Monday, December 31, 2012

New Years Eve 1967; Fifth-String Goalie Al Smith Plays

From the Canadian Press: December 30, 1966 the headline reads "Newest Toronto game is naming the goalie."
"Terry Sawchuk is still out with back trouble and Johnny Bower is acting as referee in practices until his broken right hand heals. Punch Imlach says he won't know until later today which of his far-flung goalies will be called up. Bower's replacement could be Gary Smith of Rochecter Red Wings or his teammate, Bobby Perrault. Al Smith of Victoria Maple Leafs is another consideration as is Al Millar of Tulsa Oilers and Bob Whidden of the Toronto Marlboros junior club."

Johnny Bower's hand was broken a few days prior when he stopped a Frank Mahovlich slapshot in practice and Sawchuk had been sidelined since Dec. 8. Third goalie, Bruce Gamble was ruled out for the New Year's eve game against Chicago after taking a Jim Pappin shot in the face during practice a day after Bower was injured. Luckily Gamble was wearing a mask.

Ultimately it was Al Smith called up to take on the Black Hawks, he had played parts of two games with Toronto the previous season allowing two goals in 62 minutes of play. He would however not fare so well against the high-flying Hawks on New Year's Eve 1967. Ken Wharam and Doug Mohns scored in the first followed by Bobby Hull and Phil Esposito before Pappin made it 4-1 after two periods. Dennis Hull rounded out the 5-1 win as Chicago fired 35 total shots at Smith. Gamble was able to return the following day, kicking out 42 shots as Toronto beat the Rangers 2-1.

Al Smith was sent back to Victoria for the remainder of the year where he finished with a 24-26-5 record and a 3.20 GAA. He worked his way through the Leaf farm system playing in Tulsa in 67/68 and Rochester in 68/69 before being claimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Intra-League draft. He went on to play 233 NHL games as well as 260 WHA games with the New England Whalers.His 3.25 career GAA in the World Hockey Association ranks as the best all-time in that circuit.

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