Gump was one of a kind

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Gump Worsley's fine sense of humour saw him through some of the roughest patches a National Hockey League goaltender could endure.

No mask, a fear of flying, a shooting gallery playing behind the New York Rangers, a pressure-cooker in his hometown of Montreal, a pinched nerve in his spine and two career threatening injuries involving Bobby Hull would have driven most men from the nets at an early age. But Worsley stayed 21 seasons, watching the league grow from six to 16 teams by the time he retired.

Worsley, (christened Lorne, but nicknamed for his childhood resemblance to pudgy comic strip character Andy Gump), died at age 77 on Saturday night after suffering a heart attack in his suburban Montreal home a week ago.

He was in goal for the Canadiens the night the Leafs won their most recent Stanley Cup and the news of his passing spread through the press box at the Air Canada Centre during the 750th meeting of the Leafs and Habs.

"He and Johnny Bower had both played for the Rangers, so it was fun to see them go at it in the Toronto-Montreal series," said Red Kelly, who assisted on the winner by Ron Ellis to clinch the '67 Cup. But Worsley would go on to win two more Cups with Montreal, four in total.

Asked early in his career which team gave him the most trouble, the replied: "The Rangers", a poke at his club, a league laughing-stock in the 1950s and early '60s'. When he ran a Montreal restaurant, he created a chicken salad dish and dubbed it 'The Ranger Special'.

He was suspicious of anything new -- expansion, TV lights and a mask, which he discarded almost immediately upon being offered one. He had taken a Hull drive off the temple, waking up in hospital with the Golden Jet standing over him, worried he'd killed the 5-foot-7 pot-bellied stove. Hull also once severed two tendons in Worsley's catching hand with his skate blade.

"Gumper was tough and played tough against us, especially when the big game was on the line," Kelly said.

End of the Blues' blues?

The St. Louis Blues, who have a home date with the Leafs in a week, have improved from Central Division doormats to pondering a deadline deal for a playoff spot.

President John Davidson met owner Dave Checketts at the all-star break to discuss upcoming unrestricted free agents Keith Tkachuk, Bill Guerin, Radek Dvorak, Jamal Mayers, Vladimir Orszagh, Eric Brewer, Jamie Rivers and Manny Legace.

"If they want to stay, then we can talk some business," Davidson said. "But if they don't, that's another issue. When it gets closer to the (Feb. 27 trade deadline), we'll figure out which avenue we're going to go."

The Blues are 13-3-2 in their past 18 games.

"If we make a decision to do anything, it's going to be for the right reason for the future of the Blues," Davidson said.

"It isn't just from now through to the end of this season. If we think that we can, we're going to try and win it (a Cup)."

Whiff of scandal

Since most everyone was having a good time at the allstar game, hometown Dallas goalie Marty Turco didn't think it a sin to whiff on a Sheldon Souray shot in the final minute.

That made him the netminder of record in the West's win, a ploy Turco shared with viewers while miked up on the Versus TV network and confirmed later in the room.

" I let that last goal in because I wanted to get the win," Turco said, adding on a serious note that "if it hit me, it was going to hurt because (Souray) shoots it about 100 m.p.h."

Seeing is believing

On the cusp of Black History Month, the only known video of Willie O'Ree's first NHL game from 49 years ago has been found by diligent Toronto film archivist Paul Patskou.

In going through CBC news footage back from Jan. 18, 1958, Patskou uncovered an item about the Prime Minister of Laos, Prince Souvanna Phouma, watching a Canadiens game while on a state visit to Canada. That was the night the Fredericton-born O'Ree was called up by the Boston Bruins, 10 years after Jackie Robinson had broke the colour barrier in baseball.

Patskou's discovery was incorporated into the T V series Hockey, A People's History. O'Ree played just 45 NHL games, but had a pro career spanning 25 years.

The week ahead Ken Dryden's No. 29 will be retired tonight before the Habs-Senators game in Montreal ... Paul Maurice turns 40 tomorrow (welcome to the club), while ex-Leafs coach Pat Quinn is 64 today.


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