Tuesday, October 6, 2009

John Garrett

John Garrett has enjoyed a very successful career as a popular hockey television analyst. But today's generation might not realize that he also enjoyed a lengthy career as a professional goalie.

John was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 1971 but as a rookie he got caught in a numbers game. John recalled that 13 goalies were at the Blues camp in his rookie season. Needless to say it was quite a glut for goalies, especially since the Blues knew ahead of time that they would go with Ernie Wakely and Jacques Caron as their tandem. (Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante retired in the summer of 1971). John was sent to Kansas City to play his first season of pro hockey. He put up an impressive effort as a rookie in the CHL, including posting a league high 3 shutouts.

The following summer the Blues looked to lighten their load of goalies and shipped John to the Chicago Blackhawks organization in exchange for Christian Bordeleau. Obviously the news wasn't great for John's career as Chicago had Tony Esposito just embarking upon his incredible career and Gary "Suitcase" Smith was a more than capable back up. John was eventually sent to the Richmond Robins of the AHL where again he played solidly before his team was beaten badly in the playoffs.

With his shot at the NHL all but non-existent in the Hawks organization, Garrett signed with the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints. It was a great move for John. He not only got a hefty pay increase but also became a workhorse goalie in a league of higher caliber than the usual minor leagues.

"The WHA was good for me. They didn't pay much attention to defence. The good defencemen were well paid to stay in the NHL, so you had the John Arbors and Rick Smiths, guys who would the 5th or 6th defencemen in the NHL, and they were first or second on WHA teams."

Despite the weak defense, Garrett gained respect as a strong goaltender who would often play the bulk of the games. In the WHA he played in 323 career games, playing almost .500 hockey with a record of 148-151-15. He had 14 shutouts (including a league high 4 in 1976-77) and a career 3.52 GAA.

Garrett played 6 strong years in the WHA - almost three full seasons with Minnesota before a stint with the Toronto Toros, 2 years with the Birmingham Bulls and one final season with the New England Whalers. The Whalers claimed Garrett as a priority selection when the team merged with the NHL in 1979.

Garrett went on to help the Whalers for 2 and 1/2 seasons in the NHL. Though his stats are less than impressive, they aren't indicative of his play. Garrett played strongly, especially in the Whalers first NHL season when they made the playoffs.

Garrett was traded to Quebec in 1982. Larry Pleau had taken over the GM's role on the team and wanted to get rid of the Whaler's "old guard" and replace them with Pleau's handpicked men.

Garrett played parts of two seasons in Quebec but was happy to leave as it was tough for his wife and kids to be living in the mostly French town. He was traded to Vancouver which was better from a personal standpoint, but not necessarily a professional one.

"When I got there (Vancouver), I was the back up to Richard Brodeur and played in 50 games in two years. That was tough."

But as John goes on to explain, not as tough as the following years.

"The next year Harry's (GM Harry Neale) contract wasn't renewed. Jack Gordon took over and Tom Watt became the coach. Brodeur was getting to the end of the line and they wanted a younger goalie to be his back up. They didn't want two 33 year olds sharing the job. They had Frank Caprice and Wendel Young coming up."

John was eventually asked to go play in the American Hockey League, which he did for 3 games before he made up his mind to retire.

John retired with 207 NHL games under his belt. 68 of those games resulted in wins, with 91 losses and 37 ties. He had a bloated 4.27 GAA and just one shutout (with Vancouver)

Wayne Gretzky Stole Garrett's Car

One of the most famous stories involving John Garrett came during the 1983 All Star Game. Garrett was acquired by the Canucks less than a week prior to the game. However Richard Brodeur, the Canucks number one goalie and all star representative, suffered a broken eardrum courtesy of a Dan Daoust wild shot. As a last minute replacement, Garrett was asked to fill in for the Campbell Conference All Stars despite playing the whole first half in the Wales Conference.

Garrett had a great game too, and was the favorite to win game MVP honors, which of course earns you a brand new car, except a guy named Gretzky put on a goal scoring clinic in the third period. Gretzky's 4 goals in one period instantly became all star legend.

"I had about 15 saves total up to about the six minute mark of the third period" recalls John in Dick Irvin's great book In The Crease. "I knew Lanny McDonald from playing with him at the World Championships one year and he kept talking to me after I'd make a save: 'Hey Cheech, you got the tires....the glove compartment.....hey, great stop. Now you've got the steering wheel.' Then about the six minute mark Gretz scores and makes 4-2. On his next shift he scores again. 5-2. Lanny comes back to me after each goal, 'Oh oh, There go the tires...Oh oh, there goes the steering wheel.' The very next shift 99 scores again. Now he's got the hat trick. And then he gets another goal on his next shift. I mean, he takes four shifts and scores four goals. Guess what. I didn't win the car."

Surrendering to Mr. Hockey

Garrett is also the answer to a great trivia question as he was the goalie that gave up Gordie Howe's 1000th professional goal.

"We played them in Birmingham and Gordie was standing in front of the net and the pass came to him, a one hopper, and he picked it off about three inches above the ice and nailed it. I got a picture of the play with the puck in the net behind me, and Gordie signed it, 'Thanks for all the help!'"

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