The man behind the mask
Terry Sawchuk's sons are in Winnipeg to unearth the iconic goalie's roots
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/03/2015 (2811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two of Terry Sawchuk’s sons fought back tears as they touched the goalie mask their late father wore in his last game more than four decades ago.
Jerry Sawchuk, 60, and Terry Sawchuk, 51, were just kids when their legendary father died in the spring of 1970, so the pilgrimage they’re taking to his birthplace this weekend is both educational and emotional.
After arriving in Winnipeg Friday morning to participate in the filming of a documentary on their dad, they stopped by the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted him in 1982. One of the Hall’s prized possessions is the bare-bones mask — which bears no resemblance to the facial protection in today’s NHL — he wore late in his career.
“We just touched the mask. It was very emotional,” said Jerry Sawchuk. “Both of us looked at each other and said, ‘do you want to touch it?’ and we did. To think dad had worn that…”
“It was a bonding moment,” echoed the younger Terry Sawchuk.
There will be many more such moments this weekend as they visit their father’s boyhood home and stomping grounds, including Strathcona School and the Terry Sawchuk Arena.
Jerry made a point of bringing his gear and plans to skate with a group of beer leaguers today.
“I’m going to take a lap,” he said with a smile.
Sawchuk played 21 seasons in the NHL, 15 with the Detroit Red Wings, where he won three of his four Stanley Cups. He also toiled for the Toronto Maple Leafs — where he was a part of their last Stanley Cup winning team in 1967 — the Boston Bruins, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers.
He suffered serious internal injuries after wrestling with a teammate following the 1969-70 season and died shortly after at the age of 40.
What many people don’t realize about Sawchuk is he was a two-sports star long before Bo Jackson started shooting Nike commercials. Not only did he lead the old Man-Dak league in hitting one season, but in the early 1950s, he received contract offers from both the Red Wings and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Jerry, who played both left wing and goaltender as a kid, rising as far up the hockey ladder as the Detroit Junior Red Wings, said his last name was both a blessing and a curse.
“I just went through a disaster with my father that summer (in 1970) and I was on my own. My mom had moved with my brothers and sisters to Florida. I was a 15-year-old kid in Canada and I was lighting it up pretty good, but as the season went on, it got real hard. My parents were gone. It wasn’t a normal child’s life,” he said, adding a knee injury prematurely ended his hockey career.
After writing an op/ed piece for the Free Press in January, filmmaker Danny Schur decided there was enough material on Sawchuk to warrant an actual film. A goalie himself, he wrote that had he played in Sawchuk’s era, he would have had one foot in the grave because of the lack of protective equipment.
“For the next few days, I got dozens of emails and phone calls from people saying, ‘I’ve got Terry Sawchuk stories if you want them.’ They were so compelling, I came back with a camera. This is a film just about the Winnipeg story, the origin stories. Just like a superhero,” he said.
Made in Winnipeg: the Terry Sawchuk Origin Story will be make its debut in September at the Terry Sawchuk Arena on Kimberly Avenue.
“We’re searching for what he was like growing up, what made him the kind of man he was. We have very little. Of course, we all know about the hockey career,” said Jerry.
His brother concurred.
“I didn’t have any knowledge of what his life was like when he was in Winnipeg. I’m excited to find out about his childhood,” Terry said.