Bob Scarlett: Gone But Never Forgotten
In the summer of 1939, the Colorado College Tigers offered Montreal, Quebec native Bob Scarlett a hockey scholarship as the team’s first full-time goaltender. Because of World War II, however, no games were played in 1942-43 or the 1943-44 seasons, so Scarlett served in the Air Force for the Canadian Armed Forces.
With one year left on his scholarship, he re-joined his former teammates, along with seven new Canadians, and led the Tigers to national prominence in the 1944-45 season, his final one as a Tiger. From there, Colorado College quickly became one of the most storied organizations in NCAA hockey history.
So storied, in fact, that the NHL Network is set to debut Tiger Pride – Eight Decades of Colorado College Hockey on Friday Night. The show, which is narrated by Mike Emrick, tells the tale of the school’s rich hockey history. Who knows, you might even see a rare black and white photo of Scarlett donning the old leather pads.
Scarlett would go on to reach the professional ranks when he appeared in two USHL games during the 1946-47 season with the Tulsa Oilers. Once retired, he held a number of positions as a general manager and assistant GM with the Denver Mavericks and Denver Invaders hockey programs.
I was very fortunate to meet Scarlett in October, 2006 and spend an afternoon with him while I was the co-creator and editor-in-chief of the Colorado Hockey Insider magazine. I would see him at a few Rocky Mountain Rage games during that season in the press box and hear a number of incredible stories about his experiences being a goaltender in the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Less than a year after meeting him, Scarlett passed away on Oct. 4, 2007. I will forever remember him as one of the classy, historic goalies that simply played the position for the love of the game. He may be gone, but will never be forgotten. I am proud to post this interview that took place just a year before his passing.
Editor’s Note: The article below was originally published in the November, 2006 issue of the Colorado Hockey Insider. The content is copyright to JMG, LLC and is property of The Goalie Guild’s founder, Justin Goldman.
Born in 1921, Bob Scarlett was raised primarily in Montreal, but came from the outskirts of Quebec. He was only four years old when he started playing hockey with his friends on the frozen ponds and outdoor rinks. Scarlett, who was one of the smaller players on his team, was unwillingly put back on the blueline by his team’s head coach. By the end of his second season, he was irritated with the position and wanted to quit.
But his father would not allow it, as Bob had agreed to play the whole season. And at the tender age of six, a sudden injury to their only goaltender forced Scarlett in between the pipes. Once that happened, Scarlett was en route to become one of Colorado College’s historical Tigers ever since their program started back in 1938.
“My home is Montreal,” Scarlett said, “but I came down in 1939 to go to Colorado College. At that time, the Broadmoor Hotel had their ice arena right by the hotel, and they were the only ones promoting college hockey at that time. I played three years at CC and then came back after the war. I still had one year on my scholarship and so I played my final season back in 1945-46.”
Bob took time out of his busy day at SportsFan in Denver to speak with us about his experiences as a goaltender in the 1950’s. He spoke with us about many different topics, including some of his amazing goaltending adventures, his thoughts on hockey growing up in Canada, and playing early college hockey in the United States. Following his interview, Scarlett told us to add the quote below before printing his interview.
“I have everything to be thankful for because of hockey.”
A special thanks to Scarlett for taking the time to reflect on his history in between the pipes!
JG: What was the goalie equipment like when you were growing up in Montreal?
BS: Well, we had little pads when we were playing on the streets. We just had magazines that we would bind around our legs for goalie pads. But when we were playing in the park league, we had little pads and they really wrapped around your legs tight. A couple of years later, they developed the extra felt that they put behind the pads to make them stand out a little more square, like the big boys had. I saw that felt when I was six years old, and this was coming into the depression time. I begged my folks for three Christmases to buy me a three-dollar pair of felts to go behind my pads, before I finally received them on a Christmas morning when I was nine years old.
JG: How about when you were playing as a teenager?
BS: There was a company out of Detroit called Kenesky Sporting Goods and they were the first to develop the pads with the puck rolls on them. Those were the wide rolls on the outside that prevented the puck from going in the net from the outside of the pads. Those rolls on goalie pads were all developed by Kenesky Sporting Goods. I was lucky when I was about 10 years old, because I got to buy a bigger kid’s used pads after he bought a newer pair. Then as I got to high school, they would only give us our jerseys and socks, so I used my Kenesky pads all the rest of my life.
JG: What were the catching gloves like back then?
BS: I was lucky enough to be playing for the Montreal Royals, the farm team for the Canadiens, and I was backup to the great Jacques Plante. He said to me one day in practice, “Bob, we’re really stupid.” You see, we would use the same forward gloves on each hand, so you really had to give a lot with the puck or it would take your hand right off. You couldn’t just catch the puck like normal. Well, Jacques had played junior baseball in the summers, and he said to me, “Let’s try a trapper’s mitt,” which was the same glove the first basemen were using at the time. We got what they call medical felt, which is stiffer than normal felt, and we stuck some of it into that trapper mitt. Secondly he said, “We’re beating up our knuckles because there’s no padding on the back of our stick hand.” So we got some more of the medical felt and pasted it on the back of our regular gloves. And that was the beginning of the blocker mitts you see these days, which are now very elaborate trapper mitts.
JG: That’s incredible stuff to hear! It makes today’s goalies seem like armored tanks.
BS: I would guess they’re 75 or 80-percent better protected than we ever were, but then maybe we weren’t smart enough to worry about getting hurt! No, it’s fabulous, the equipment now. Especially goalie skates, because when we were little guys, they had the same blade as everyone else. But when we got to high school, we had what were called ‘tube skates’ as compared with the one-piece forged blade. The one-piece forged blade is similar to what the goalie blade is like now. So we would get an old pair of forged blades and put them on a good pair of boots and those were our goalie skates. They weren’t protected on the toe or the side like they are now with the Kevlar plastic cowlings.
JG: So I imagine goalie skates were made like the old leather boots we saw in the 1980’s?
BS: Yes, and a lot of kids got their toes hurt because they were soft leather and it really stung if you did the splits and caught one on the toe. I remember practicing with my high school team when I was a freshman. The Toronto Maple Leafs came on after we were finished and there were two of us still on the ice. Big Charlie Conacher, who had a bullet, he had a real heavy shot. He came one and shot at me and I jumped and caught it in the middle of my stomach and it pushed me right back. He went to the other end and shot, the kid did the splits and it broke his toe on the soft skate. Conacher should have known better but he wanted to show us how good he was.
JG: Did you have any experiences with goalie helmets when playing behind Plante?
BS:I really paid the price, so I’m interested in face protection now because when I played, nobody had helmets and nobody had facemasks. When I was with the Royals backing up Plante, you know he developed a face mask. A couple of years after I was finished and retired, Jacques was playing a game in New York against the Rangers on a Sunday night and he got his face ripped for 10 or 12 stitches. In fact it was Frankie Bathgate that ripped his face for him. They went in and sewed him up and pushed him back out there. But first he said, “I’ll play if you let me wear my mask.” Up until then, the coaches didn’t really want him wearing his mask, but they let him this one night. Jacques told me some years later, “I figured if I got it on once, they’d never get it off me.” But that was a plastic fiber mask and very small – nothing like they’re wearing now.
JG: That’s a story every goalie knows. So what was the worst injury you ever suffered?
BS: My worst experience, and I should have known better because I was 52 years old at the time, was after I retired from hockey and I was back out here in Colorado. In the late 1960’s, at North Jeffco Ice Arena, the Denver Spurs needed an extra goalie and so I was practicing with them. Our coach Rudy had three or four kids that were in the doghouse and he made them come out to shooting practice on Saturday morning. It was one of those mornings when I was doing well and I wanted them to shoot. Finally this fella’ took a slapshot and I didn’t have any mask on or anything. I turned my head sideways and it broke my jaw and I spit out most of my teeth. After that happened, one of my friends skated over and said he looked at me and that I looked dead, so he just skated away! I never wore a mask, but from then on I did.
JG: Geez, what a great teammate. On to happier thoughts. What are a few of your best pro memories?
BS: One was when I lost a game 3-2 in Minneapolis, Minnesota in my first year pro in the old United States Hockey League. I was playing for the Tulsa Oilers, which was a Toronto Maple Leafs farm club, and the Minneapolis Millers were a New York Ranger farm club. We lost 3-2, but I felt I had played a real good game that night. The coach complemented me and a bunch of players did too, so I felt good about that. The other time was when I was playing in the playoffs for Cornwall, Ontario in the Eastern Canadian playoffs, which was in a pro league. That was the first game my father had ever seen me play. He was a traveling salesman and never had time like the fathers do now that go and watch the games and practices. My ex-wife was sitting there with him. We won the game and after the game he called me inside and he said, “Bob, you should never have gotten married.” Then I said, “Well I’ve been married three years, why shouldn’t I have?” He said back, “That’s terrible what you put your wife through at a game like that.” And I said, “Oh I’m lucky. My wife didn’t worry about me getting cut.” She told him the only thing she worried about was when that little black puck went across the red line because that was bread and butter. Those are two of my favorite memories as a pro.
JG: After your collegiate career, what pro teams did you play for?
BS: I played for the Tulsa Oilers in the United States Hockey League. Then I played for Cornwall, Ontario in the Eastern Canadian League. I played for the Montreal Royals for the last three years of my pro career. I practiced with the Montreal Canadiens fairly regularly, but I never got to play a game with them or in an NHL game. I got to play and practice with a lot of Montreal players, but during World War II, I was in the Canadian Air Force for four years and I played with the Ottawa Air Force and Montreal Air Force teams, and both had a lot of NHL players on it. They would bring them in the service and they played while they were in the service, so I was real lucky I got to play with a lot of stars. Sid Abel, the captain of Detroit, played on the Montreal Air Force team with me. Doug Harvey, who I grew up with in Montreal and was voted the best defenseman in pro hockey, also played with us. He was a good fella’ and I knew him real well.
JG: How did you learn the position at the pro level without a goalie coach?
BS: I remember practicing with the Canadiens one morning and we were scrimmaging. I got pushed back in the net and scored on, and when my coach came around he said, “How did that get in, Bob?” I said, “Well what should I have done?” He yelled back, “Well how the heck would I know? I was a forward!” So that was the type of training goaltenders had back then. There simply weren’t any. There was no such thing as assistant coaches, and goalie coaches were the last things to come around. I tell my grandson and kids today how privileged they are that they have people that know what the goaltender is supposed to do. Originally, the goaltenders just talked amongst themselves to figure things out. There was no such thing as the butterfly style and there was no style other than standup. The butterfly style is all comparatively new as far as technique is concerned.
JG: What goalies did you look up to when first experiencing hockey at the pro level?
BS: When I was first playing pro, Bill Durnan was the goaltender for Montreal. He was an All-Star for seven years and won the Vezina Trophy six of those times. He was the ultimate epitome of the standup goalie. Bill was ambidextrous and could catch with either hand and could hold his stick in either hand. He’s from northern Ontario and played for the Canadiens from 1943-1950 and won the Vezina every season. Naturally, I like Patrick Roy coming from Montreal, but Patrick had trouble with Montreal when he was first with them because he was a butterfly goalie. Oh, they tried to convert him, but the butterfly with Patrick was good because he’s such a big guy, he covers a lot of the top of the net even when he’s on his knees.
JG: Finally, what is the biggest difference today in the NHL players today from when you played?
BS: I think one of the biggest differences is the size. I remember when the Montreal Maroons in the NHL had a player and he was 198 pounds and they said they would never get any bigger than that! He was the biggest in the NHL at 198, and now they don’t even look at you, why even the goalies are going over 200 pounds. I would struggle to make water boy right now at my size because I would go into training camp around 170-172 and come out at the end of the season at 155 and yet I was average back then. I wasn’t a little guy like Darren Pang back then.