Harry Lumley

When people talk about the greatest goalie of all time, names like Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek are mentioned without fail. But almost no one mentions Hockey Hall of Famer - and one of the all time greatest Toronto Maple Leaf goalies - Harry Lumley.

Harry Lumley was a standout big league goalie for 16 years in the National Hockey League, many of which were with weaker teams. His achievements are numerous: winning the Vezina Trophy in 1953-54, being elected to the NHL's first All-Star team in 1953-54 and 1954-55, and backstopping a Stanley Cup champion in 1950. His career goals-against-average 2.76 in regular season action and 2.51 in playoffs ranks with the best of any era. His amazing 71 shutouts places him solidly in the top 10 all time shutout leaders, as do his 330 career victories. Although he may be just as well remembered for his days with the Detroit Red Wings when he foiled the Leafs, Lumley enjoyed his best seasons in his Hall of Fame career in a Maple Leafs jersey.
Known as "Apple Cheeks" for his rosy complexion, Owen Sound, Ontario's favourite son seemed destined to be a hockey legend. He was able to achieve his destiny despite being thrust into National Hockey League pressure prematurely. Due to World War II, NHL teams scrambled to replace proven talent. As a result Lumley debuted as a 17-year-old rookie in the National Hockey League back in 1943-44 when he played two less-than-impressive games with the Detroit Red Wings, giving up 13 goals. He also filled in for one game against his Red Wings teammates in a game against the New York Rangers. Rangers starting goalie Ken McAuley was felled by an injury and could not finish the final 20 minutes of the game. Without a back up, the Wings agreed to loan their young goalie for the rest of the game. Lumley stepped out of his seat in the audience and on to the ice.

Lumley began the 1944-45 season in the minors, but after 21 games he was recalled to Detroit. He quickly wrestled away the starting goalies' job from incumbent Connie Dion. He finished the year with a 24-10-3 record. In the playoffs he backstopped Detroit to within a single victory of the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings and Maple Leafs battled in a spectacular 7 game series to decide the championship, with the Leafs scoring the decisive goal against Lumley to end his spectacular season.

Although many World War II fill-ins seemingly disappeared after the return of NHL stars from military duty, Lumley was one who would not only remain in the NHL, but would go on to accomplish great feats. The 5 years following World War II turned out to be one of the most competitive eras in NHL history. The Leafs dominated in terms of Stanley Cup championships, but Lumley's Red Wings were always right there with them. While Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel and "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe got most of the credit, they would have gone nowhere without the steady puck stopping of Lumley. Twice he'd lead the league in wins and once in shutouts and once in goals against average in that great era.

Lumley and the Wings always had trouble against the Leafs in the playoffs, however. The two teams had one of the game's most memorable rivalries in those days, but the Leafs were usually more successful, capturing 4 Stanley Cups in 5 years from 1946 through 1951. Their championship dynasty was only interrupted in 1950 by Lumley and the Wings. Lumley was sensational in back to back 7 game series against the Leafs and the Rangers en route to his only Stanley Cup championship. He posted a miniscule goals-against-average of 1.86 and a league leading 3 shutouts. To make the championship even more impressive, the Red Wings had to wage these playoff wars without superstar Howe, who was nearly killed in the Leafs series. While there was no playoff MVP award back then, Lumley would have been deserving winner.

Lumley appeared to be on top of the hockey world at that point, but that would quickly change. The Red Wings had been grooming a young netminder named Terry Sawchuk, and manager Jack Adams felt it was time for their star protégé to become the number one guy. Despite leading his team to the Stanley Cup, Lumley was moved to Chicago to make room for Sawchuk.

Given what Sawchuk and Wings would accomplish in the following few years would suggest Adams was a genius for making such a bold move. Meanwhile Lumley toiled with the worst team in the NHL. For two seasons Lumley tried valiantly with a destitute Black Hawks team that only provided him with enough help for 29 wins in 134 games.

By 1952, the Toronto Maple Leafs great post-war dynasty was over and they were looking to rebuild. One man they never forgot was Lumley. All of those great battles between the Leafs and Wings earned Lumley a great deal of respect among the powers-that-be in Toronto. The Leafs traded away an impressive package of Al Rollins, Gus Mortson, Cal Gardner and Ray Hannigan to land their former nemesis.

The Leafs weren't as bad as the Black Hawks, but they were a shadow of the team that Lumley used to upstage. Lumley instantly made them respectable, and in the process he posted some of the most amazing seasons any goalie has ever enjoyed in hockey history. Lumley would term his playing days with the Leafs as "my best playing days."

Lumley debuted with the Leafs in 1952-53. He posted a 27-30-13 record with a league leading 10 shutouts to return the Leafs to respectability.

The following season Lumley erupted with a 32-24-13 season with a league leading 1.86 goals against average which would land him his only Vezina Trophy. He also posted a modern record with 13 shutouts in one season (bettered by the Black Hawks' Tony Esposito in 1969-70) and was an easy choice as first team All Star. Lumley returned the Leafs to playoffs that year, but they would be ousted in just 5 games.

Lumley had an interesting season in 1954-55. He kept his team in most games, as suggested by his unusual record of 23 wins, 24 losses and 22, yes, 22 ties - which still stands as an NHL record. His 8 shutouts and 1.94 goals against average earned him a second consecutive first all star team nomination. More importantly, Lumley advanced an otherwise average Leafs team into the playoffs, only to be bumped early once again.

Lumley returned to mortal status in 1955-56 when he posted just 3 shutouts and a 2.70 goals against average. But his 21 wins in 59 games was enough to again qualify the Leafs for the playoffs, only to be knocked out early yet again.

As valiantly as Lumley played in Toronto, history has sort of forgotten about his fine 4 years for the Leafs. The team wasn't all that good, particularly in comparison to the dynasty years directly prior to and just a few short years following Lumley's days.

During the summer of 1956, Lumley was sold back to Chicago. However Lumley refused to return the lowly Black Hawks and the Windy City. Instead he ended up playing most of the next three seasons in the American Hockey League, first with the Buffalo Bisons and then with the Providence Reds. He played instead with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League for most of the next two seasons.

Lumley did return to the NHL with the Boston Bruins. He played irregularly in parts of three season from 1957 through 1960 with the Bruins, as he rotated his goalie duties with Don Simmons - one of earliest goalie tandems in the NHL. He would play one final season in 1960-61 with the minor league Winnipeg Warriors of the old professional Western Hockey League.

Harry, who interestingly tended goal for 5 of the "Original Six" teams was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980. In his post playing days he returned to Owen Sound where he had worked with an automobile dealership and also owned part of the local harness racing track. He developed a keen interest in the track and the sport. All the while he continued to play "old timer's" hockey games until 1977.

Unfortunately he passed away in his native Owen Sound, Ontario in 1998 after suffering a heart attack.


mike wyman,  6:40 PM  

Another great read. Love the 22 ties in a season. Even without the shootout I figure it'd be safe for all time

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