“Well it couldn’t have worked out better, could it?” gleamed Canadiens coach Dick Irvin, following his team’s 6-0 win over the New York Americans on March 15, 1941.
So what did he do exactly?
In the final game of the 1940-41 season, The Habs’ bench boss decided to try an experiment of alternating goaltenders Bert Gardiner and Paul Bibeault in four to nine minute intervals. Irvin’s theory was that it would refresh the goaltenders, both mentally and physically, giving the man edge over their opponents. Irvin also felt it could build up some competition between two goalies.
Up until to that point a team only dressed one goalie and kept and emergency goalie in the stands. Seeing a pair on netminders on the bench, at the NHL level, would not be commonplace until the 1964-65 season.
“I’ll admit that it was not a fair test against a club like the Americans in a game like that,” Irvin said. The Americans finished last that season. “I’d really have preferred to try it out against a team like Boston which maintains pressure at a torrid pitch all through a game.”
Gardiner played 37:30 of the game, while Bibeault played 22:30, with both being credited with making some sensational saves.
The puck-stopping duo found the idea to a slight disadvantage of having to sit on the bench for up to nine minutes, then come back out. “I was stiff when I out there first each time,” said Bibeault. Gardiner agreed. “You’re going out there cold several times in a night instead of just once,” he said. “I imagine that if the opposition ganged up on you, just as you went out on the ice, they might easily rap in a few. You can’t tell off one game whether it’s good or not.”
Irvin and the innovative Frank Patrick, who always looked at dressing two goalies in an NHL game, felt a potential remedy for a cold goalie would be to equip rinks with a bullpen area to warm up. That never evolved and Patrick’s dream of two goalies on a regular line-up would come four years after his passing.
Despite many reports, this was not the first time an NHL goaltending duo shared a shutout. That honour falls to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Lorne Chabot and Benny Grant, who alternated every five minutes in a 3-0 whitewash of the Detroit Cougars. In that game, Conn Smythe also not just the goaltenders, but all five skaters in five-minute shifts.
Another NHL goaltender experiment came in November of 1945, when Rangers’ coach Frank Boucher rotated “Sugar” Jim Henry and Chuck Rayner. The first substitution came after Rayner was injured and both goalies then alternated in a 4-3 loss to the Leafs.
Irvin’s second goalie swap attempt came during the first game of the1955 playoffs against the Bruins. Jacques Plante and Charlie Hodge took turns in a 2-0 shutout.
The Bullpen in the Worlds: Thanks to SIHR member Juha Hiitelä for pointing this out. Andy Murray took advantage of the practice rink in the Hartwell Arena during the 2003 World Championships. It was located directly below the main ice surface so during the gold medal game against Sweden, Murray asked arena workers to turn on the lights in the “basement.” During intermissions, Martin Biron and a Team Canada few skaters practiced shootouts, in the event the game went beyond overtime.
Also on this day:
1967: Ralph Backstrom scored two goals and three assists, John Ferguson had two goals and two assists, and Henri Richard added a goal and three assists as the Canadiens crushed the Boston Bruins 11-2.
1975: Ken Dryden recorded a shutout to lead the Canadiens to a 3-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Forum. It was the 17th shutout of Dryden's NHL career.
1980: Pierre Larouche scored a goal and added three assists as Montreal won 7-3 over the Edmonton Oilers.
1989: Patrick Roy tied a Canadiens' team record by running his unbeaten streak at home to 23-0-2, with a 5-2 Montreal win over the Kings. He tied Bill Durnan, who went 22-0-3 at the Forum in 1943-44.
1991: The Habs send Mark Pederson to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2nd round pick (Jim Campbell) in 1991.
1995: Vince Damphousse picked up four assists as the Canadiens won 8-5 over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
1996: The Canadiens trade prospect Martin Brochu to the Washington Capitals for future considerations.
Habs Born on This Day: Craig Ludwig (1961), Darcy Tucker (1975)
The Montreal Gazette, March 11, 1929, “Leafs Show Form To Down Detroit”, CP
The Montreal Gazette, March 17, 1941, “Casual Close-ups” by Marc T. McNeil
The Montreal Gazette, March 23, 1945, “Plante, Hodge Share Nets as Habs Blank Bruins 2-0”
The New York Times, November 25, 1945