It would be all but impossible to eclipse the rookie season enjoyed by Bill Durnan in 1943-44. Although 27 years old when he finally made his NHL debut with the Montreal Canadiens, the star of senior hockey with the Kirkland Lake Blue Devils and the Montreal Royals wasted little time in asserting himself as the league's premier goaltender.
In his rookie season, Durnan posted a 38-5-7 record, playing his team's entire 50-game schedule. Although the Canadiens boasted the Punch Line with Toe Blake, Elmer Lach and Maurice Richard, it was the rookie goaltender that made the difference in the playoffs. In the semi-finals, Montreal ousted the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games, then swept the Chicago Black Hawks in four straight to earn the Stanley Cup, the franchise's first in fourteen years.
Game One was a 5-1 win in Montreal, with 3-1 and 3-2 victories earned in Games Two and Three, played in Chicago. But in Game Four, with Chicago on the verge of being eliminated, Montreal trailed the Hawks back at the Montreal Forum. The crowd chanted, 'Fake! Fake!, believing that the Canadiens were falling behind in order to go to a fifth game and thus collect more gate receipts. The Canadiens rallied, in part on the adrenalin from Bill Durnan's save on a penalty shot taken by Virgil Johnson of the Hawks. Tied at the end of regulation, Montreal's Toe Blake scored at 9:12 of overtime to give the Canadiens the championship.
The culmination of a sensational rookie season saw the netminder earn the Stanley Cup, his first of two such championships, the Vezina Trophy for the NHL's best goals-against average during the regular season and selection to the NHL's First All-Star Team. In both cases, it was Bill Durnan's first of six such awards during his illustrious, albeit brief, National Hockey League career.
Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Editor of Publications and Online Features.