The players we watch as kids are always bigger than life. Maybe that's why I figured someone like Gump Worsley would live forever. Sadly, even a gritty little goalie like the Gumper couldn't stop the hands of time. This past weekend, Lorne Worsley passed away at age 77.
In reading his obituary, I discovered something I didn't know about him. In 1953, after a Calder Trophy-winning season with the Rangers, Worsley received a one-way ticket back to the minors. It was during the Original Six era, and, as such, there were just six starting goalies. Those players, guys like Terry Sawchuk, Sugar Jim Henry and Harry Lumley, played most of the games.
In 1953, the Rangers had acquired a young Johnny Bower to replace Worsley, sending Gump to Vancouver of the Western League. Coincidentally, a year later, the two goalies would change places again as Worsley returned to New York and Bower went to Vancouver.
I pondered a goalie's life in the Original Six and thought about which of today's goalies would make the cut. If there were just six teams, which six stoppers would have a job in the NHL? With a tip of the mask to the Gumper (despite the fact that he rarely wore one), here are my picks from current crop:
The Devils goalkeeper is a stopper for all eras. Brodeur would have loved to play during a time when it wasn't unusual to start each and every game. This season, he has missed just two of his team's 51 games. When he finally skates away from the NHL, he likely will own every major goaltending record in the book. Is he the best ever? Well, we'll save that debate for another day.
The Kipper is another guy who doesn't take too much time off. Did you know he has played in 46 of the Flames' first 50 games? He plays so much, you probably forgot journeyman keeper Jamie "Noodles" McLennan is the No. 2 man in Calgary. Quietly, Kiprusoff is having another Vezina-caliber season.
The Canucks' lanky goalie doesn't shy away from a heavy load, either. This season in Vancouver, he's seeing a little less rubber than he faced the past several seasons in Florida, where he was usually under siege. Luongo has yet to earn his playoff pedigree, but he might get a chance to start work on that this spring.
I want an old warrior in my group, so I add Olie the Goalie to the list. Playing behind a subpar defensive unit in Washington, the 36-year-old netminder continues to put up good numbers (his .911 save percentage speaks volumes for his play). Kolzig has played in at least 59 games in each of the past eight seasons. I like that kind of durability.
I also want to give a kid a chance in this pack of stoppers. Last season, the Hurricanes gave him a chance, and he led them to a Stanley Cup with a Conn Smythe Trophy-winning performance. That's a good enough résumé for me. This season, Ward seems to be holding up just fine under an increased work load.
Despite the Dallas Star's recent playoff failures, I still have a place for him. (Marty, if you let me down again this spring, I'll have to give you the same ticket the Rangers handed Gump.) I like Turco's athletic style and confident nature. I could see him playing during the Original Six era. I'll take him as my No. 6 in a close decision over Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Tomas Vokoun.