It was the worst of games in the worst of years, but looking back on that ghastly evening in 1944, the chief victim can chuckle about it now. Ken McAuley, 51 years old and living in Edmonton, Alberta, takes a philosophic view. His loss was everybody else's gain. "I ask people when they remind me of that night, 'Where would the Detroit Red Wings have been without me? I gave them the confidence to become big stars.' "
He certainly did. After a couple of hours of hapless struggle, the young goalie for the wartime New York Rangers made hockey history and led an otherwise undistinguished Red Wing team into the NHL record book in eight different categories: four of the records still stand. What McAuley recalls most vividly about his fiasco was the condition of the ice. "They never had to clear off the other end," he says. "It wasn't even marked."
As with most professional sports, the war cut deeply into the rosters of the National Hockey League. By the 1943-44 season the teams were well populated with aging ex-retirees, 4-F rejects or amateurs pressed hastily into professional uniforms to fill the gaps. The situation caused strange turns—making Herbie Cain of the Boston Bruins the league scoring leader with 82 points, for example, when his best previous year had produced a meager 36. It led to such unusual contests as the game in which the Bruins scored two goals in the first 37 seconds against the Rangers. And then there was the night of Jan. 23, 1944.
The Rangers arrived in Detroit with one of the wretched records in hockey history. (By the end of that season they would win only six games, tie another five and lose 39; the team's total of 17 points for the 1943-44 season would be a couple of weeks' work for the modern-day Rangers.) The squad showed up with only 12 players for the Sunday night game. Against them the Red Wings had a decent team, by wartime standards. Mud Bruneteau, Syd Howe and Carl Liscombe were still around from prewar days, and Flash Hollett, the masterful defenseman, had been brought from Boston. Bill Quackenbush and Don Grosso, whom everyone called "The Count," were still effective players. It looked to be a fairly easy night for the Detroiters.
The Rangers at least got started on a hopeful note. Bryan Hextall, one of the pros still adorning the roster, took a pass from Kilby Macdonald in the opening moments, got a breakaway and lined a shot at Connie Dion, the Red Wing goaltender. The puck seemed to enter the net, but the scoring light did not go on. The Rangers argued, but Referee Norm Lamport supported the ruling of no goal and the game continued.
In a couple of minutes McAuley's ordeal began. Murray Armstrong of the Red Wings flipped a Hal Jackson rebound into the Rangers' net. Then Red Wing Defenseman Cully Simon was penalized for two minutes, and even with a Detroit man in the box, the Rangers never got their sticks on the puck as Howe, Bruneteau, Quackenbush and Hollett worked it around expertly. By the time the penalty period was over, the fans were on their feet in a standing ovation. To cap it off, Hollett fed Quackenbush a clear shot past McAuley from 10 feet out and the score stood 2-0.
In the next 40 minutes the Red Wings poured 58 shots at McAuley. They scored two times in the first period, five times in the second and eight times in the third—15 goals in all. Every player except Simon—and the goalie—either scored a goal or got an assist. Howe ran in three goals, making him the greatest scorer in Detroit history—149 over a 10-year career. Not until another Howe, name of Gordie, came along did the record fall.
It was the worst of a series of bad evenings for McAuley that year. During the 1943-44 season he gave up 310 goals, an average of 6.20 goals per game. In the 15-0 Red Wing debacle he allowed two goals each to Armstrong, Grosso and Liscombe, while Jackson, Bruneteau, Hollett, Quackenbush, Ken Kilrea and Adam Brown got one apiece. The Red Wings took advantage of two penalties called on Defenseman Bob Dill of the Rangers to score four times in a span of only six minutes in the second period. It was the worst shellacking any team, let alone any goalie, ever has taken in the NHL.
The Red Wings, for their part, made the record books with such marks as Most Consecutive Goals, One Team, One Game (15), Most Points, One Team, One Game (37), Most Goals, One Team, One Period (8) and Most Points, One Team, One Period (22).
And it might have been worse: the contest almost wound up 16-0. As the green light flashed to end the slaughter, Liscombe skated in with still another score. By that stage of the game the Red Wings were larking, trying to feed the puck to any player they felt needed another goal to his credit. At the end of the game someone took out the scoring light and gave it to McAuley.