Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Frank Brimsek
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One on One with Frank Brimsek

24 APRIL 2012
Throughout his NHL playing career Frank Brimsek registered 40 shutouts and won a total of 252 regular season games.
Throughout his NHL playing career Frank Brimsek registered 40 shutouts and won a total of 252 regular season games. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
Prior to NHL expansion in 1967, it was a rare occurrence to have an American playing in hockey's premier league, but defying the odds, Frank Brimsek debuted during the 1938-39 season and played ten Hall of Fame seasons, starting with Boston and concluding with Chicago.

Francis Charles Brimsek was born in Eveleth, Minnesota on September 26, 1915. Located just west of Lake Superior, the extended winters made the small town of Eveleth a hockey hotbed, fostering the careers not only of Frank Brimsek at that time, but also of John Mariucci, Sam LoPresti and Mike Karakas. In fact, Brimsek and Karakas played on the same high school baseball team, with Frank pitching and Mike catching. Today, Eveleth is home to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

The covered Eveleth rink with its natural ice became a home away from home for Brimsek. He starred in goal for his high school hockey team and then replaced his friend Mike Karakas playing goal for St. Cloud Teacher's College.

Invited to the Detroit Red Wings training camp, in the fall of 1934, Frank disliked Jack Adams, the team's coach and general manager, who he felt had a habit of favouritism, so returned home and was the netminder with the Eveleth Rangers of the United States Amateur Hockey Association in 1934-35. That same season, he joined the Pittsburgh Yellowjackets of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League.

In his second season with the Yellowjackets, Brimsek shone, taking his team to a second-place finish, leading the league with 20 wins, 8 shutouts and was named to the league's Second All-Star Team. Frank also earned the George L. Davis Trophy for having the best goals-against average (1.95).

>In September of 1949 the Boston Bruins sold Frank Brimsek to the Chicago Black Hawks.
In September of 1949 the Boston Bruins
sold Frank Brimsek to the Chicago Black Hawks.
The Yellowjackets finished third in 1936-37, and Brimsek was drawing attention from NHL clubs. He was signed as a free agent by the Boston Bruins in October 1937, but already situated well in goal with 'Tiny' Thompson, Boston assigned Brimsek to the Providence Reds of the International American Hockey League (later, the league evolved into the American Hockey League). The Reds finished first in the Eastern Division and went on to defeat the Syracuse Stars to claim the Calder Cup as league champions. Frank was named to the First All-Star Team.

Brimsek began the 1938-39 season in Providence, but when Bruins' netminder 'Tiny' Thompson suffered an eye injury, Frank was summoned from the IAHL. He was simply sensational, earning the moniker 'Mr. Zero' after recording six shutouts in his first eight games. That blessing posed a dilemma for Bruins' GM, Art Ross. Tiny Thompson was wonderfully popular in Boston, and was coming off a season where he won the Vezina Trophy for giving the lowest goals-against average in the NHL, and was also the league's First Team All-Star in goal, but Ross now had a younger goaltender who proved he was ready for NHL action.

Ross gambled, and fortunately for the Bruins, he won. He traded Thompson to the Detroit Red Wings for the rights to goaltender Normie Smith and $15,000, in effect, handing the reins to Brimsek. Frank didn't disappoint. He led the Bruins to a first-place finish with a record of 33 wins, 9 losses and one tie in 43 regular season games. He collected 10 shutouts for the Bruins, was awarded the Vezina Trophy for his 1.56 goals-against average and was a huge reason why the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in the spring of 1939. Brimsek was awarded the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and was named to the NHL's First All-Star Team.

Mr. Zero was only slightly less spectacular in 1939-40. He backstopped the Bruins to a first-place finish, winning 31, losing just 12 and tying 5 through the regular season, but the upstart New York Rangers upset Boston's quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, toppling the Bruins in the semi-finals. Frank was named to the Second All-Star Team that spring.

From December 21, 1940 to February 25, 1941, the Boston Bruins went 23 games without a loss. Boston again finished first, backstopped by the sparkling netminding of Frank Brimsek, who would be named to the Second All-Star Team for his performance. The Bruins reached the Stanley Cup final, and swept the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons.

Frank Brimsek and Woody Dumart of the Boston Bruins sharing a laugh.
Frank Brimsek and Woody Dumart of the Boston Bruins sharing a laugh. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed, escalating the Second World War and now involving the United States. Several members of the Bruins enlisted, including Frank Brimsek, although he wasn't called to serve until 1942-43. Many believe that 1941-42 may have been Mr. Zero's finest hour. With the Bruins' line-up decimated by the war effort, including the entire 'Kraut Line' of scoring stars Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart and Milt Schmidt, Boston was expected to have a dismal season. Instead, Brimsek almost single-handedly guided the Bruins to a playoff berth with the best goals-against average in the NHL that season. The team finished third but lost to the Red Wings in the semi-final. Frank was selected for the NHL's First All-Star Team.

In 1942-43, with the war raging, the Bruins finished in second-place, and went to the Stanley Cup final once again, but this time, were vanquished by their nemeses in Detroit, who swept Boston.

As hostilities in Europe increased, Frank joined the United States Coast Guard in 1943. He tended goal in 1943-44 for the Coast Guard Cutters, a team based in Curtis Bay, Maryland that had played in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, but that season, played a full schedule of exhibition contests. The Cutters were comprised of some of the best minor league professionals and amateurs in the United States at that time. The Cutters won the National Senior Open Championship of the United States Amateur Hockey Association, but were disbanded in 1944. Frank was then sent to serve on a supply ship in the Pacific, staying there until the Armistice in 1945.

After a two-year hiatus from NHL activity, Brimsek returned to the Bruins in 1945-46, and the team finished second and again went to the final. This time, though, the Montreal Canadiens defeated Boston in five games to win the Stanley Cup. Once again, Brimsek was named to the Second All-Star Team. "When I got out of the war, I knew I wasn't going to play long because I didn't have the same feeling for the game," he admitted.

In his first season with the Boston Bruins, Frank Brimsek had a total of 33 wins and led the league with 10 shutouts.
In his first season with the Boston Bruins, Frank Brimsek had a total of 33 wins and led the league with 10 shutouts.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/Hockey Hall of Fame)
A third-place finish for Boston in 1946-47 and in 1947-48 was followed by a second-place conclusion in 1948-49, but none resulted in championships for the Bruins. But tragedy had struck the Brimsek family in January of 1949. Frank's 10-month-old son died. Struggling personally, he was occasionally booed by the Bruins' fans. With those factors weighing on his mind, as well as the resignation of coach Dit Clapper, Frank's longtime teammate, he asked for a trade to Chicago so he could be closer to his Minnesota home. The Bruins agreed, and sold Brimsek to the Black Hawks in September 1949. "I had spoken to Art Ross in 1947," Frank said. "I told him I would like to leave Boston in 1949 to go to Chicago. My brother was starting a business there and I thought I might help him open a few doors. Art Ross agreed, but when it got to '49, he didn't like the idea anymore. I told him, 'If that's the way you feel, I'll quit hockey altogether.'" He played one season with Chicago, the only one not to conclude in a playoff berth, and then retired from hockey to work on the railroad.

Frank Brimsek's astonishing career concluded having played 514 regular season games, winning 252, losing 182 and tying another 80, and finishing with a career goals-against average of 2.70. He collected 40 shutouts through his 10-season NHL career. He added 32 wins, two by shutout and 36 losses in 68 playoff games, finishing with a post-season goals-against average of 2.54.

In a 10-season NHL career interrupted by World War II, Frank was part of two Stanley Cup championships, was a First Team All-Star twice and a Second Team All-Star on six other occasions and he won the Vezina for best goals-against average twice.

Frank Brimsek died in Virginia, Minnesota on November 11, 1998 at the age of 83.

A stand-up goaltender with a lightning-quick catching hand, Frank Brimsek proved to be one of the finest goaltenders ever to play the game, and earned immortality as one of the inaugural inductees into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1973, and induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.