Before he'd caught even a sniff of the NHL, Al Rollins had already backstopped his way through minor leagues across North America. He'd seen action in New York, Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
Leafs' boss Conn Smythe acquired the rights to Rollins in 1949. On the surface, the acquisition was publicized as an effort to put some heat on Leaf goalie Turk Broda whose play, it was suggested, was suffering as a result of excess weight. Smythe figured that with Rollins looking over his shoulder, Broda would be sure to trim down.
But the deeper issue behind Rollins' arrival in Toronto was that the team had lost their chain of backup goaltenders. Baz Bastein lost and eye while Howie Harvey, Doug Harvey's brother, was forced to retire because of an allergic reaction to his equipment. As a result, Rollins was the only viable goal-crease insurance the Leafs had left.
For the first year, he simply practiced and traveled with the team while reviewing all aspects of goals scored with coach Hap Day. Then, during the following season, Turk Broda stepped back to allow Rollins to become number-one in net. The timing was right. The Leafs' defensive corps became rock solid, clearing the way for Rollins to win the Vezina Trophy for the fewest goals allowed. In the Cup finals that year, defenseman Bill Barilko scored his famous championship marker against the Canadiens as Rollins happily watched from the other end of the ice.
After one additional season in Toronto, Rollins was traded with a package of players to the Chicago Blackhawks for goaltender Harry Lumley in 1952. In the Windy City, Rollins found the club's affairs to be disorganized. He noted that in one game, he faced more breakaways than he'd seen during all three of his years in Toronto. But his heroic efforts to prop up the sagging Hawks didn't go unnoticed. He earned second spot behind Gordie Howe for the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP in 1953. Then, the next year, he took the Hart for himself.
By 1957, Rollins was no longer seeing eye-to-eye with Hawks GM Tommy Ivan. As such, he was dispatched to the Calgary Stampeders of the WHL. And except for a brief appearance with the Rangers in 1959, his NHL career was over. He finally hung up his pads after one season with the Portland Buckeroos in 1962.
Since leaving the ice, Rollins coached the University of Calgary hockey team as well as clubs in Spokane, Salt Lake City, Houston, Tulsa and Phoenix. As a coach, he enjoyed a good measure of success, including an Allan Cup victory with Spokane in 1970.