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No Keeping Him From His Goal
Jack Falla
October 31, 1983
Four months out of a Massachusetts high school, Tom Barrasso is what he always dreamed about being: an NHL goaltender
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October 31, 1983

No Keeping Him From His Goal

Four months out of a Massachusetts high school, Tom Barrasso is what he always dreamed about being: an NHL goaltender

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Last fall, when his fellow seniors at Massachusetts' Acton-Boxboro High School were ordering class rings, Tom Barrasso took a pass. "Why aren't you going to order a ring?" Barrasso's father, Thomas F., asked him.

"Dad," he replied, "the only ring I want to wear has the Stanley Cup on it."

Young Barrasso has come to be known for such statements, which stamp him as either astonishingly confident or outrageously conceited. Whichever way you take him, consider that four months after his graduation Barrasso was the starting, and winning, goaltender in the Buffalo Sabres' opening game of the NHL season. That's like a pimpled schoolboy stepping into the starting rotation of the Yankees, or a cocky teen-ager bringing up the ball for the Celtics.

In that Buffalo opener on Oct. 5, the 18-year-old, 6'3", 195-pound Barrasso had a 21-save, 5-2 win over Hartford, thereby becoming the youngest goalie to win in the NHL since 17-year-old Harry Lumley won a game for Detroit in 1944. "We knew he was good, but he's maybe even a little bit better than we expected," says Sabres General Manager and Coach Scotty Bowman. Barrasso's 5-2 win over Winnipeg at Buffalo Sunday night brought his record to 4-1 with a 2.6-goals-per-game average.

The idea of an 18-year-old starting NHL goalie may be shocking to most hockey fans, but not to Barrasso. "It's not that big a transition if you're ready, and I think I'm ready," he says. "There was pressure in starting, but there would have been more pressure in waiting and having people wondering, 'Hey, when is the kid going to play?' Better to get in there early."

Barrasso has always followed that philosophy. When he was five, the bigger kids playing street hockey would put him in goal with just a glove and a stick. "He'd come home all black and blue from getting hit with sticks and frozen tennis balls," says his father. Once when Barrasso's mother, Lucy, took Tommy for a routine checkup, the doctor, out of the mother's earshot, asked the boy, "How often do your parents beat you?"

When Barrasso reached the mite division (7- and 8-year-olds), he got his hands on a copy of former Montreal Goaltender Jacques Plante's book Goaltending, a volume, now tattered and dog-eared, that he consults to this day, "just to keep drilling the basics into my mind." By the time he reached high school, Barrasso had finished his fantasizing and started to think seriously about the NHL. "I wasn't a real popular guy at my school," he says. "Some teachers couldn't understand how I could write off schoolwork on game days. I did it because hockey was going to be my career. And like a lot of Boston kids I fantasized about playing for the Bruins."

"Tom was very confident of his ability," says his former high school coach, Tom Fleming, now athletic director at Lake Placid's Northwood School. "But let's face it, he wasn't proved wrong very often. We went 80-4-1 over the four years Tom played goal."

The only achievement that eluded Barrasso's high school teams was the Eastern Massachusetts championship; Acton-Boxboro lost in the finals for four consecutive years to a Catholic powerhouse, Matignon High of Cambridge. Yet when Matignon Coach Marty Pierce led a team of Massachusetts high school all-stars against the Minnesota all-stars last April, he picked Barrasso as his netminder, and Barrasso allowed only four goals in a three-game Massachusetts sweep.

It was Barrasso's puck-handling ability, stand-up style and his size that dazzled Bowman—and convinced him that he should make Barrasso the fifth pick overall in the June draft. In NHL history, no goalie has ever been picked higher than No. 5. Bowman had had pleasant results with a big goalie. It was 6'4" Ken Dryden who backstopped the Bowman-coached Montreal Canadiens to five Stanley Cups in the '70s. And while the lefthanded Barrasso plays more in the style of Tony Esposito, with his glove held low and his pads fanned out like an upside-down Y, his huge frame fills the mouth of the net the way Dryden's did.

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