Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Legend of Wilf Cude ...

Boston, still no sign of summer!

Today I dragged my tired old carcass out of bed at 5 a.m., in order to drive 40 minutes to Phillips Andover and subject myself to a barrage of pucks during 60 minutes of pick-up hockey. My legs were still sore from traipsing all over the hills of Pittsfield, Vermont, this past weekend, but I felt like I needed the workout. Unfortunately, there weren't enough other guys who felt the same way, as only 11 skaters showed for the session. That meant a single sub, and as luck would have it, he wasn't on my side. The results of these skates are pretty predictable ... Everyone wants to conserve energy, which translates into a shooting gallery for the goaltenders. Playing defense requires effort, and if there aren't any subs to bail you out, you're not going to be playing much D. Simple as that. So I spent the better part of the hour flipping and flopping and generally getting beat up pretty good. I decided early on not to keep score, in order to keep my sanity, so don't even ask.

But the juxtaposition of sanity and goaltending got me thinking about one of the most memorable stories I ever read about hockey goaltenders. I remember first hearing about Wilf Cude when I was just a kid, enamored with hockey, and hungry for any tales I could get my paws on. Born July 4, 1910 in South Wales, Cude played in 301 NHL games between 1930-41 for five teams, including the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens.
At 135 pounds, Cude was likely the smallest man to ever tend goal as a professional, and was used as a spare throughout his career, loaned to whichev
er one-netminder team was suddenly in need of a goalie. He managed to play in two All-Star games but lost both, 6-5 and 5-2, though it's unlikely they factored into his unique way of deciding when it was time to retire.

Legend has it that Cude was sitting to a post-game dinner with his wife, his nerves more raw than his steak. Suddenly, and without warning, he picked up the slab of beef and flung it across the room, barely missing Mrs. Cude. The steak plastered against the wall, almost defying gravity.
Reportedly, Cude told his wife: "If the steak comes down, I’m through." Cude was an ex-goalie an instant later when the sirloin hit the linoleum.

These days, goalies aren't quite as eccentric as Wilf Cude. Much of that has to do with the protection now available to netminders (Cude, for example, never wore a mask, and his "body armor" was nothing more than felt covered with leather). And although Cude was never forced to deal with slap shots or compositie sticks, it's safe to say that his physical (and emotional) well-being was subjected to near-constant assault. Conversely, goalies today have great gear, and it's been a long time since a puck did any serious damage to me (that's not to say I haven't had my share of hockey-related injuries, but those are more attributable to my lack of flexibility than anything else). Still, the position still brings certain emotional risks, including the inevitable bout of getting shell-shocked and subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder. Forwards and defensemen can screw up without culpability, but a goalie doesn't have that luxury. If we mess up, the puck usually winds up in the back of the net. That, my friends, is pressure. And pressure can do weird things to people.

That probably explains why I'm pretty vocal when I play, and I don't mind getting on my teammates if they aren't putting in the effort. I'll take ownership of the goals I should have stopped (and there are plenty), but I also need to vent -- my own pressure-release valve -- when my teammates are dogging it. After all, it's still a team sport, and defense shouldn't be an afterthought. Plus, the last thing I need, as an old jock, is to come home and start tossing perfectly good steaks at my bride!



Rob said...

So if your defense lets you down, are they allowed to bark at you when you let in a weak one?

BrionO'C said...

If I let in a softy, I'm usually too busy berating myself to hear what the other guys have to say! And, remember, all I'm asking for is effort ... I know everyone (me especially) will screw up now and then. Nature of the game, eh? ;-)