Friday, 30 March 2018


Last night in Chicago, the hometown Blackhawks lost both their goalies: the number one was injured during warmups, and the number two cramped up early in the third period. Cue 36 year old accountant Scott Foster, who last played a competitive hockey game for Western Michigan University 13 years ago, to get the call to suit up. Foster is one of a number of amateur goalies who attend matches on call for just such emergencies. Who knew?

Things were different when I was growing up, and our local pro team was the New Haven Blades, of the Eastern Hockey League, the league that served as the inspiration for the movie Slap Shot. Teams in the EHL carried 13 players: 3 lines of forwards, two pair of defensemen and one goaltender. If a goalie got hurt, there were problems.

I was watching a game with my dad one night in 1968, the Blades against, I think, our arch-rival Long Island Ducks. The Blades' goalie was Roger Wilson, whom they had picked up from Charlotte when their starter, Al Johnstone, was lost, probably through injury. At some point in the game, the Ducks' goalie got hurt, and was taken off the ice. Here it got interesting, because the protocol was basically for the home team to provide a goalie, and the Blades' emergency goalie was their trainer, Ken 'Gunner' Garrett. The game stopped as we waited for Gunner to put on the pads, and when he skated onto the ice to warmup in the Ducks' goal, a raspy voice boomed out from the other end of the New Haven Arena, behind the Blades' goal.

'Give 'em Wilson!' the voice shouted. 'Give 'em Wilson'. Wilson turned around in his goal, pulled off his glove, and gestured with his middle finger. 'Fuck you, Marty!'. 2,200 people burst into laughter. The players and fans were a lot closer in those days, when goalie's could recognise each heckling voice by name.

Garrett made quite a few appearances in goal. Thanks to the Internet Hockey Data Base, I learned that he played five games for the Blades that year, probably between Johnstone's injury and Wilson's acquisition. His goals against average in those games was an amazing 2.17. Against the Blades, he played just six minutes, according to IHDB, and allowed a goal.  In all, they list 20 games over eight years with the Blades, and one for the Johnstown Jets in 1961-62, his first season as a hockey trainer (it was Don Perry, the Blades' player-coach, who was in Johnstown at the time, who brought Gunner to New Haven). The Blades and the EHL were rough: Perry is standing to Garrett's right in the photo; I recall his throwing a player from the Jets threw a barroom window when he caught Blades fraternizing with him after a playoff loss. To Garrett's left is Blake Ball, whom the sharp eyed will recognise from his bit part in Slap Shot, as one of the goons from the past brought back for the championship final.

I found some articles about Garrett: he had a long career as a trainer in minor league hockey, finally retiring after the 2008-9 season with the Amarillo (Texas) Gorillas. In an article written by a Gorilla teammate, he claimed 22 appearances (there is one listed in IMDB with no minutes played, which may be the missing one). One of the old Blades claimed Gunner recorded three shutouts in a row, but again, IMDB doesn't credit him with any during that five game 2.17ga run. He sometimes lived in the arenas where he did his training (which usually included being the equipment manager) but doesn't seem to have played any further as even minor league teams moved to using backup goalies (it wasn't commonplace in the NHL itself until the 50s).

The Blades disappeared when New Haven redeveloped and built the Coliseum. The Arena, on Grove Street, was torn down, and the location is now the city's FBI offices. The Coliseum, which seated about four times as many people as the Arena, became home to the Nighthawks, of the more advanced American Hockey League. Eventually they folded too; a couple of other teams tried to replace them in lower leagues but New Haven never embraced other teams they way they did the rough and tumble EHL.

As for Scott Foster? He played the final 14 minutes of the game, saved seven shots and allowed no goals,  as the Blackhawks won 6-2. Foster was named the game's first star, and received a boxing-style championship belt. Gunner Garrett? Well, he didn't have a belt, but he did get a memorial banner, made by the Austin Ice Bats in 2005 when he suffered a heart attack during a game, and the team thought mistakenly he had died in hospital. When he returned the next day to find the banner hanging in the rink, he was given it as a keepsake.

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