Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gump Concussed by a Tossed Egg

44 years ago today, Lorne "Gump" Worsley was knocked out of an NHL game after being hit in the temple with an egg thrown from the stands. It was at Madison Square Garden in New York and Gump had just surrendered the first goal of the game to Jean Ratelle in the third minute.
The Montreal Gazette reported, "The Gumper was hit flush on the right temple by the egg which was thrown from about 100 feet away...the egg-tosser, a 25 year-old fan who had a bag of them when caught by Garden police, got off lucky when Worsley refused to press charges."

The next day Worsley took part in a voluntary practice and it was thought he would be ready if called upon for the next game. Gump described the incident, "It hit me flush on the temple just after the goal was scored. I didn't know it was an egg until I felt the gook. The doctor said it was a mild concussion and I still feel a bit dizzy." The concussion would prove to be somewhat more than mild as the Gump would in fact not set foot in game for over 6 weeks. His next appearance was in game five of the Stanley Cup Finals against Toronto.

The 1966/67 campaign had not been kind to Lorne Worsley. The previous year he'd won the Vezina Trophy and led the Habs to their second straight Cup. The season began fine enough, as Montreal had allowed the fewest goals into early December and were only 4 points behind first place Toronto. However, in a 6-3 victory over the Leafs on Dec. 7 Worsley was forced to come out after two periods with what was thought to be a pulled muscle in his leg. He was replaced by Charlie Hodge and the next day was listed as having a knee injury. Gump attempted to work through it, but on Dec 18 he had surgery to remove torn cartilidge. Doctor's said he would be out for another six weeks.

Right on schedule, he was able to replace Hodge for the 2nd and 3rd periods of a 6-1 loss to Detroit on Feb.5. The next game, Feb.8 he would do the same, this time taking over for Hodge after two quick goals at the 8 minute mark of the first. Gump started the next match on Feb.11 against Boston, but this time it was Hodge replacing him after he re-injured the knee halfway through.

21 year old, Rogatien "Rogie" Vachon was called up from the Houston Apollos of the Central League to back-up Hodge. After a couple losses by Hodge, the rookie Vachon carried the mail for seven straight games into mid-March. Gumper was good to go again on March 11 and tied Chicago 3-3, before being egg-concussed the following night in New York. Vachon stepped right back in and went 8-0-1 playing the nine remaining games of the schedule.

Entering the playoff matchup with the Rangers, coach Toe Blake had no choice but to go with the hot rookie in net with Worsley now healthy and ready. Vachon did not disappoint as Montreal swept New York and moved onto the final against Toronto. Vachon continued his run until game five of the Cup final when Gump finally stepped in after two periods. He stopped all 10 shots in the 4-1 loss that put Toronto up 3 games to 2. Worsley started and played well in game six, stopping 33 of 35 shots as the Leafs won 3-1 with an empty net goal.

Rogie and The Gump shared goaltending duties for the next two seasons, winning two more Cups and another Vezina. As well as Vachon had played in a substitute role for the egg-splattered Gump in 1967, the Habs would have most likely been better off having a healthy Worsley down the stretch and in prime form for the playoffs. It may very well be that a 25 year old New York hockey "fan" with a bag of eggs prevented the Habs from winning five straight Cups.

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