In Memory of Gump Worsley

As I’ve probably mentioned many times, I’m a fan of sports.  I’ll watch just about any sport you put in front of me with the possible exceptions of gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and horse racing.  Most recently, I’ve become thoroughly infatuated with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs which are currently being broadcast by NBC Sports.
Stanley Cup
I’m not sure if I’ve been drawn into watching these games due to NBC’s creative “Because It’s the Cup” commercials promoting the playoffs or simply due to the fact that the other detritus littering the tube during primetime is simply not worth the time and effort.

If you haven’t noticed, NBC has been broadcasting four Stanley Cup quarterfinal games per night on their NBC Sports Channel and on its sister financial network, CNBC.

Typically, I’ve been picking out one of the early games to watch in full and then recording one of the late games for viewing the next day.  Yes, recording as in VHS.  I don’t expect to move up to TIVO or another DVR until those devices have been replaced with at least two generations of more advanced technology.  I’m not one to rush into following the latest trends.

I saw my first hockey game when I was around 5 years old.  I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, which, as one might imagine, was not what could be called a hot bed of hockey enthusiasm during the 1950’s.  Yet in 1956, the Charlotte Checkers franchise came to town playing in the now defunct Eastern Hockey League; which eventually became the Southern Hockey League.
No helmets
There apparently is something to this genetics thing because my grandfather, who had always been an avid baseball fan, suddenly and inexplicably became a hockey fan.

I remember him telling me about the new team that had come to town to play the “fastest game on ice.”  Eventually he took me down to the old Charlotte Coliseum to watch the Checkers play.  I’ve been a fan, if not a rabid one, of the game ever since.

Yesterday, as I watched one of the Stanley Cup playoff games that I’d recorded earlier, my youngest son sat down to watch with me for a while.  After a few minutes, he commented that he couldn’t understand why some of the players had protective visors mounted to their helmets, while others did not.  Then he went further by asking, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face?

He was a bit incredulous when I explained to him that when I was a kid, hockey players didn’t wear any form of protective headgear.  When my son gave me one of those looks which says so clearly, “Yeah ol’ man.  I’m not falling for this one“, I immediately thought of Gump Worsley.  And who wouldn’t have?
OBIT NHL Worsley
Gump Worsley played in the National Hockey League from 1952 until 1974.  He was a goaltender.  To this day Gump is the third winningest (is that a word?) goaltender in NHL history.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in1980.

But that’s not why I remember Gump Worsley.  As far as I’m concerned, he’ll forever be remembered as the last NHL goaltender to play his position without wearing a protective mask. When asked why he chose not to wear one, Gump famously replied, “My face is my mask.”  Who can dispute that kind of logic?

In 1961, Gump was in goal for a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Playing for the Blackhawks was Bobby Hull, the famous left winger who was known as the The Golden Jet  for his powerful slap shot which had been timed at over 118 miles per hour.

During the game, Hull fired a shot at goal which struck Gump directly in the middle of his forehead.  Worsley dropped like a proverbial rock; immediately rendered unconscious.  Upon waking up later in the hospital, he was asked how he was feeling.  Gump replied, “Good thing the puck hit me flat.”  There’s no argument there.

In last night’s quarterfinal game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto defenseman Marc Fraser was hit directly in the face by a shot necessitating another quick trip to the hospital.  Fraser wasn’t wearing a visor on his helmet which would have prevented the injury that he sustained.  I immediately thought about my son’s question, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face? ”

Maybe they should.  To my mind, it certainly wouldn’t detract from the speed and excitement of the game.

OM

Photo credit: clydeorama / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Boston Public Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Oldmaison Foter.com CC BY-SA

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