the NHL.

Indeed Sawchuk wasn't a relaxed goalie. The pressure of playing in the NHL got to him and affected his health and he was battling some sort of injury for most of his career. He had bone chips removed from his elbow after the 1952 Stanley Cup, he suffered chest injuries from a car accident and his back was perpetually in knots because of his style of play. And he won more games than any other goalie in the history of the game.

During his 1956-57 season with Boston, Sawchuk retired from the game at the age of 27, citing extreme emotional strain. But by the next season he was back with Detroit, although circumstances had changed greatly. Montreal was now the dominant team and the Wings were only decent. Bobby Hull and his slapshot were all the rage in Chicago, and Ukey felt the full wrath of the changing times when Hull hit him flush in the face one night in 1963. Sawchuk started to wear a mask, but then Bob Pulford of Toronto skated over his hand and Sawchuk needed surgery to sew up the deep, long wound.

In the summer of 1964, Detroit left the aging goalie exposed in the Intra-League Draft and Punch Imlach of the Leafs claimed him. For three years, Sawchuk paired with Johnny Bower to form the most successful duo in the league. Sawchuk was 37 years old and Bower was 42 when they won a historic Stanley Cup in 1967. After three final seasons with successive teams - Los Angeles, Detroit and New York - tragedy befell Sawchuk at a bar near his beach home in New York.

On April 29, 1970, he was having a few drinks with his close friend and teammate Ron Stewart. All the details will never be known, but they began to horse around and after some playful wrestling Sawchuk wound up landing awkwardly on Stewart's knee. He had to be rushed to hospital, where his gall bladder was removed, and just a month later he died from internal injuries, some of which, like the broken arm, he'd probably had for some time without even knowing or bothering to have checked out.

The mandatory waiting period was waived for Sawchuk's induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Dead at 41 years of age, he finished with an incredible 447 wins and 103 shutouts in 971 games played.

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