Born on December 28, 1929, in Winnipeg, Canada, hockey great Terry Sawchuk weathered the deaths of two brothers as a child. He won four Stanley Cups and several goaltending awards with the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL, though the hazards of the sport left him in constant pain. A few weeks after fighting with a teammate, he died from a pulmonary embolism on May 31, 1970.
Early Life and Hockey Success
Hockey player Terrance Gordon "Terry" Sawchuk was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on December 28, 1929. Tragedy and trauma followed him from an early age: When he was a baby, his brother, Roger, died from pneumonia; another brother, Mike, passed from a heart attack when Sawchuk was 10.
A promising goaltender, Sawchuk had a successful tryout with the Detroit Red Wings of the National Hockey League at 14 and spent the next few years in the Detroit system. He starred for the Omaha Knights of the United States Hockey League in 1947-48 and the Indianapolis Capitals of the American Hockey League the following season, winning Rookie of the Year honors both times.
Sawchuk briefly surfaced in Detroit in 1950 before settling in alongside future Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio. Showcasing an acrobatic ability to stop opposing shots, "Ukey" was honored with the Calder Trophy as the top rookie of the 1950-51 season. He also won the Vezina Award as the premier goaltender three times between 1952 and '55, helping the Red Wings capture three Stanley Cup championships during that span.
A surprising trade sent Sawchuk to the Boston Bruins in 1955. His second season in Boston proved challenging, as he contracted mononucleosis. Around this time he contemplated retirement, but he was reinvigorated after a trade brought him back to Detroit.
Sawchuk began wearing a mask at the start of the 1962-63 season, though by that point he was already seriously scarred from taking errant pucks to the face. He was also in constant pain from years of wear and tear at his position and a car accident that left him with chest injuries. Additionally, he developed a reputation as a big drinker and surly character.
Claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 1964-65 campaign, Sawchuk went on to share the Vezina Trophy that season with teammate Johnny Bower. He enjoyed one more turn in the spotlight in the 1967 playoffs, helping Toronto pull out a Stanley Cup victory.
Sawchuk joined the Los Angeles Kings after that season, and then spent one more as a backup in Detroit before finishing his career with the New York Rangers in 1969-70.
Death and Legacy
Sawchuk was sharing a house with Rangers teammate Ron Stewart when the two got into a fight in April 1970. The veteran goalie was rushed to a hospital and his gallbladder was removed, but the internal injuries turned out to be more complicated than expected. He died from a pulmonary embolism on May 31, 1970.
Sawchuk was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971, the normal three-year waiting period waived for his induction. In 1994, the Red Wings retired his No. 1 jersey.
His record of 447 regular-season wins was broken by Patrick Roy in October 2000, and his mark of 103 shutouts was topped nine years later by Martin Brodeur, but many still consider Sawchuk to be the greatest goaltender in the game's history.
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