As told to: Stephen Smith
In the late 1950s, in an age before NHL teams carried regular back-up goaltenders, the Toronto Maple Leafs kept their practice goalie on stand-by in case Ed Chadwick was injured. As directed by the NHL, at home games, the Leafs also kept a second goalie on call for the visiting team. For the 1957-58 season, that job fell to 19-year-old Len Broderick, who tended goal for the Junior-A Toronto Marlboros, and had helped them win a Memorial Cup in 1956. To start the 1957-58 season, he was a spectator for three games at Maple Leaf Gardens leading up to October 30, when Montreal came to town. The powerful Canadiens were in the middle of a run of winning five consecutive Stanley Cups, but that night, with Jacques Plante too ill to dress, Broderick got the call. It was the only NHL game he ever played. Only two pairs of goaltending brothers have made it to the NHL: Len and his younger Ken, who’d later suit up for the Minnesota North Stars and Boston Bruins, along with Dave and Ken Dryden. Today, Len Broderick, who’s 76, lives in Greenville, South Carolina, where he’s CFO of a financial services company.
They used to pay me, I think it was $25 a game, to go and watch the games. We sat in Connie Smythe’s box, so they knew where we were.
My dad had not been to a Leafs game for a number of years and his boss that day had asked him if he wanted to go — he had an extra ticket.
So we went around and picked up his boss. I was supposed to be there at seven for the eight o’clock game. We were a little late — I got there about seven-fifteen. At the gate they were jumping around, and then they saw me and they said, hey, get in here you’re playing, we gotta find your equipment. [Laughs] Jacques Plante had an asthma attack and you’re it.
My dad had no idea until I came out on the ice.
In the visitors’ dressing room, they gave him Plante’s sweater, number 1, to wear.
Maurice Richard came over and sat down and started talking to me, I guess thinking he was settling me down but … He introduced me to some of the players. He just sat and talked while I got dressed.
Well, everything was happening so fast, I didn’t have a lot of time to do a lot of thinking about it. It was get ready and get out there.
I didn’t see Plante — I never saw him. I assume he wasn’t there.
Toe Blake came over to shake hands. He was chasing after Geoffrion because Geoffrion was throwing up — he’d told him not to eat that pasta. He was busy with that.
What kind of goalie were you?
Stand-up. Not like they do it now, butterfly. I had Turk Broda as a coach and he was a stand-up goaltender. He would kneel down behind the net and watch people shooting on me. He taught me. And he usually picked me and drove me to practice, so I got to know him pretty well.
What was it like to skate out in front of an NHL crowd?
It was certainly different. The game where we beat the Junior Canadiens to win the Memorial Cup, we had the largest crowd they ever had in Maple Leaf Gardens. They didn’t play overtime, so we played an eighth game, it was a Wednesday night, I remember it: they were standing four and five deep in the greys. So it didn’t bother me, a big crowd.
I had gone to Leaf camp that year and in shooting practice there, Frank Mahovlich would come down, dipsy-doodling, and he kept putting the puck between my legs — to the point where he and I were both laughing about it. I wasn’t stopping it, and he just kept putting it in.
So fairly early in the game, he got a breakaway. I was determined, I said to myself, he is not putting that things between my legs. So I really kept my legs tight together. He tried it, of course, and as he was circling, he looked back. You could see the surprise on his face that he didn’t have a goal.
That was pretty early in the game.
Once I was in the game, I was in it. I had a shutout with about ten minutes to go. It was a great team I was playing with — probably one of the greatest NHL teams ever. I had Doug Harvey and Tom Johnson in front of me. They blocked a lot of shots. That’s what they did — they were very good.
I knew all the Leafs because I’d been up at training camp with them. I remember, there was a scramble around the net and I can remember Bob Pulford saying, Lenny, what are you doing to us?
Broderick faced 22 shots before the night was over, compared to the 38 that the Leafs’ Chadwick saw at the other end. The Canadiens won the game 6-2. Jim Vipond, in The Globe and Mail, wrote that Montreal “demonstrated the best five-man defense outside of pro football to protect their stand-in goalie.” Broderick had his photo taken after the game, standing between the Richard brothers, Henri and Maurice. Some fuss would follow as the week went on, but at the Gardens, Broderick just packed up his gear, handed over Plante’s sweater. Then he drove home with his dad.
He was pretty pleased with the whole thing.
There was a lot of press and that the next day. It was great. I was at the University of Toronto at the time, in Commerce, and there was a film crew over there, got me out of class.[Canadiens GM] Frank Selke sent me a very nice letter. If a goaltender played, they only had to pay him a hundred dollars. He sent a cheque for $150. He talked about how it wasn’t as easy to go against your own team.
On their way to winning the Stanley Cup the following spring, the Canadiens would get the help of another emergency goaltender, John Aiken, in Boston. As for Len Broderick, he played another year for the Junior-A Marlboros before leaving the nets for good. Did he think of pursuing an NHL career?
They weren’t paying any money. There were no masks. And I just didn’t feel it was worth it. At that time, for a first-year player, it was eight thousand a year. Frank Mahovlich, even, that’s what he got. Staff Smythe called me at home, he wanted me to come to Leaf camp, and I said, how much are you going to pay me? The first year was eight thousand. I was in the chartered accountant course at the time and I just said, I gotta get past this.
I probably had 75 stitches in my face, top of the head, over the years. [Chuckles] Eventually I just thought, why should I get banged around and hammered for eight thousand a year?
No, not much. I’m very happy with my career. I have two or three hockey cards to remember that night. When my brother came through, I guess it was three years later, salaries had gone up quite a bit. That’s when they were starting to go up. And he got to play with the Canadian Olympic team, out of the University of British Columbia. That wasn’t there when I finished.[This interview has been condensed and edited.]
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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