Terry Sawchuck is fondly remembered as one of the NHL’s greatest ever goaltenders. Sadly, he is also remembered for the tragic circumstances that surrounded his death—yet little is told of his early days. One Winnipeg film-maker is set to change that.
Sawchuck was born in Winnipeg in 1929, the third of five siblings. Tragedy was to be a feature of his life from the start. Two of his brothers had died by the time Terry was only ten years old—the eldest, Mike, was a promising goaltender and a certain influence on his future career.
The young Sawchuck signed his first professional deal with the Detroit Red Wings, where he enjoyed two lengthy stints. His debut in the NHL came in 1950 and, alongside the Red Wings he also played for his childhood favourites Toronto Maple Leafs, and the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers in a career spanning 21 years.
And what a career. Terry Sawchuck hauled in four Stanley Cups, four Vezina trophies and was an eleven-time All-Star. His record of 103 shutouts lasted until 2009, when Martin Brodeur equalled and eventually surpassed it (119).
It is hard to believe in the modern NHL world, where you can find here sold out tickets, that goaltenders would often face the puck unguarded. However, facemasks were not popularised until 1959 when Montreal Canadiens’ Jacques Plante wore one in a game against the New York Rangers.
Terry was a brave goaltender, he bore the scars of battle on his face and suffered several injuries on and off the ice. It wasn’t until the start of the 1962-63 season that began to wear a goaltender’s mask. He immediately felt that it gave him more confidence and it positively transformed his game.
“It has helped my game tremendously, I wouldn’t be surprised if it added a few more years to my career.”
His career lasted until 1970 when, by that time at the New York Rangers, he suffered yet more injuries. Sawchuck was staying in a rented house with teammate Ron Stewart. The pair got into a heated argument and began to fight, with Sawchuck falling badly. He was rushed to hospital for an operation on his gall bladder but the further internal injuries were so severe—and Sawchuck so weak—he never recovered.
One year after his tragic death, Terry was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Film-maker Danny Schur is to focus more on Sawchuck’s formative years in his new documentary—Terry Sawchuck-The Winnipeg Years.
Schur said of the project, “Terry Sawchuk, bar none, is the best hockey player that ever came from Winnipeg. General consensus is he was the greatest goalie ever, and he came from here, and I think the Winnipeg story is forgotten, so I’m making a documentary about Terry Sawchuk’s Winnipeg years in particular.”
It ought to be a fascinating story to watch.