Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Turk Broda
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One on One with Turk Broda

23 APRIL 2010
Broda’s weight problem was the subject of much publicity. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
Walter Broda was born in Brandon, Manitoba on May 15, 1914. He earned the nickname by which he came to be universally known because of a grade school history lesson. The teacher anecdotally mentioned that an English king had been called 'Turkey Egg' behind his back because of the large freckles that dotted his round face. A classmate pointed to Broda and exclaimed, "Look at Walter. He looks like a turkey egg, too!" The class guffawed and soon, the young Broda was tagged with 'Turkey Egg,' which over time was shortened to 'Turkey' and finally evolved into 'Turk.'

The principal of Broda's school was a hockey fan, and when Turk told him he'd like to play goal, the administrator would join Broda in the school's basement and fire pucks from all angles at the young goaltender.

Broda excelled and by 1932-33, was playing junior for the Brandon Native Sons in the western Canadian final that led to the Memorial Cup. While Brandon would lose to the Regina Pats, Broda starred and soon, scouts began watching his play.

Broda started over 200 straight games for the Maple Leafs. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
In 1933-34, Turk played goal for the Winnipeg Monarchs, and Detroit Red Wings' scout, Gene Houghton, convinced the Wings' management to put him on the team's negotiation list.

While Detroit was blessed with great depth in goal (John Ross Roach was with the NHL club, Normie Smith was picked up from the NHL's St. Louis franchise as an understudy and to play with the Detroit Olympics of the International Hockey League, and Earl Robertson was loaned to the Windsor Bulldogs of that same IHL), Detroit signed Broda to a C-Form contract.

Broda served as the Wings' practice netminder (or 'target,' as the shooters referred to practice goalies) while playing with the Olympics. He drew widespread acclaim during an exhibition series in 1935-36 when his Olympics were pitted against the parent Red Wings in a three-game series labelled the City Series. Broda stood on his head, and the Olympics tied one and won the other two games. The Olympic went on to win the Turner Cup that season as champions of the IHL.

Broda was a five-time Stanley Cup Champion in Toronto. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
On April 7, 1936, Turk Broda was a spectator at the Detroit Olympia as the hometown Red Wings were facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Two of that spring's Stanley Cup final. Broda, playing for the Detroit Olympics of the International Hockey League, often watched the Red Wings play. The Wings trounced Toronto 9-4 that night, giving them a two-game lead on their path to the Stanley Cup. That night, Leafs' president realized that he would soon need a replacement for 40-year-old George Hainsworth, and began thinking about the goaltender he'd need for the 1936-37 campaign. His first inclination was Earl Robertson, owned by the Red Wings but loaned to the Windsor Bulldogs of the IHL. Smythe planned to stay in Detroit an extra night so he could watch Robertson and the Bulldogs take on the Detroit Olympics, also at The Olympia.

That night, April 7, the Olympics, with Broda in net, dumped Robertson and Windsor, 8-1. But more importantly, Conn Smythe saw the future, and it was Turk Broda.

Smythe purchased Broda from Detroit for the exorbitant price of $7,500 (some state $8,000). The hockey world was stunned. Many pundits thought that the Red Wings had cheated Toronto, but Smythe was confident. "Broda could tend goal in a tornado and never blink an eye," he said. "And you can blame any carelessness on youth. He'll outgrow that in a hurry."

1948 NHL First All-Star Team (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
The Stanley Cup champion Maple Leafs of 1932 were rapidly departing by 1936-37. The evolution of the squad included the departures of Ace Bailey, Lorne Chabot, 'Baldy' Cotton, Bob Gracie, Alex Levinsky and Joe Primeau. The best years of their careers had passed Charlie Conacher and 'Busher' Jackson. New to the squad in 1936-37 were Broda, Syl Apps and Gord Drillon. "The other teams will have to worry about us this year," claimed Conn Smythe.

It wasn't quite the case. The Maple Leafs finished third of four teams in the NHL's Canadian division, behind both the Montreal Canadiens and Maroons. But by 1937-38, the Leafs dominated the division, finishing well ahead of the pack in first place.

With the Montreal Maroons folding, the National Hockey League combined the seven remaining franchises into a single division in 1938-39, and Toronto finished third both that season and the next.

Turk Broda makes a kick save. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
Turk Broda's outgoing personality made him a favourite with his teammates, and terrific fodder for journalists. "The Leafs pay me for my work in practices and I throw games in for free," he quipped. But while Turk was often spectacular, he had a tendency to surrender the odd weak goal, and fans at Maple Leaf Gardens would taunt their goalie. But the boos moved from Broda to forward Gordie Drillon, who drew the ire of the Leaf faithful in spite of the fact he was an All-Star. With the pressure removed, Broda sparkled, and regained his confidence.

By 1940-41, the last of the Leaf Stanley Cup champions was gone with the retirement of Red Horner. The Leafs finished second to the Boston Bruins, the eventual Stanley Cup claimants. In a tightly contested race, Turk Broda edged Johnny Mowers of Detroit and Frank Brimsek of the Black Hawks to claim the Vezina Trophy. His 99 goals-against through the NHL season was three better than his cage competitors. Turk was also named to the NHL's First All-Star Team.

The Second World War took its toll on the NHL. By 1941-42, the league had downsized to six teams, and with Conn Smythe asking his chattel to enlist voluntarily, the Maple Leafs' lineup was staggered by the loss of key personnel. Nonetheless, the Leafs finished second and outlasted the competition to reach the Stanley Cup final. That spring, in one of the greatest comebacks in sport history, Toronto rebounded from a three games to none deficit against Detroit in the Stanley Cup final to win the next four games and lay claim to Lord Stanley's Cup. Broda, who enjoyed a spectacular season, was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team.

Turk Broda clears the puck away from an approaching Montreal Canadien. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
Turk joined the army in 1943 and went off to do his military duty, which primarily consisted of playing hockey in England. When he returned to Canada, he rejoined the Leafs partway through the 1945-46 season. That team was substantially different than the one he left, with new blood in the form of youngsters Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Thomson, Gus Bodnar, Bill Ezinicki and Gaye Stewart. Yet, just a year from having captured the Stanley Cup, the Maple Leafs missed the playoffs, finishing fifth.

The team rebounded and formed one of the great NHL dynasties. With Broda shining in goal, the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup three springs in succession -- 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1948, Turk won the Vezina Trophy for a second time, and was also named the NHL's First Team All-Star goaltender.

After missing out in 1950, the Maple Leafs returned with a vengeance in 1950-51. By this time, 35-year-old Broda was in the twilight of his career (and the oldest player in the NHL), and he split the season in goal with Al Rollins. The two netminders were terrific, and Rollins finished with a 1.75 goals-against average in 40 games. Broda had a 2.23 average in 31 games. The combination had the best goals-against average in the league, and the Leafs had hoped that the NHL would allow the netminders to share the Vezina Trophy, but the rules stated that the award went to the goaltender with the best average, so Rollins was the lone recipient. The Leafs finished with 41 wins, 16 losses and 13 ties, a dominant season yet astonishingly, came second to the Detroit Red Wings, who became the first NHL team to finish with more than 100 points in a season.

Broda dives head first to make a save.
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
In the Stanley Cup final, one of the most celebrated in the NHL's history, the Maple Leafs and Canadiens battled fiercely. Every single game was decided in overtime, but in Game Five, played on April 21, 1951, tragic young hero Bill Barilko scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal to give the Maple Leafs their fourth Stanley Cup in five seasons.

With intentions of playing one final season, Turk readied himself for the 1951-52 campaign, but after playing part of one game, realized he was finished. On December 22, 1951, the Toronto Maple Leafs staged a Turk Broda Night at Maple Leaf Gardens. The immensely popular Broda was given gifts and accolades from around the NHL.

Turk Broda retired having played 629 regular season NHL games, of which he won 302, lost 224 and tied 101. He recorded 62 shutouts during that time. In post-season play, he won 60 (13 by shutout) and lost 39 in 101 playoff contests.

Following his playing career, Turk coached for many years, including being behind the bench for Memorial Cup championships in 1955 and 1956 with the Toronto Marlboros.

In recognition of his enormously successful career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Turk Broda was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1967. He died on October 17, 1972 at the age of 58. In 1998, The Hockey News published a list of the 100 greatest players of all-time. Turk Broda was ranked number 60.

The jovial Broda was one of the most popular players of his era, and his secret to success came down to one sentence: "I'm just a fellow who loves to play hockey."

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