Netminder Frank Brimsek was one of the greatest players ever to hail from the United States. In a decade of NHL service, the accurately nicknamed "Mr. Zero" registered 40 shutouts and won 252 regular-season games. He led all netminders in shutouts, goals-against average and wins twice each, and he backstopped Boston to Stanley Cup wins in 1939 and 1941.
The Minnesota native starred with St. Cloud (Minnesota) State Teacher's College in 1933-34 and then joined the independent Pittsburgh Yellowjackets the following season. The next season, the entire team moved to the Eastern Amateur Hockey League. The promising youngster registered a league-high 20 wins and 8 shutouts during the 1935-36 schedule. At the conclusion of the season, he was placed on the EHL First All-Star Team and was presented the George L. Davis Jr. Trophy for allowing the fewest goals.
Next, it was off to the Providence Reds where he led the AHL with 48 games played and a 1.75 goals-against mark. His unlimited potential convinced the Boston Bruins to sign him to replace their aging incumbent, Tiny Thompson. During his rookie season, Brimsek showed no sign of buckling under the pressure of replacing an NHL legend. In one of the greatest first-year performances, he was in goal for 33 Boston wins and topped the league with 10 shutouts and a 1.56 goals-against mark. In addition, he posted two shutout streaks of more than 200 minutes each. During the playoffs he recorded eight wins in 12 games as Boston won its second Stanley Cup. Brimsek's heroics between the pipes were confirmed when he was awarded the Vezina and Calder Trophies.
Brimsek was a classic stand-up goalie whose confidence on the ice threw off many a shooter. On breakaways and penalty shots, he would often lean back calmly against his net as the foe approached. But he was not a passive figure while guarding his cage -- Brimsek used his heavy custom-made stick to knock the puck off opposition sticks or to take the feet out from under someone who took too many liberties around his goal.
In 1941, his stellar goalkeeping contributed to the Bruins' second Stanley Cup in three years. That year, he won his second Vezina Trophy and was selected to the NHL First All-Star Team. The 1941-42 season arguably spoke the loudest for Brimsek's importance to the Bruins. After the famous Kraut Line of Milt Schmidt, Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, Brimsek almost single-handedly guided his club to a spot in the playoffs. In 1943, the Second World War interrupted Brimsek's career and he spent a year each with the Coast Guard Cutters team and in the military.
Brimsek returned to the Bruins in 1945-46. Considering the layoff, he did well to earn selection to the NHL Second All-Star Team. He played three more years with Boston, but the team was not as strong as it had been before the war. Brimsek's netminding heroics kept the Bruins in many games during this period, and in 1948, he finished second to the Rangers' Buddy O'Connor in the Hart Trophy voting.
In September 1949, the Bruins sold Brimsek to the Chicago Black Hawks. He played all 70 games in the expanded NHL schedule behind a weak squad. He finally retired after the team failed to qualify for the post-season. Although he did not go out on a high note, his superb record over the years was not forgotten. Brimsek registered nine 20-win seasons and logged over 31,000 minutes of ice time.
In 1966 he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and, fittingly, "Mr. Zero" was also one of the first players elected to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, located in his hometown of Eveleth, Minnesota.