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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Lost Rookies: 1988-89 OPC Ken Baumgartner

   Ken "Bomber" Baumgartner was one of my favourite players when I was a child.  I was an Islanders fan and they didn't have much on go other than Lafontaine and the truculence of Baumgartner and Mick Vukota.  Looking back, it's shocking to see that Baumgartner was an Islander for only about two seasons.

  Ken played his junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.  He was selected as the Scholastic Player of the Year in 1984 and won a Memorial Cup in 1985, which included a fight with Bob Probert that spilled into the penalty box. The Sabres used their last pick, 245th overall, in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft to draft Baumgartner.  

  Baumgartner never played for the Sabres as he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in January of 1986 as part of a five player deal.  Ken finished his junior career in 1986, and like many young adults, visited Europe.  Ken was a dual-citizen of Canada and Switzerland.  He played the 1986 season in the Swiss league.  It was a change of pace for Baumgartner as fighting was not part of the European game.  Although he still managed to rack up 85 PIM in 36 games.  He attributes his time in the Swiss leagues as key to him making the NHL.  Instead of focusing on fighting, he had to focus on playing a complete game.  He returned to North America at the end of the Swiss season and began his career in the Kings organization.

  Ken made his NHL debut on January 4th, 1987 and immediately went to work, earning the first penalty of the game, then later starting a line brawl after a elbowing New Jersey Devils' captain, Kirk Muller.  For his first career game, he accumulating 19 PIM, including a game misconduct.  He scored his first career goal on March 19, 1988 against Glen Hanlon of the Detroit Red Wings.  In the 1988-89 season, Ken set a career high with 286 PIM, while only playing in 49 games.  In two seasons and a bit, Ken played 91 games for the Kings, notching 10 points and 501 PIM.  That's an average of more then 5 PIM per game!

1989-90 OPC Ken Baumgartner

  The Kings traded Baumgartner and Hubie McDonough to the New York Islanders for struggling sniper, Mikko Makela on Novermber 29, 1989.  The trade jumpstarted the Islanders.  The Isles were 5-18-3 before the trade but went 23-6-3 after the trade was made.  The momentum wore off as the Isles went on a 1-14-5 run and found themselves in last place in the division.  The team rallied for the last two games of the season, winning both, including against the Philadelphia Flyers in their last game of the season.  The final standings in the Patrick Division had the Flyers last with 71 points, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 5th with 72 points, and the Islanders with the last playoffs spot at 73 points.

  Although the first place New York Rangers made quick work of the Islanders in five games during the first round, game one at Madison Square Gardens was a memorable, and controversial, one.  With a little over a minute to play, the Islanders leading scorer Pat Lafontaine, 54 goals and 105 points, was the recipient of a shoulder to head check from James Patrick.  A clean hit in 1990; a game misconduct in 2020.  Lafontaine suffered a concussion and was carried off the ice on a stretcher.  The Rangers fans cheered, as John Cougar Mellencamp's Hurts So Good was played in the arena while Lafontaine laid on the ice.  Outside the arena, Ranger fans rocked the Ambulance that Lafontaine was in.  Inside, it was still a one goal game, with the Rangers leading 2-1 with a minute and change to play.  

  After an Islanders icing with two seconds left to play, and still down by one, Islanders coach, and HHOFer, Al Arbour, sent a message.  He sent his top 4 PIM leaders onto the ice, Baumgartner, Vukota, Gerald Diduck and Gary Nylund, as well as Bryan Trottier (No wonder Trottier was bitter at the Islanders when he left).  The Rangers countered with their heavyweights including Chris Nilan, Kris King, and Mark Janssens.  The Rangers lined their players up near the blue-line instead of the face-off circle to show they weren't looking to fight.  Instead of lining up for the face-off, Baumgartner skated in circles like a caged animal waiting for the puck to drop, getting wound up to charge the Ranger players.  The brawl was a black-eye for hockey, as well as for Al Arbour.  The NHL suspended Vukota for 10 games, and Baumgartner for one.  The Islanders were fined $25,000.  Lafontaine would miss three games before returning to play in the series game 5 finale. 

1991-92 OPC Ken Baumgartner
  Baumgartner played another season and half for the Islanders before being traded.  His career totals as an Islanders were 175 games played, 13 points, and 678 PIM.  He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 1992 trade deadline.  On December 9, 1995, Baumgartner scored a goal against the Dallas Stars.  He did not score again until, two franchises later, October 10, 1998.  He had a goalless drought of 194 games, which just outside of the top 10 all-time in the NHL.  In 1997-98, while playing for the Boston Bruins, Baumgartner had zero goals and one assist in 82 games.  Baumgartner retired following the 1998-99 season.
  Baumgartner's career numbers, 54 points, 2242 PIM in 696 games, and on-ice actions scream GOON!  Juxtapose that with his off-ice accomplishments.  He was the 1984 WHL Scholastic Player of the year.  During his playing days he attended Hofstra University and earned a degree in business.  He was the Vice-president in the NHLPA union.  After retiring he earned a MBA at Harvard and works in Finance.  Not the type of guy who basically fought for a living or dying his skin yellow and with a mohawk.
  Baumgartner's first NHL card was during the 1990-91 junk wax boom.  He never did have one as a Los Angeles King other than a team-issued card.  So here is Ken Baumgartner's 1988-89 OPC rookie card with a picture from this fight with McSorley.

1988-89 OPC #276 Ken Baumgartner (RC)

1988-89 OPC #276 Ken Baumgartner (RC)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lost Cards: 1975-75 OPC Gump Worsley

   "Little round man of the Ranger nets just as quick with a quip as he is with a kick save." says the back of Lorne "Gump" Worsley's 1962-63 Topps card.  Without a doubt, Gump was one of the hockey's more memorable personalites.

  Lorne Worsley was bestowed the nickname "Gump" as a child, due to as resemblance to Andy Gump of The Gumps comic strip.   Not exactly a flattering comparison.  Gump dreamed of playing professional hockey but due to his lack of size, he was sent to man the pipes.  The change in positions benefited Gump greatly.  He tried out and made the Verdun Cyclones of the Quebec Junior Hockey League in 1946.  This was back during the era of sponsorship and since the Rangers sponsored the Cyclones, they now owned Worsley's NHL rights.  

  Worsley turned pro in 1949 and spent three seasons in the minors from 1949 to 1952 until he caught a break.  Future Hall of Famer goalie Chuck Rayner was injured during the 1952 preseason.  Worsley started the season as the Ranger's goalie.  Worsley was sent back down when Rayner returned in mid-November.  About two months later, Rayner, succumbed to injuries, and retired.  Worsley was recalled and finished the season for the Rangers.  Gump was 2-10-3, 3.67 before Rayner's retirement and 11-19-5, 2.74 afterwards.  His strong play in the second half of the season helped earn him the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie.  To reward Gump for his play, the Rangers sent him to the minors and signed another rookie goalie, Johnny Bower, to take over in net.  Gump had reported to training camp over-weight and demanding a raise.  Gump Worsley is the only Calder winner to not play the season after winning the Calder.

  The following season, 1954-55, Gump and Bower switched roles.  Bower went to the minors and Gump was the starter.  Gump was the Rangers starter for the next nine seasons, although he was twice sent to the minors for Marcel Paille.  The Rangers were one of the worst teams during the Gump's time with them, only making the play-offs four times in 10 seasons.  During that time, Gump lead the league in losses three times.  Gump holds the tops two spots for most Saves and Most Shots Against in a single NHL season.  When a reporter asked Gump what team gives him the most trouble, Gump replied "The Rangers".  

1962-63 Topps Lorne Worsley

  After being a fixture on Broadway, Gump was involved in a blockbuster trade.  As part of the seven player trade, Gump was sent to his hometown, Montreal.  Going the other was legend Jacques Plante.  It was a contentious trade in Montreal.  Plante and Worsley entered the league at about the same time.  Worsley had a Calder trophy and led the league in losses three times.  Plante had 6 Stanley Cups, 6 Vezina trophies and a Hart trophy.  It didn't help matters when Worsley was injured in his first month as a Hab and spent the rest of the season, and start of the next, in the minors upon his return.  

  At age 35, it appeared Gump's NHL career might be over.  He began the 1964-65 season in the minors.  Injuries once again opened the door for Worsley.  After a injury to Charlie Hodge, the Canadiens recalled Gump.  Gump played well enough for the Canadiens to carry two goalies the rest of the season.  The tandem backstopped the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup victory, with Gump earning a shutout in game seven of the Finals. 

  Overall, Gump played six seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, wining two Vezinas and four Stanley Cups.  Everything was going great for Gump, until the NHL expanded in 1967.  Not only did the NHL expand in size, it expanded in time zones by expanding west, including two teams in California.  Gump was always trepid regarding flying, had a breakdown during a rough flight on November 23rd of 1968.  The Montreal Canadiens were flying to Los Angeles, with a stopover in Chicago.  After some turbulence between Montreal and Chicago, Gump left the team and drove back to Montreal.  He was off for over a month on medical leave before rejoining the team.  Gump regained his starting job from rookie Rogie Vachon, but injuries knocked him out of the play-offs.  The Canadiens went on to win their 4th Stanley Cup in five years.  

1969-70 OPC Gump Worsley

  The following season Gump found himself as the back-up to Rogie Vachon, who was about 16 years his junior.  By early December, Rogie had started 75% of the games.  Scheduled to start against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gump was pulled aside, and the start given to to Rogie.  Gump had clashed with coaches over practicing and he was sent down to the minors to get more practice.  Instead of reporting, Gump retired.

  Gump's retirement last about four months.  He was talked into playing for the Minnesota North Stars.  The Canadiens traded his rights to the North Stars and Gump made his debut on March 4, 1970.  One of the factors for Gump unretiring was that Minnesota was a central team, there would be no long east-to-west flights.  He played four and half seasons for the North Stars.  His 2.12 GAA in 1971-72 was third best in the NHL.  He only played one more time in Montreal, a 7-2 loss in the 1971 play-offs.

1972-73 OPC Gump Worsley

  After injuries ended Gump's 72-73 season, he was certain that he had played his last NHL game.  After watching Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito give up a combined 45 goals in the Stanley Cup Finals, Gump figured he still had another year left in him.  Although Gump did the unthinkable, at least for Gump who was a strong proponent against the goalie mask.  When asked about wearing a goalie mask Gump replied "My face is my mask," and then suggested that any goalie who wears a mask is scared.   Although when Gump took the ice for his final season he did so wearing a goalie mask, at least for a few games.  Gump has said "I wore one for the last six games of my career", but evidence suggests he used it for at least his first game of the season, and the last game of the season, while playing without for a number games in between.  He wore a mask during his final season to protect his eyes, although he usually played without as he found the mask too hot.  

  Upon retiring, Gump's 860 career regular season games were 2nd most all time.  Upon retiring he became a scout for the Minnesota North Stars.  He was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980 and passed away in 2007.

  Gump was the second last goalie to play a NHL game without wearing a mask.  Andy Brown was the last and did it a few weeks after Gump last did.  This pictures of Gump wearing a mask are fairly rare, although there is a video of his final game online,  so when I came across this picture, which was decent quality, and combined with the fact he never had a proper career capper, I decided to action was needed.  Here is the Lost Card of 1974-75 OPC #397 Lorne "Gump" Worsley.

1974-75 OPC #397 Gump Worsley

1974-75 OPC #397 Gump Worsley