When I heard that one of the NHL goalies of my youth had been elected posthumously to the American Hockey League Hall-of-Fame (official ceremony scheduled for this coming February), I knew I had to write a few words about him.
Why do I remember Bob Perreault? Well, it’s not that he had a lengthy NHL career, though he had a very successful run in the minors—and was clearly good enough and well respected enough to receive this honour. But I remember Perreault for a couple of things, which I will try to explain.
Those who have visited here regularly over the years know that I was raised in a household (at least on the male side) of religiously devoted Montreal Canadiens fans. It went beyond just being “fans” but I’ll leave it at that. I made my choice, I’m told, as a four/five year-old in the late 1950s to break away from the cult that surrounded me. (I still lived at home: I just cheered for a different team).
Now what transpired as the years went on is this: I grew to despise the Habs. I mean, in hockey terms, I disliked them intensely them and essentially lived for them to lose. That may seem like an odd way to be a young sports fan but it was what it was. Yes, the Leafs winning was most important to me. But any time, regular season or playoffs (especially the playoffs) that the Canadiens lost, I was in heaven. Now, understand that this could not be discussed openly at home. I never was transparent with my Dad about my hatred. We didn’t have that kind of open relationship. I have little doubt that he suspected it, of course. Heck, I’m sure he knew, but I was too respectful—or afraid—to reveal my feelings and it was simply never discussed overtly between us. (Historical note: the Habs not making the playoffs on the last day of the 1969-’70 regular-season may have been the happiest day of my life...)
In any event, this “hatred” (again, in sporting terms only; I like to think I’m not a truly hateful person beyond this realm) had kicked in by the early ‘60s. I remember, as a not quite 7 year-old, privately revelling in the fact that the Habs got knocked out of the playoffs in the spring of 1960 by the Blackhawks, as Glen Hall (the best goalie I’ve ever seen, all “era” factors considered) shut out the Habs twice in the final two games to clinch the series. It was especially sweet given that Montreal had won the Cup the five previous seasons and their string was finally broken.
At the beginning the of the 1962-’63 season, Perreault, who by then was a 32 year-old ‘rookie’ in the NHL, had already had a long run as an excellent goaltender in the minor leagues. In fact, he had had the proverbial “cups of coffee” with both the Canadiens and Red Wings at the NHL level, though he never earned a Cup ring. (I raise this because he had played for Montreal when they did win a championship in the 1955-’56 season—but because he didn’t play a game in the playoffs, he was not officially rewarded.) He had made his way to the Bruins system, and in an era when the Bruins had no singular, unquestioned number-one goalie in the old “six-team” NHL (this was after Harry Lumley and before Eddie Johnston grabbed the job), he earned the first-string job to start the season. (Quick aside: he had been traded by the Red Wings to the Bruins in exchange for one of my all-time favourite Leafs, fellow netminder Eddie Chadwick, and defenseman Barry Ashbee, who later was a backbone player for the expansion Flyers when they won the Cup in 1974.)
So all this said, I remember Perreault for one central reason: at the beginning of that season ’62-’63 season, he and the Bruins, at a low ebb in their history as a perennial 6th place bottom-dweller in the NHL, opened their season at home. The game was played at the old Boston Garden against the vaunted Habs of Jean Beliveau, “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Dickie Moore, Jacques Plante and many of hockey's greats.
What happened? As I well recall, Perreault shut out the Montreal juggernaut, stunning hockey observers by helping his underdog side whitewash Montreal by a score of 5-0. (That's Perreault, in that game, in action against Beliveau. I think that's defenseman Doug Mohns in the background, who went on to fame as a forward as part of Chicago's "Scooter Line".) I was thrilled that Montreal had lost their opener, but I also had never heard of this Perreault guy before. Remember, those were the days when we fans (even kids like myself) knew every player on every team. Goalies like Gump Worsley, Plante, Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk were rock stars to me before I knew what that term meant.
So Perreault, even though he was 32, for me came out of nowhere, though he had those earlier stints in the NHL. But his opening-night shutout against Montreal meant I would never forget him.
I subsequently read a fair bit about him, stories which revealed his charming, quirky ways. There is a great old photo of him from Harold Barkley (the world’s best-ever hockey photographer, in my mind…) of Perreault in action against Dave Keon and the Leafs at the Gardens, included here (above). I think the photo with Beliveau is one of Barkley's, as well.
Unfortunately, his time in Boston ended part way through that season. (I believe there was another goalie, Don Head, who was also fighting for playing time, but I could be wrong.) He never played in the NHL again, though interestingly, he was part of the Leaf system for a time in the mid-1960s (playing in the AHL in Rochester, and later Vancouver in the Western Hockey league, I believe) after then GM and coach Punch Imlach claimed the veteran goalie in one of those old-time NHL summertime “reverse drafts” as they were called. He continued his stellar career in the minor-leagues, though he did play a game or so in the then fledgling World Hockey Association in the early ‘70s. Remarkably for the time, he played in the minors until his early 40s.
Perreault died far too young many years ago. But I will always remember him fondly. He was good enough to play in the NHL, but not quite able to latch on to a regular job in an era when essentially only six guys were able to play in the league at one time (versus at least 60 goalies who have regular jobs nowadays…). But he had, by all accounts, a wonderful personality, and was, as I mentioned earlier, good enough to be an AHL Hall-of-Famer.
And he beat the Habs—a memory that has stayed with me for fifty years.