Like a party begun with a practical joke, the 1962-63 National League hockey season got off to a boffo start as the forever cellar-dwelling Boston Bruins pulled the chair out from under the lofty Montreal Canadiens with a 5-0 shutout in their very first game. As soon as the astonished laughter subsided, however, order began to reassert itself Skating as smoothly as ever during the next two weeks, and with virtually no change in their last year's lineup (save for the absence through illness of their prizewinning goalie, Jacques Plante), the Canadiens climbed slowly but surely toward the first-place position in which they are expected to finish the season. With their own rosters pretty much intact, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks both seemed in shape to repeat their last year's close scramble for second place. The continuing surprise of the new season was Detroit. With seven new men on the ice, the Red Wings were skating along at the top of the league, although few gave them much chance to stay up there. With their only real strength still concentrated in ageless Gordie Howe, now formally installed as assistant coach, the Red Wings are once again picked by the experts to share the bottom floors with the New York Rangers and the Bruins, who are confidently predicted to end up, as usual, in last place. If Boston thus has little to look forward to, it can at least take pride in its possession of the most interesting rookie in the league: a Canadien-killing goaltender, as relentlessly cheerful in defeat as he was in the fleeting moments of victory.
Some individuals are thwarted more by the peculiar circumstances of their era than by a lack of talent or industry; consider the luckless playwrights who labored in Shakespeare's shadow. Such a victim of time is Bob Perreault (below), the beleaguered but irrepressible new goaltender of the inept Boston Bruins and formerly, under the nom de boxe of Kid Flamingo, a reluctant and belabored prizefighter. "My trunks were yellow," he says. "They match my heart."
At 31, Perreault is the oldest rookie in the National Hockey League. He is, however, the second youngest goaltender. It is Perreault's misfortune to be roughly contemporary with a formidable company of goalkeepers: Chicago's Glenn Hall, also 31; Terry Sawchuk of Detroit, 32; Montreal's Jacques Plante and New York's Gump Worsley, both 33. Toronto's Johnny Bower admits to 38 but seems only now to be entering his prime.
Perreault has played major league hockey before: six games with Montreal in 1955-56 and three games with Detroit in 1958-59, achieving a shutout on each occasion. "Plante and Sawchuk!" says Boston Captain Don McKenney, awestruck. "He had to take their jobs away. The poor guy never had an opportunity."
The only team in the NHL that has lacked a distinguished goalie over the past decade has been Boston. It has also lacked a distinguished defense and, not to be slighting, a distinguished offense. These deficiencies do not tend to improve a goaltender's lot, which is a desperate, hazardous and intolerable one under the best of circumstances.
Lynn Patrick, the Bruins' general manager and brother of New York's Muzz, concedes he should have given Perreault a trial when the goalie first came to his notice seven years ago, but Patrick was put off by a notably comic build. Perreault is 5 feet 7, weighs 184 pounds and is shaped rather like Mr. Magoo.
"They call me chubby in Cleveland and portly in Buffalo," says Perreault, cheerfully, indicating two of the cities he has played in during his 11 winters in the minors, "but in Hershey they call me le chat—quick hands." Perreault's major assets are, indeed, his remarkably fast hands, but the word around the NHL is that he is a "good goalie from the waist down," meaning he has trouble blocking shoulder-high shots.
"All you have to do to play goal," he says, "is be fast and close your eyes. I don't know how I shut out Montreal the first game of the season; I have my eyes shut tight all the time. Follow the puck, that's how you play goal. Soon as it's hit you make the move. You make the good move, it's stop. You make the bad move, it's in, eh? In Providence, two years I sit on the bench, taking it nice and easy. I look good on the bench. I put on a few pounds. It's good for a goalie to be fat. The puck don't hurt so much."
"Bobby's a roly-poly guy," says Patrick. "He doesn't look like a goaltender. He just looks like he's lucky."
Perreault doesn't act like a goalie, either. "Most of them are kind of nutty, stay by themselves," says Patrick. "But Bobby's the most popular guy on the team. After he shut out Montreal he went around the dressing room, with his belly sucked in, and shook everyone's hand and he was the hero. On a bus ride to Ottawa after an exhibition game he rebroadcast the Patterson-Liston fight for the boys in French. 'Rive droite, rive droite, le nez, la tête...fini. On the sole of Patterson's shoe it say: Eat at Joe's Diner. Patterson was going to fight him on inside but Liston hit him on outside.' "