Coach Dick Irvin decided to try something interesting on March 15, 1941. It was the final game of his first season coaching the Montreal Canadiens, and he wanted a better look at the two goaltenders. Instead of just putting one in and later replacing him with the other, Irvin experimented with switching them back and forth throughout the game against the New York Americans.
The goalie experiment and Children’s Night drew a crowd of 5,000. This game would end the season as the Canadiens already looked ahead to next week, when they began playoffs at Chicago. Bert Gardiner was the more experienced goalie and expected to start for the playoffs. Irvin had him start and finish this alternating game. Gardiner manned the net for 16 minutes of the first period, with Irvin sending in Paul Bibeault for 4 minutes partway through. Bibeault began and ended the second period by playing a total of 11 minutes with Gardiner covering for 9 minutes in the middle. For the final period, Gardiner started with Bibeault stepping in for 7.5 minutes before Gardiner finished with a total of 12.5 minutes. In total, Gardiner was in net five times for an overall time of 37.5 minutes, and Bibeault played goal four times for a total of 22.5 minutes.
Of his decision, Irvin commented, “I’ll admit that it was not a fair test against a club like Americans in a game like that. I’d really have preferred to try it out against a team like Boston which maintains pressure at a torrid pitch all through a game.” Still, he thought alternating had the advantage of keeping the goalies fresh and competitive with each other. The two goalies found it a disadvantage not to have time to warm-up. In brief, Bibeault merely said, “I was stiff when I went out there first each time.” Gardiner elucidated, “You can’t tell off one game whether it’s good or not. It’s a lot easier on you in one way, of course, but you’re going out there cold several times in a night instead of just once. I imagine that if the opposition ganged up on you as soon as you went out, they might easily rap in a few. But if you’re not under heavy fire for the first few minutes while you get warmed up, you’re all right.”
Despite that disadvantage, both goalies (according to the Montreal Gazette) “played remarkably well” and “the pair of them made a raft of sensational saves despite the fact that Americans were pretty thoroughly outplayed.” Gardiner and Bibeault shared credit for a shutout, only Montreal’s second of the 48-game season. Irvin felt satisfied with his experiment. “Well, it couldn’t have worked out better, could it?”
On offense, the Canadiens scored six goals that game. Rookie Stu Smith scored his first two goals. His first, at 16:31 of the first period was the first goal in three games for the Canadiens. Murph Chamberlain, Toe Blake, Joe Benoit, and Tony Demers scored the rest in the second and third periods.
The Canadiens still finished the season second-to-last, above only the Americans. Montreal’s record was 16-26-6 for 38 points. The two teams finished in the same positions the following season, which would prove to be the Americans’ last.
- Marc T. McNeil, “Casual Closeups,” Montreal Gazette, 17 March 1941, pp. 16 and 19.
- Marc T. McNeil, “Gardiner and Bibeault Combine to Score Shutout Against Amerks, 6-0,” Montreal Gazette, 17 March 1941, p. 17.