Pictou Advocate sports

The NHL goalie who didn’t come to town

Sports

Behind the scenes, in the manager’s office at New Glasgow Stadium, a potent coup for the New Glasgow Rangers and their Pictou County fans appeared imminent.

Being present during negotiations, I was convinced the necessary elements were in place to have a pretentious signing by the local Nova Scotia Senior Hockey League club.

A goaltender, fresh out of a decade-long NHL career just months earlier, was preparing to join the Rangers. The dotted line on the contract was awaiting his signature.

In the end, it didn’t happen.

Instead, a replacement had to be found and, when a guy from Toronto reached New Glasgow with goalie pads over his shoulder, there was nothing to be excited about.

For details, I think back 60 years to the 1960-61 season.

My career with The Chronicle Herald had begun only a year previous, but I had already jumped into the hockey world, writing articles for The Hockey News, contributing to the Rangers as official scorer, public address announcer and author of the game programs.

As a result, I was on the inside, up close to the franchise’s activities.

New Glasgow was the only remaining club from the fledgling league’s starters two seasons before. By the fall of 1960, other participants were the Windsor Maple Leafs, Amherst Ramblers, Halifax Wolverines and Brookfield Elks.

The year before, Ike Murray stepped down as the Rangers general manager, succeeded by Stadium manager Freeman Sangster. The two jobs were too much for Sangster, and, when the season arrived, Murray was back.

The Rangers had struggled for a couple of years because they were using mostly local players while other clubs were strengthening with imports. Team backers asked Murray to find player help outside the Maritimes.

That’s when behind-the-scenes activities were unfolding. Publicly, it was just rumours.

The prime target — to this day, I maintain it almost happened — was goaltender Al Rollins, who had a good NHL career, highlighted by a Stanley Cup championship in 1951 for his Toronto Maple Leafs. That was the title won in overtime on a goal by defenceman Bill Barilko, who died in a plane crash months later while on a fishing trip.

Rollins joined Toronto in 1949, appeared in 40 games in 1950-51 with a great 27-5-8 record, then played all 70 contests the next year. In 1952, he was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks for netminder Harry Lumley, spent five years with the Hawks, then ended his NHL days with the New York Rangers in 1959-60.

What would the local Rangers have achieved by getting Rollins? They could very easily have become league winners instead of the import-laden Amherst lineup.

When Rollins didn’t come to town, New Glasgow’s hopes turned upside down. Dramatically so.

Oh the Rangers found a netminder alright, but what an embarrassment he turned out to be for the team, the fans and the league in general.

Through the years, I’ve written about the replacement in several newspapers, in the team program, in The Hockey News. But there was nothing good to say. His stay wasn’t long enough for him to unpack his bags.

Forget the name? I never did.

Don Uren’s press clippings said he played for Washington in the International Hockey League, registering the best goals against average in that minor-pro circuit. He left following a salary dispute. Before that, he had played in England for two years.

One thing was very clear: New Glasgow team officials weren’t to blame. His background seemed fine — a month earlier he was practice goalie with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

I found a yellowed clipping recently of an article I wrote the day Uren arrived in New Glasgow. In it, I said Uren “could be the answer to the Rangers’ goaltending problems.”

What an awful prognosis that was.

Uren checked into the Stadium on a day the Rangers were going to Halifax. He quickly joined his new mates as they headed for the match with the Wolverines. Uren played that night.

Sportswriters around the Maritimes were writing optimistically about him. One called the new guy “a mystery saviour.”

A saviour he wasn’t.

In that game, he allowed Halifax nine goals. Everyone with the club shrugged it off, suggesting he just needed to adjust to the Nova Scotia league.

Two nights later, the Rangers hosted Windsor at the Stadium. The biggest crowd in two years flocked to the game to see Uren in person.

The Rangers were upbeat, so much so that they fired 59 shots at the visitors’ goal. They beat Charlie MacTavish four times.

At the other end of the rink? It was a different tale.

Uren duplicated his first performance, allowing nine Windsor shots to enter his cage. A really busy night? He had only 14 saves.

It was as ugly as it sounds.

Before the first period ended, Rangers supporters were booing Uren every time the action got near him. In all my New Glasgow years, I don’t recall ever hearing Pictonians being so hard on an athlete in any sport.

They not only booed Uren out of the rink, they booed him out of town.

Nobody in the county, as far as I know, ever heard of him again.

So who got the netminding assignment next? It was Art MacIntyre, a redhead from Cape Breton who had been playing for the Glace Bay Miners. I’ve always maintained he did a good job.

But back to Rollins.

Was it a pipe-dream, a fantasy, for Murray and the other executives to try to bring an NHL player to town?

Not at all.

Just three years later, in 1963-64, team president John Hamm obtained former NHL centre Fleming Mackell to lead the Rangers.

Then, the next winter, Mackell was back, playing and coaching New Glasgow to the Maritime championship and a trip to the Allan Cup playdowns in Sherbrooke, P.Q.

That could very well have happened with Rollins, too.