As hockey starts, the guy over the barrel is Turk Broda. He made the slight mistake of becoming the best goalie in the N.H.L.
BILL TRENT FRAYNE
TURK BRODA is eccentric. He is the best goalkeeper in the National Hockey League but, consciously or unconsciously, he is a screwball.
He is carefree, happy-go-lucky and he talks a lot. He is not modest, neither is he arrogant. The milestones in his life have never been passed in the accepted manner. From the day nine years ago when Lester Patrick said he would never make a major-league goalkeeper until the night last spring when he won the Vezina trophy, his career has followed unconventional lines.
For instance, no goaler in all the history of the Vezina trophy ever won the highest goal-keeping award in hockey while sitting down. Until Broda did, that is. And he wasn’t even in uniform. He was perched beside team-mate Gus Marker in the seats at Boston Garden, the night the Bruins beat Detroit’s Johnny Mowers four times in the last game of the schedule last spring. Those four pucks cost young Mowers the trophy and handed it to Broda.
Johnny had entered the game with ninety-eight goals against him in forty-seven games. Broda had fanned on ninety-nine in forty-eight games. So when the Bruins poured four pucks past Mowers in his last game, they boosted Johnny’s total to 103 for the season and dished the dish to Broda.
He accepted it happily as autograph hunters climbed all over him in his seat at Boston Garden. It meant a $1,000 bonus from the Toronto Maple Leafs manager, Conny Smythe, among other things. But today, on the eve of another National Hockey League campaign, Broda perhaps casts an apprehensive glance at what has come to be known as the Vezina trophy jinx.
Davie Kerr of the New York Rangers, who won the trophy during the 1939-40 season, often has remarked since that he wished he had never won it.
“History shows that too many goalers come to grief the year after they win the Vezina,” Kerr has said. “Take my case. I won it two seasons ago
when the Rangers took the Stanley Cup. Last year was one of my worst in the N.H.L. and the team went to pieces. Maybe it’s only a coincidence. Maybe it isn’t either.”
The records of trophy winners down through the last decade indicate it is no coincidence. The names of the immortal Charlie Gardiner, Tiny Thompson, Lome Chabot, Normie Smith, Frank Brimsek and Kerr grace the ancient trophy. What happened to them?
The year after Gardiner won the trophy he died suddenly of a strange ailment in his home town, Winnipeg. The year after Chabot won it, he mysteriously lost his touch and was replaced in the Chicago Black Hawks nets by a relatively unknown youngster named Mike Karakas. Normie Smith slipped into mediocrity with the Red Wings the year after gaining the heights and soon retired from competition. Tiny Thompson, often regarded as the greatest of them all, was traded by Boston in mid-season after his big year and replaced by the kid Brimsek. Brimsek won it in the 1938-39 season, then slipped the next year when Kerr sparked the Rangers to the championship. So it goes. The guy over the barrel this approaching season is Turk Broda.
But since Broda has been over a barrel most of his life he probably will be just the type of person to shatter the jinx.
Patrick Passed Him Up
LESTER PATRICK put him over a barrel once.
i That was back in 1934 and unusual things have been happening to the Turk ever since.
Lester was sitting up near the rafters in the Amphitheatre rink at Winnipeg the first time he saw Broda. It was a balmy spring morning in 1934 and Lester had just rushed in from Toronto where his Rangers had polished off the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. The Squire of Madison Square was flushed with victory, mad with power.
He had come to watch the Memorial Cup junior finals between St. Michael’s College of Toronto and the Edmonton Athletic Club, which, that year, featured the brothers Colville, Neil and Mac, now Ranger stars. St. Mike’s was on the Amphitheatre ice below him, working out the kinks after a thirtysix-hour train ride. The club had brought only one goaler, Harvey Teno, and Dr. Jerry Laflamme, the coach, had picked up Broda to fill in during the workout.
It was no picnic. Art Jackson, Nick Metz, Reg Hamilton—all of them National leaguers today— and the rest poured rubber past Broda. There were four pucks on the ice and the forwards were wheeling up and down, sharpening their shooting eyes. Broda hadn’t pulled on the big pads for six weeks, since his Winnipeg Monarchs had been eliminated from the provincial playdowns. He looked bad.
Patrick watched for a spell, stretched his long legs across a seat. He was bored with it all.
“Who’s the kid in goal?” he asked Johnny Buss, a Winnipeg sports editor who was also railbirding.
“Name of Broda,” said Buss. “Good boy, Lester. But you’re too late. Detroit’s got him.”
“They can have him,” said the manager of the hockey champions of the world, looking for all the world like a manager of the hockey champions of the world should look. Contented, satisfied with life.
“So that’s the kid Jack Adams has been raving about. Jack got a bum steer there. Broda’ll never go anywhere. Looka that. He blew another.” Patrick’s words were conveyed to Broda.
“That’s the whole story,” the informant concluded. “That’s what Lester Patrick said about you.”
“Lester Patrick?” chirped the Turk. “Who’s he?”
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That is typical of Turk Broda. Always chirping. Always handy with a comeback. Nothing bothers Broda. That is how he reached the top.
There was the night, for instance, while he was playing with the Winnipeg Monarchs when the team with one of the most illustrious names in Canadian junior hockey dropped its eleventh straight game. The score this time was 10-0. The dressing room was like a tomb, naturally. You don’t whoop and holler when you lose eleven straight.
Into the room clomped the goaler, Turk Broda. Nobody looked up. Nobody could find words for a goalkeeper who had had so much rubber fired at him that he must have thought he was swinging at elastic bands.
He surveyed the disconsolate scene.
“Whattsa matter, gang? Whattsa matter?” chirped the Turk. “Can’t win ’em all you know.” General laughter, led by Coach Harry Neil, who loves his victories.
Too Fat For Defense
WALTER EDWARD BRODA was born in Brandon, a midManitoba city of 17,000 hockey nuts. He was the second boy in a Polish family of five which included just one girl. The Great War was a year old when he first saw the light of day and he wasn’t exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Papa Broda was a brew master, but in those days of prohibition the only beverage stronger than milk gulped by the masses was concocted in bath tubs. So, although the Brodas didn’t exactly starve, neither did they lap up caviar.
Turkey was the name they hung on little Walter Edward when he was twelve and playing hockey for David Livingstone public school. A defense man, no less. He had freckles all over his chubby face, which made it look like a turkey’s egg with mumps. Later, the kids in Brandon shortened Walter Edward’s handle to Turk.
His friend, Johnny Zylich by name, who was something of a hero around
the town because he had once been to Chicago and seen the Black Hawks and the great Charlie Gardiner in action, got Turk off the blue line and into the nets.
“You’re too fat for a defense man,” said Zylich. “Learn to play goal.”
The word of a gent who had seen Chuck Gardiner was good enough for Broda. He pulled on the school pads every day after four and Zylich drove pucks at him on the school rink until Turk was blue in the face. And black and blue in most other sectors.
But he showed a definite talent in the rubber-eating business, and by 1933, when he was 18, Broda was about the best young goaler in town. Things were going none too well for Papa Broda at the brewery, however, and Turk was anxious to lift some of the load from his dad’s shoulders.
His opportunity came just after New Year’s. A construction camp in Northern Manitoba had organized a hockey team but had no goaler. An executive phoned Howard “Krug” Crawford, who had been something of an athlete himself before the war. Krug was the sports editor of the Brandon Sun and when the executive explained the hockey team’s predicament, Crawford recommended Broda.
Turk, of course, accepted.
They went in for hockey in a large way at the camp. Senior clubs were brought up from Winnipeg and Broda got lots of stiff workouts in the nets. He had a great pair of hands, tough and large. He had played considerable baseball and that helped his hands, too. They were fast moving, sure.
Then, in March, a call came from Brandon. The junior Native Sons needed a goaler. The regular puck janitor was over the junior age limit and the club had challenged for provincial honors.
Broda was in goal when the Native Sons stunned the Winnipeg champions, known as the Winnipegs. Brandon lost the first game, 4-2, won the second, 5-1, thus taking the total-goals round, 7-5. They knocked over Port Arthur in two interprovincial games and were ready then for the Western finals against one of the West’s most famous names, Regina Pats.
Turk had a barrel of fun with the Regina coach, AÍ Ritchie, now a scout for the New York Rangers. Both clubs stayed in the same Winnipeg hotel. Broda would telephone Ritchie’s room the night before each game.
“Hello, AÍ?” he’d say. “This is Johnny Buss from the Tribune. How’s the club, Al? Have you taken this Brandon club seriously? They have a great goalkeeper, you know. Name of Broda. Turk Broda. Great prospect. Better send your boys to bed early, Al. Tell Alex Motter to be careful of that Brandon defense. Very rugged. So long AÍ.”
This went on for a week. Brandon players would fill a hotel room to listen to Broda kid the great Regina coach. It helped them forget the importance of the series. Perhaps that is why they put up a great showing against the Pats. They lost by 2-1 in the third game after one had gone thirty minutes overtime to a 1-1 draw. Broda was a standout.
Winnipeg Monarchs got Turk a job in Winnipeg in 1934. But Harry Neil was building his great Memorial
Cup team of 1935 that season and his roster of raw youngsters gave Broda scant protection. He missed anywhere from four to 10 pucks a game but he stopped 60. He profitted by the club’s impotency, gaining poise and confidence. That was the year he faced St. Mike’s in the practice workout—the year Lester Patrick condemned him forever.
Turk Takes a Roasting
HE WAS in Detroit for the 193435 season and though he didn’t sign a professional contract, Turk actually was Detroit’s spare goaler. He practiced with the National leaguers throughout the winter and gives Goalie John Ross Roach and Manager Jack Adams credit for “turning me into a goalie.”
“That little John Ross, he was having himself a year,” recalls Broda. “Not jealous of a young guy cornin’ up, either. Used to spend half his spare time teaching me tricks. The boss musta figured I’d be in his cage pretty soon, cause he helped all the time, too. The club won the Stanley Cup that year and a guy can’t help improving with that kind of competition.”
Adams placed Broda in the nets of the Detroit Olympics the next winter and the club won the International league title. It was while Turk was performing with that team that Conny Smythe made his memorable trip to the minors with Earl Robertson on his mind and left with Turk Broda in his heart.
Precipitating Smythe’s trip was the fact that veteran George Hainsworth was at the fag end of a remarkable career. Leafs were in search of another goaler and Smythe had heard of the brilliance of Earl Robertson, who later went up to the New York Americans but who then was with Windsor Bulldogs. Smythe went to Detroit to watch him perform against the Olympics.
Detroit won, 8-1, and Smythe announced: “I like that chubby guy
in the Detroit goal.” He said it with $8,000 a couple of weeks later.
For six games in the next N.H.L. season, Broda alternated with Hainsworth in the cage for the Leafs. Then, on Wednesday, November 25, 1936, teletypes in newspaper offices across Canada tapped out this message.
“New York, Nov. 25—Conny Smythe, manager of Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League, announced tonight that George Hainsworth, veteran goalie, had been released outright.
‘Turk Broda has the job and it’s his as long as he can keep it,’ said Smythe.
Asked why the sturdy little native of Kitchener, Ont., has been dropped, the Leafs manager said Broda was just as good and about 20 years younger.”
Broda was erratic. He’d make miraculous saves on close-in shots, then he’d blow a teaser from centre ice. The scribes, then the fans were down on him. He took a beating in Maple Leaf Gardens. But they couldn’t break his spirit. There was the awful night, for instance, when Boston hammered the Leafs 9-1. Broda bustled into the dressing room after the game, much as he had
entered the Monarch quarters back in Winnipeg three years before.
“Even Tiny Thompson,” he piped, “can’t shut us out.”
It never occurred to Turk that he wasn’t the best goaler in the league, and it was that confidence that saved him his job. Sure, he took a roasting from the customers and from the writers. What difference did it make so long as they noticed you?
“It’s when they quit noticing who’s in the nets that a guy has to worry,” he reasoned.
So for four years with the Leafs Broda blew the long ones and made incredible saves from close-in. He licked Boston practically singlehandedly when the Bruins were prohibitive play-off favorites in 1938. Then he went into a tail spin against Chicago in the Stanley Cup final. The Hawks won, three games to one. And they had finished sixth in the standings!
I AST SEASON, his fifth under 7 the Big Tent, Broda mysteriously found himself. He lost the jittery, acrobatic characteristics which had given the Gardens’ clientele apoplexy for four years. He settled down, became a cool, collected workman. He led the league in goaling right from the start and until the last few games seldom was threatened for the lead in the goals-against column.
By mid-season, hockey writers all around the circuit were calling Broda for the All-Star job. Turk had the answer.
“I’m playing just the same as I always did but this time we’ve got a defense which rocks ’em and socks ’em. I’m getting lots of protection and protection gives a goalkeeper a different outlook on life.”
It must have. After winning the Vezina trophy, Turk was named to the goal position on the league’s AllStar team, named by a poll of sports writers in N.H.L. cities.
Until Sam Lo Presti moved into the Chicago cage, Turk was the heftiest goaler in the league. Against Lo Presti’s 200 pounds, Broda packs 178 pounds on his sixty-nine-inch big-boned frame. He is ruddy complexioned, laughs a lot, smokes and drinks in moderation.
He hates to give up goals to opposing sharpshooters. You can almost see him mentally berate himself when he blows one. But goals do not affect his playing. He fights just as hard when the score is 5-1 against him as when he is seeking a shutout.
Turk loves those shutouts, but, oddly enough, he gets few. He probably turns in more one-goal games than any goaler in the circuit. His best shutout season was 1938-39 when he hung up eight, two less than the league-leader, Brimsek, who then was the rookie sensation of the N.H.L.
Broda married Betty Williams of Toronto, in the spring of 1939, and now has two children.
“No goalers,” Turk says. “Both girls.”
Barbara Ann is going on two, and Bonnie Adele was born last August.
Turk hadn’t been married a week before his picture was spread across the country’s newspapers. Pie went to a secluded summer resort on his honeymoon, the story said, and night
marauders threatened to break into i his cabin. The news photos showed ] Turk peering from an open window, a gun slung through the opening. “Yah,” he explained afterward, ¡ “I scared ’em off. And it was only a ; .22, at that.”
la the summers, Walter Edward ; spends much of the time on the golf : course, his second sports love. He’s
not bad, either, getting a tremendous kick out of long tee shots. In the Western Manitoba Open a summer or two ago he drove the 325-yard seventh, lined up a forty-foot putt and sunk it for an eagle.
“Ain’t that my luck?” he beamed as he picked up the ball. “Drive a 325-yard green and miss a hole-inone.”