As told to: Stephen SmithMy brother was a goaltender. He’s three years older than I am. And at age — he was probably 14 and I was 11, he was playing for the Toronto Marlboros — probably the bantam team at that time. I was playing forward in a league in the west end of Toronto. I just decided that if Len could play goal, I could play goal better than him. And that’s how I got into it. My first year of goal it was in peewee hockey, it was with Shopsy’s, and I had the good fortune to have Roger Neilson as my coach. Not many people know: Roger was a goaltender. He played Junior B hockey — he never played Junior A because his parents very religious and they wouldn’t let Roger play Sunday afternoon at the Gardens, where all the Marlie and St. Mike’s games were being played. So I had a good teacher when I was 12 years old, to tell me how to play angles, stay on my feet. And then by the time I got to Junior A I also had the good fortune to have Turk Broda as a coach. And obviously, being a Hall-of-Famer, he was instrumental in helping me learn the position.
UNMASKED: We never even thought about it. In the 1950s, it wasn’t til Jacques Plante put that first mask on that we thought about it. I remember, I was playing with Marlboros. They came down and they gave Johnny Bower, who was the Leaf goalie at the time, a big — like a [plexiglass] welder’s shield. And these things just fogged up within the first five minutes we had them our on our heads. That was in a practice. So Bower never played an NHL game with it on, and I never played a Junior A game with it.
So I finished Junior without a mask. When I went west to play for Father [David] Bauer, I got one of the Terry Sawchuk-type masks from Lefty Wilson, who was the Detroit trainer at that time. He made the mask for Sawchuk and I had one made. So that really was the first time I wore a mask. We cut our eye-holes big, not even thinking we’d get hit in the eye, and fortunately I didn’t. We never even thought about it.
FIRST TIME PLAYING THE RUSSIANS: It was the fall of 1963, in Victoria, B.C. We beat them 6-2. That was the Friday night game, then Sunday afternoon we played them in Vancouver and they beat us — something like 5-3. [Anatoly] Tarasov was coaching that team. We were accustomed to — if you think of those days, in the early 1960s, watching NHL hockey on a Saturday night, Frank Mahovlich would fly up the wing by himself and let go a big slapshot that would end up going off the glass. Bobby Hull would do the same thing. Where the Russians, if they came up to centre ice by themselves, they’d turn around and go back into their own end, and then all five of them came up together. And that was something we had never seen before.
1968 OLYMPICS: It was funny. Early in the tournament we played Finland. They were always good enough to upset one of Canada, Russia, Sweden, or Czechoslovakia. They were always on the edge. It happened to be us in ’68. They beat us 5-2. So Jack McLeod, who was coaching, put Wayne Stephenson in, we won the next game against East Germany. And then the next game was against the United States. Wayne started the game and someone cut one of his eyes near the end of the first period. We were losing at that point, 2-1, and his eye swelled up, so I had to go in. We ended up winning that game 3-2 — which meant that I didn’t get scored on in the last two periods. We beat the Czechs 3-2. The next game was Sweden and I was able to shut them out 3-0. That was the last time that Canada shut out Sweden at the Olympics until we did it in the 2014 gold medal game in Russia.
We went on from that game, so now we’re playing the Russians. They beat us 5-0, so we ended up third in the standings.
Back then, the media coverage was not what it is today. There was a handful of reporters that came over to the Olympics, like Jim Coleman and Jim Proudfoot, George Gross, so there were only hockey writers covering it. I think it was on the radio, but there was no TV. So when we got home, it was not really a big deal. At that time, the Canadian public said that if the Russians ever played our NHL players, we’d whip their ass. That was kind of the mind-set.
GETTING TO THE NHL: After the 1968 Olympics, I had been owned by the Maple Leafs. They had no reason think that I’d ever play for them. So along with a number of other players on the Olympic team who were Leaf-owned — Wren Blair got us for the Minnesota North Stars. Cesare Maniago was the other goalie that year. My first game in the NHL was in Detroit against Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio and that gang, 1969-70 season. We start the season in New York against the Rangers and we lose, 4-0. That was a Wednesday night. Wren Blair says, ‘Okay, Broderick, you’re playing Friday in Detroit.’ We won the game 3-2. I believe the Red Wings goalie could have been Roy Edwards. And that was the first time the North Stars had won a game against an Original Six team. That was the second year of expansion — the first year, they didn’t one game against the Original Six. Then we’re going to Chicago. Blair says, ‘You’re playing again.’ We beat Chicago 4-1. So my first two starts were against Original Six teams in their buildings. So that was a great start for me. Then the next time I played was a home game against Pittsburgh and we lose 4-1. And then Cesare played I don’t know how many games in a row, and I just lost my edge at that point, being a back-up, not playing on any kind of regular basis.
RITUALS: The only thing I had as a ritual, I wanted Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese for lunch on a game-day. At home — you couldn’t get it on the road. I still eat it today.
SHARING THE NET: Cesare is a great individual. We became good friends. There was never anything of a competitive nature between us. If Wren Blair said, Cesare’s playing, I’d say, ‘That’s fine, no problem.’ And it’s the same in Boston, when I went there. I was behind Gilles Gilbert, and he had a great season in 1973-74, when we got to the Stanley Cup Finals against Philadelphia. Gilbert had a career year that year.
THE WHA: It started off with a lot of guys who were playing in the American League and the Western League who never got a chance in the NHL. But after four or five years, that league really came on, as far as the skill level of the players. By the time the two leagues merged the NHL knew how good the NHL teams were and they literally stripped each WHA team down to one or two players. Had the NHL let the WHA teams come in with the teams that they had, I think all those teams would have made the playoffs, they were that good.
COACHES: Father Bauer was probably my favourite. He was a teacher. Even though the guys were in their early 20s when we went to the Olympics, he was teaching us the game, it wasn’t like when you arrive at an NHL training camp and you’re expected to know how to play the game. Father Bauer always played a teaching role. He ranks right up there with the best. He made sure that the guys who played on the team were going to university, he was just concerned about the whole individual, whereas in the NHL, all they wanted you to do was forget about your education, just be a hockey player. And unfortunately for a lot of guys who thought they’d make the NHL and didn’t make, left high school before the finished, it affected their life after hockey.
PLAYING FOR DON CHERRY: He was good. It was his first year in Boston when I played the one year for him. He was not the Don Cherry you see today on TV. He was very humble. Because we had a dressing room of Bobby Orr, Johnny Bucyk, Phil Esposito, guys who’d won two Stanley Cups, and Don Cherry went in very low-key the first year. Now, the second year — I was there the second year he coached — he really started to show his personality. He was instrumental in getting Esposito traded to the Rangers. He changed the make-up of the Bruins. It was now becoming Don Cherry’s team.
THE BEST PLAYER I EVER FACED: Bobby Orr in practice. He was the best. I had the good fortune to be on his team, so I saw him every practice, and every game that he played while I was there. He was like Gretzky. He could read a play before that play ever happened. He changed the role of the defenceman by carrying the puck up the ice and continuing into the other team’s end where, at that time, the other defencemen would just get up to centre and flip it into the corner, let the forwards do the work. Bobby, he’d be right up there with the forwards.
Defensively, he took a lot of chances, but he was able to back them up. Because he had the puck more than our other defencemen — obviously if you have the puck, you’re going to make more mistakes, but he was always able to recover. He was good at both ends of the rink.
STEPHEN SMITH is the tall author of the popular hockey blog PUCKSTRUCK, which also happens to be the name of his first book (Greystone), longlisted for the 2015 Charles Taylor Prize in non-fiction.
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