Rookie made ultimate sacrifice

MARK BONOKOSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

The handwritten letter, dated on this day exactly 60 years ago -- the eve of Remembrance Day -- carries the signature of NHL Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk, the legendary goaltender whose 103 career shutouts will soon be broken by New Jersey's Marty Brodeur.

Brodeur takes another shot at tying Sawchuk's record achievement tomorrow night against the Anaheim Ducks.

Once successful, however, it will have been a long time coming, as the perceived unachievable usually is.

Sawchuk, fraught with untreated depression, died at the age of 40 almost 39 years ago from a blood clot and a lacerated liver days after an alcohol-fueled dustup in the New York Rangers' locker room with teammate Ron Stewart.

But, when he put pen to paper on that Remembrance Day eve back in 1949, Terry Sawchuk was a 20-year-old kid from Winnipeg who was on top of the world.

He had just won the rookie of the year award in the American Hockey League.

And he was writing to a mother in Toronto, who then lived at 37 Wilfrid Ave., to thank her for the cufflinks she had sent him ... and for the honour of winning the trophy that was named in memory of her son, Dudley "Red" Garrett.

TRADED TO RANGERS

Red Garrett, pictured here in his Toronto Maple Leafs uniform, never actually played a game for the Blue-and-White, finding himself traded during the training camp of his rookie season to the New York Rangers, where he played 23 games in the NHL during the 1942-43 season, and another six games for the Providence Reds in the AHL.

Then a war got in the way.

Red Garrett was 20 when he died, the same age as Terry Sawchuk when he won the trophy bearing his name.

Garrett had joined the navy, and found himself aboard HMCS Shawinigan when, on Nov. 24, 1944, while plying the waters between Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island, a German U-boat let loose a torpedo that sent the escort ship to the bottom of the ocean within four minutes.

All 91 members of her crew perished, and only five bodies were ever recovered -- one of them being that of Dudley "Red" Garrett, who's buried in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Terry Sawchuk, then playing for the AHL's Indianapolis Capitals, was the second recipient of the Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Award, the first being Bob Solinger of the Cleveland Barons, a kid out of Star City, Sask., who played 99 games in the NHL, and made his debut with the Leafs.

During all the years since, only one Maple Leaf farmhand ever won the AHL's top rookie award, and that was netminder Felix Potvin back in 1991-92 when he played between the pipes for the St. John's Maple Leafs.

All this comes courtesy of 73-year-old Colin Jose, a sport historian now living in London, Ont., who stumbled upon the Red Garrett story while researching the history of the 1888 Canadian national soccer team that travelled by steamer to Britain, and shocked the establishment there by actually playing to a draw.

On that storied team -- and there were reams and reams of copy printed in the Toronto newspapers touting its accomplishment -- was goaltender Alexander Noble Garrett (1865-1941), father of Dudley Mark Garrett (1895-1967), a superb athlete in his own right who played for a time on the Toronto Argonauts, and grandfather of Dudley "Red" Garrett, a name on a trophy won last year by Nathan Gerbe of the AHL's Portland Pirates.

Colin Jose, author of 20 books on soccer, and anxious to find out more information on the Garretts, managed to track down Alison Good -- sister and only living relative of Red Garrett, now 83 and living in Nanaimo, B.C. -- and, the next thing he knew, a huge box of memorabilia and scrapbooks were being couriered to his door.

"It was absolutely amazing," Jose says. "There was a wealth of information in that box.

Like old newspaper clippings touting the Garretts' collective athleticism, photographs and letters ...

Like the letter from 20-year-old Terry Sawchuk, for example, dated Nov. 10, 1949, which reads as follows:

"Dear Mrs. Garrett:

"Our team has been on the road considerably since Oct. 27 so I haven't had the opportunity to write you until today.

"However, it has been in my mind every day to write to tell you, it was one of the proudest moments of my life to receive the Dudley "Red" Garrett Memorial Trophy and especially your personal gift of the beautiful cufflinks presented to me for you by (AHL president) Mr. (Maurice) Podoloff. That made the evening complete.

'THANK YOU'

"There aren't words to tell you how I feel, but I can only say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Hockey means just about everything to me, so I feel very humble and grateful for the public honour given me the night of the award.

"I've had many compliments on the cufflinks and I'm wearing them with much enjoyment.

"Again, thank you for the remembrance and your kindness.

"Respectfully yours,

"Terry Sawchuk

"Indianapolis Hockey Club."

The envelope was postmarked as being mailed out of Indianapolis at 6:30 p.m., on Nov. 10, 1949, 60 years ago today.

It carried a three-cent Thomas Jefferson stamp.

MARK.BONOKOSKI@SUNMEDIA.CA OR 416-947-2445


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