Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Steve Buzinski, Worst and Funniest Goalie Ever

I recently picked up a 1971 book “Strange but True Hockey Stories” by legendary writer Stan Fischler (he has written over 90 (ninety!) books about the game). One of my favourite chapters in the book is titled “The Worst Goalie Ever”.
Steve “The puck-goes-in-ski” Buzinski may very well have been the worst goalie in NHL history. He played a mere nine games for the New York Rangers to start the 1942 season and posted a 5.89 goals against average with a 2-6-1 record. His numbers are indeed awful and amongst the worst all-time, but he may also have been one of the most colourful players ever as well.

In October, 1942 one week from training camp, Rangers manager Lester Patrick did not have a goaltender for his club. More than half of his previous season’s first place squad including goalie Jim Henry, were in the armed services. Patrick and coach Frank Boucher decided to comb every town in Canada for an undiscovered netminder. The message went out to Ranger scouts across the land and three days later one of the scouts in Saskatchewan wired New York to tell them their worries were over in the form of Steve Buzinski.
The Rangers soon opened camp in Winnipeg, and Buzinski arrived while the team was on the ice. Coach Boucher recalled he was startled upon first spying his new keeper. “I remember seeing a wee fellow with a black helmet.”, told Boucher. “He was so small all I could see was his head and shoulders over the sideboards. ‘Oh my God’, I said to myself, ‘this couldn’t be’. But it was. Steve Buzinski had arrived.” He was a little, thin man with bowed legs and he wore a pair of old pads that ‘curved around his legs like cowboy chaps’. The team was in no position to complain as there were no other challengers and Buzinski was awarded the job by default.

The season opened Oct 31 in Toronto as New York lost 7-2. During the match, Maple Leaf Bob Davidson bounced a shot of the rookie goalie’s head during a scramble inflicting a minor cut. However, as soon as Buzinski detected blood he fell to the ice in a faux faint. The Rangers charged the referee looking for a penalty for the so-called infraction. New York defender Ott Heller demanded a penalty for high sticking as his goalie lay prone beside him. Davidson yelled, “He got hit with the puck!”
“Stick,” retorted Heller.
“Puck,” snapped Davidson.
Just then, Buzinski opened his eyes, looked up and yelled, “I got hit with the stick.” before quickly resuming his position sprawled on the ice.
This was only game one.

Detroit man-handled the Rangers 12-5 led by a then record seven points from Carl Liscombe. With the Wings up 7-1 halfway through the debacle, a shot from centre was fired in on Buzinski which was going considerably wide of the cage. He lunged out of the net to make a desperate snag of the disk in his trapper then casually tossed it into the corner of the rink as team-mate Bryan Hextall skated by. “Hex”, the rookie confidently yelled to the vet, “it’s like pickin’ cherries off a tree.”

The Blueshirts managed to win their third game 4-3 in overtime over Montreal then proceeded to lose the following night to the Habs 10-4. Even with 32 goals against in four games, Patrick wasn’t ready to give up on the new goalie. Buzinski even managed another overtime victory, this time against Chicago. Back to back losses to Boston and a 7-3 drubbing at the hands of Toronto was just about the end of the Buzinski experiment. By this point he had adopted a new technique of goaltending. The New York Telegram reported, “He adopted a falling system. Figuring that he who drops over the disk need not have fears of it being elsewhere, he spent more time on the ice than a mackerel in cold storage.”

After the ninth game even Patrick was just about ready to concede that Buzinski may not be a major leaguer. Some of the Rangers had heard that Jimmy Franks, a more proven goalie was available. They threatened a mutiny unless the manager replaced Buzinski with franks. Ranger, Phil Watson explained rather politely, “His newness in the NHL was disconcerting to us.” Patrick relented, yet kept the entertaining rookie on the payroll. “He was a refreshing prairie boy,” said Boucher, “always good for laughs. We simply listed him as a member of our P.R. department.”
One afternoon, the Rangers farm team The Rovers ask Patrick to lend a few players to round out a scrimmage. The manager suggested to Buzinski that he could use a practice to keep in shape if needed. Buzinski, who was quite enjoying his P.R. job told his boss, “Gee I’d like to help you out, Mr. Patrick, but I’ve got a lot of letters to write”.
The following day Buzinski was on a train to Swift Current, one-way ticket in hand.

It turned out that his replacement Jimmy Franks wasn’t much better in his 23 games played going 5-14-4 with a 4.48 GAA. Bill Beveridge, the Rangers third attempt at solving their net dilemma went 4-10-3 with a 5.24 average. Neither one was half as entertaining as Steve Buzinski however. The following season Charlie Rayner and Jim Henry returned from the service to alleviate the Rangers goaltending woes.
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