Sawchuk, Terrance Gordon ("Terry")
SAWCHUK, Terrance Gordon ("Terry")
(b. 28 December 1929 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; d. 31 May 1970 in New York City), Hall of Fame hockey goaltender who set records for shutouts and victories.
Born and raised in East Kildonan, a working-class, Ukrainian section of Winnipeg, Sawchuk was the third of four sons and one adopted daughter of Louis Sawchuk, a tinsmith who had come to Canada as a boy from Austrian-controlled Ukraine, and his wife, Anne Maslak Sawchuk, a homemaker. Their second son died at a young age from scarlet fever and the oldest, an aspiring hockey goaltender whom Sawchuk idolized, died suddenly of a heart attack at age seventeen. At age twelve, Sawchuk injured his right elbow playing football and, not wanting to be punished, hid the injury, preventing the dislocation from properly healing. Thus, the arm was left with limited mobility and several inches shorter than the left, and bothered him for his entire athletic career.
After inheriting his brother's goalie equipment, Sawchuk began playing ice hockey in a local league and worked for a sheet-metal company installing vents over bakery ovens. His goaltending talent was so evident that at age fourteen a local scout for the Detroit Red Wings had him work out with the team, who later signed him to an amateur contract and sent him to play for their junior team in Galt, Ontario, in 1946, where he also finished the eleventh grade but most likely did not graduate from high school.
Glowing reports of Sawchuk's goaltending led the Red Wings to sign him to a professional contract in November 1947, and he quickly progressed through their developmental system, winning honors as the Rookie of the Year in both the U.S. and American Hockey Leagues. Sawchuk also capably filled in for seven games when the Detroit goalie Harry Lumley was injured in January 1950.
Although Lumley led the Red Wings to the 1949–1950 Stanley Cup, Detroit traded him to the Chicago Black Hawks to make room for the much-heralded Sawchuk. Some were skeptical of Sawchuk's unusual style; whereas most goalies would bend only their knees, the chubby youngster, who had lightning-fast reflexes and played with reckless abandon, bent over from the waist (described as a "gorilla crouch"), so that his face was forward and closer to the ice. This enabled him to see the puck more clearly, especially while being screened by opponents, but put tremendous strain on his lower back and, since goalies then did not wear masks, required tremendous courage.
Nicknamed "Ukey" or "The Uke" by his teammates, his first five years with the powerhouse Red Wings were phenomenal, as the team won three Stanley Cups. For his individual performance, Sawchuk won the Calder Trophy as the top rookie (the first to win such honors in all three professional hockey leagues) and three Vezina Trophies for the fewest goals allowed (he missed out the other two years by one goal). He was selected as an All-Star five times, had an astounding fifty-six shutouts, and his goals-against average (GAA) remained under 2.00. In the 1951–1952 playoffs the Red Wings swept both the Black Hawks and the Montreal Canadiens, with Sawchuk surrendering just five goals in eight games (for a minuscule 0.67 GAA), with four shutouts.
Sawchuk's personality seemed to change when the Detroit general manager Jack Adams ordered him to lose weight before the 1951–1952 season. After showing up at training camp weighing 219 pounds, he dropped more than forty pounds, became sullen and withdrawn, and struggled for years to regain the weight. Also contributing to his moodiness and self-doubt was the pressure of playing day in and day out despite repeated injuries—there were no backup goaltenders. During his career he had three operations on his right elbow, an appendectomy, countless cuts and bruises, a broken instep, a collapsed lung, ruptured discs in his back, and severed tendons in his hand. Years of crouching in the net caused Sawchuk to walk with a permanent stoop and resulted in lordosis (swayback), which prevented him from sleeping for more than two hours at a time. He also received approximately 400 stitches to his face before adopting a mask in 1962. He became increasingly surly with reporters and fans, and preferred doing crossword puzzles to giving interviews.
After a very brief courtship, Sawchuk married Patricia Ann Bowman Morey on 6 August 1953. They had seven children, and the family suffered for many years from Sawchuk's increasing alcoholism, philandering (a Toronto girlfriend became pregnant by him in 1967), and verbal and physical abuse. Morey threatened to divorce him numerous times, and finally did so in 1969.
Since the Red Wings had a capable younger goaltender in the minor leagues (Glenn Hall), Adams dealt Sawchuk to the Boston Bruins in June 1955, devastating the self-critical goalie. During his second season with Boston, he was diagnosed with mononucleosis, but returned to the team after only two weeks. Physically weak, playing poorly, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Sawchuk announced his retirement in early 1957 and was labeled a "quitter" by team executives and several newspapers. During his recuperation, however, Detroit soured on Hall's performance, and Adams reacquired Sawchuk for seven more seasons. The Red Wings, however, did not enjoy the same success as before, and when Detroit had another promising young goalie ready for promotion (Roger Crozier), Sawchuk was left unprotected in the intraleague waiver draft and was quickly claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. With Sawchuck sharing goaltending duties with the forty-year-old Johnny Bower, the veteran duo won the 1964–1965 Vezina Trophy and led Toronto to the 1966–1967 Stanley Cup. Left unprotected in the June 1967 expansion draft, Sawchuk played one season for the Los Angeles Kings before being traded back to Detroit. Sawchuk spent his final season with the New York Rangers, where he played sparingly but recorded the final shutout of his career.
After the 1969–1970 season ended, Sawchuk and his Rangers teammate Ron Stewart, both of whom had been drinking, argued over expenses for the house they rented together on Long Island, New York. During the scuffle, Sawchuk suffered internal injuries from falling on top of Stewart's bent knee. At Long Beach Memorial Hospital, Sawchuk's gallbladder was removed and he had a second operation on his damaged and bleeding liver. The press described the incident as "horseplay," and Sawchuk told the police that he accepted full responsibility for the events. At New York Hospital in Manhattan, another operation was performed on Sawchuk's bleeding liver, but he never recovered and died shortly thereafter from a pulmonary embolism at age forty. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Pontiac, Michigan. A Nassau County grand jury exonerated Stewart and ruled that Sawchuk's death was accidental.
In 1971 Sawchuk was posthumously named as the winner of the Lester Patrick Memorial Trophy for "outstanding service to hockey in the United States," and (with a waiver of the normal three-year waiting period) was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Red Wings retired his number in 1994, and even though he had become a U.S. citizen in 1959, he was honored on a Canadian stamp in 2001. Sawchuk was a seven-time All-Star, and his record of 447 regular-season wins stood for thirty years, before being surpassed in 2000 by Patrick Roy. Upon his death, Sawchuk also held the record for regular-season games played by a goaltender (971) and shutouts (103). Sawchuk set the standard for measuring goaltenders, and was publicly hailed as the "best goalie ever" by a rival general manager in 1952, during only his second season.
Two excellent biographies of Sawchuk are Brian Kendall, Shutout: The Legend of Terry Sawchuk (1996), and David Dupuis, Sawchuk: The Troubles and Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie (1998). Sawchuk's crouching style is featured in "'Greatest Hockey Goalie Ever': In Second Year Up, Young Terry Sawchuk and His Gorilla Crouch Keep Detroit Red Wings Far in Lead," Life (18 Feb. 1952), and Marshall Dann, "How Sawchuk Stops 'Em," Detroit Free Press (16 Mar. 1952). Valuable early profiles are Al Silverman, "Hockey's New Mr. Zero," Sport (Apr. 1952), and Trent Frayne, "The Awful Ups and Downs of Terry Sawchuk," Maclean's (19 Dec. 1959). A professional makeup artist highlighted all the scars and injuries to his face for a photograph accompanying the article "The Goalie Is the Goat: Hockey's Reviled and Bludgeoned Fall-Guys," Life (4 Mar. 1966). The Red Wings of the early 1950s are covered in Stan Fischler, Motor City Muscle (1996). Obituaries are in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, New York Times, New York Post, Long Island Press, and Newsday (all 1 June 1970).
John A. Drobnickim