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Worsley was a 'body' of consistency for Montreal

1/28/2007 - Montreal Canadiens

MONTREAL -- Gump Worsley looked a bit out of place in goal
during his 21-year NHL career -- until they dropped the puck.

Then, the roly-poly maskless man in the net was at his nimble
best.

Worsley, who died Friday at 77 after suffering a heart attack
last Monday, used his 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame to forge a Hall of
Fame career and help the Montreal Canadiens win four Stanley Cups
in a five-year span.

"It was just his body shape," former teammate Gilles Tremblay
said. "He was real quick in the net. He did his exercises. But
some people are tall and thin like Ted Harris and some are built
like Worsley."

"He'd walk through the room past guys with perfect builds and
he'd say, 'I've been in the league a lot of years with this belly,
so I hope you guys can do as well as I did.' He always made us
laugh."
-- Former teammate Gilles Tremblay

Lorne John Worsley, who got his nickname as a child because his
hair stuck up like cartoon character Andy Gump, won the Vezina
Trophy as the NHL's top goalie in 1966 and 1968, when he was also a
first-team All-Star.

He was among the select few to play in net when the NHL had only
six teams and teams carried only one, maskless goaltender. He went
head-to-head with greats such as Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk,
Glenn Hall and Johnny Bower.

Tremblay recalled a teammate who always had a smile and a joke
in the dressing room and who was "very well liked all through the
league.

"He'd walk through the room past guys with perfect builds and
he'd say, 'I've been in the league a lot of years with this belly,
so I hope you guys can do as well as I did.' He always made us
laugh," Tremblay said.

Worsley's physique moved Rangers coach Phil Watson to tell him,
"You can't play goal with a beer belly." Worsley shot back: "I'm
strictly a rye man."

What is less known about him was that he was also a pretty good
soccer player.

Canadian soccer historian Colin Jose said that while playing
hockey in the minor leagues for the Saskatoon Quakers in the early
1950s, Worsley played soccer in the summer for the Saskatoon
Legion. He played for the Saskatchewan All-Stars against the
touring Tottenham Hotspur in 1952 and, when he moved home to
Montreal the next year, reached the Canadian championship soccer
final with Montreal Hakoah.

But hockey was Worsley's passion from his childhood in
Montreal's Pointe St. Charles district.

He grew up in a family that worshipped the defunct Montreal
Maroons and didn't like the Canadiens. His favorite player was
Rangers goalie Dave Kerr.

In his teens, he signed with the junior Verdun Cyclones, who
were owned by the Rangers and, in those pre-draft days, became
Rangers property.

He played minor league hockey for the New York Rovers, the St.
Paul Saints, Saskatoon and the Edmonton Flyers before he was called
up for the start of the 1952-53 NHL season after goalie Charlie
Rayner was injured.

Worsley won the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, only
to be shocked when he was sent down to the Vancouver Canucks of the
Western Hockey League the next season when the Rangers signed
Bower. Worsley was back up with the Rangers in 1954-55 and played
brilliantly for nine more seasons on mostly weak New York teams.

Lounging at home in the offseason in 1963, Worsley got a call
from a friend to tell him he had been traded to Montreal along with
Leon Rochefort, Dave Balon and Len Ronson for Plante, Phil Goyette
and Don Marshall.

He turned on the radio and heard it himself.

"To this day, the Rangers have never told me I was traded,"
Worsley told the Hall of Fame.

He went from facing 40-50 shots a game in New York to a team
that was a perennial powerhouse, still with some of the players
from the team that won five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960.

Injuries caused him to spend most of the next two seasons with
the Quebec Aces, but he was called up in 1964-65 and helped
Montreal win four Cups in a five-year span, interrupted only by
Toronto's last Stanley Cup triumph in 1967.

"With the trade, he got his reward by playing for a very good
team," said former goalie Ken Dryden, who joined the Canadiens in
1971. "I played against him his last couple of seasons in
Minnesota. He still wasn't wearing a mask, which was
unbelievable."

Worsley was sold to the expansion North Stars for cash in 1970
and retired, but was talked into playing four more years in
Minnesota.

He wore a mask only for the final six games before he retired in
1974 to his longtime home in Beloeil. He then worked many years as
a scout for the North Stars.

Worsley retired with a career record of 335-352-150 with 43
shutouts. In the playoffs, he was 40-26 with five shutouts. When he
left the NHL, only one goalie, Andy Brown of the Pittsburgh
Penguins, was still not wearing a mask.