The National Hockey League was still in its infancy, consisting of just three teams: Toronto Hockey Club (still often called the “Blue Shirts” by the fans and journalists), the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators. The Montreal Wanderers already having resigned in January. February was just the third month of the newly created National Hockey League.
The Montreal Canadiens were playing on the road in Toronto on Monday, February 18, 1918, and were undoubtedly still riding a high from their home win on Saturday over the Ottawa Senators. The fans who packed the arena were certain that Toronto would win the game, helping to secure the championship, but as it turned out that was not to happen in this game.
As was reported in The Ottawa Citizen the next day “The Frenchmen, who tonight had the assistance of ‘Newsy’ Lalonde, completely outplayed the local sextet at all stages of the game. It was the greatest surprise of the season.”
The Canadiens scored their first goal 14 minutes into the opening period, but it was the second period that truly put the dagger in the Blue Shirts, when Montreal added six more goals to go into the second intermission up 7-0.
While it was true that the Canadiens were putting the pucks past Toronto’s goaltender Harry “Hap” Holmes, Toronto was also putting shots on the Habs goalie Georges Vezina, known as the Chicoutimi Cucumber, but Vezina was blocking all of them. He denied chances by Harry Meeking, Reg Noble, Corbett Denneny, to name just a few, all of whom had multiple opportunities on Vezina.
The Canadiens would add two more goals to their total in third period, giving them nine goals in the game.
As the game was coming to an end, Toronto’s Ken Randall had another chance on Vezina, which once again the goaltender stopped. Randall, who lead the Toronto team in penalty minutes that first NHL season, couldn’t control his frustration.
“Randall shot and when Vezina stopped it, Randall charged headlong into the veteran, for which he was banished,” reported The Ottawa Citizen.
And just like that the game was over and Vezina had the first ever NHL shutout, though not a single newspaper commented on this achievement. The newspapers were mostly commenting on the play of Newsy Lalonde and the breakdown of the Torontos’ play.
Vezina had come on the Canadiens’ radar back in 1910 when the then National Hockey Association (NHA) Canadiens went to play a team in Chicoutimi, Quebec. Vezina, a native of the town, was the goaltender of the team in that game and he helped them beat the Montreal Canadiens. Supposedly Montreal then offered Vezina a contract to play with the Canadiens right then and there, an offer he declined at that time. He would eventually take advantage of the opportunity and join the team while it was still part of the NHA. It was not long after joining the team that he became recognized for his skill.
As Mike Commito commented in Hockey 365, Daily Stories from the Ice, “It’s fitting that, when he continued his play in the NHL, he’d be the first netminder to record a shutout in the new league. On February 18, 1918, Montreal scored nine goals on the road against Toronto, but the Chicoutimi Cucumber remained calm and pushed aside all the shots he faced, making NHL history in the process.”
Today, the best goaltender of the NHL is annually awarded the Georges Vezina Trophy for his outstanding play as voted on by the teams’ general managers.
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365, Daily Stories from the Ice (Toronto: Dundurn, 2018), Kindle Edition, loc. 763.
- “Canadiens Sprang Great Surprise and Whitewash Toronto 9 to 0,” The Ottawa Citizen, Tuesday, February 19, 1918, p. 6.