Gump Worsley looked a bit out of place in goal during his 21-year NHL career - until they dropped the puck. Then, the roly-poly maskless man in the net was at his nimble best. Worsley, who died Friday January at 77 after suffering a heart attack the previous Monday, used his 5-foot-7, 180-pound frame to forge a Hall of Fame career and help the Montreal Canadiens win four Stanley Cups in a five-year span.
"It was just his body shape," former teammate Gilles Tremblay said. "He was real quick in the net. He did his exercises. But some people are tall and thin like Ted Harris and some are built like Worsley." Lorne John Worsley, who got his nickname as a child because his hair stuck up like cartoon character Andy Gump, won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie in 1966 and 1968, when he was also a first-team All-Star.
He was among the select few to play in net when the NHL had only six teams and teams carried only one, maskless goaltender. He went head-to-head with greats such as Jacques Plante, Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall and Johnny Bower.
Tremblay recalled a teammate who always had a smile and a joke in the dressing room and who was "very well liked all through the league. "He'd walk through the room past guys with perfect builds and he'd say, `I've been in the league a lot of years with this belly, so I hope you guys can do as well as I did.' He always made us laugh," Tremblay said.
Worsley's physique moved Rangers coach Phil Watson to tell him, "You can't play goal with a beer belly." Worsley shot back: "I'm strictly a rye man."
What is less known about him was that he was also a pretty good soccer player.
Canadian soccer historian Colin Jose said that while playing hockey in the minor leagues for the Saskatoon Quakers in the early 1950s, Worsley played soccer in the summer for the Saskatoon Legion. He played for the Saskatchewan All-Stars against the touring Tottenham Hotspur in 1952 and, when he moved home to Montreal the next year, reached the Canadian championship soccer final with Montreal Hakoah.
But hockey was Worsley's passion from his childhood in Montreal's Pointe St. Charles district. He grew up in a family that worshipped the defunct Montreal Maroons and didn't like the Canadiens. His favorite player was Rangers goalie Dave Kerr.
In his teens, he signed with the junior Verdun Cyclones, who were owned by the Rangers and, in those pre-draft days, became Rangers property.
He played minor league hockey for the New York Rovers, the St. Paul Saints, Saskatoon and the Edmonton Flyers before he was called up for the start of the 1952-53 NHL season after goalie Charlie Rayner was injured. Worsley won the Calder Trophy as the league's best rookie, only to be shocked when he was sent down to the Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League the next season when the Rangers signed Bower. Worsley was back up with the Rangers in 1954-55 and played brilliantly for nine more seasons on mostly weak New York teams.
Lounging at home in the offseason in 1963, Worsley got a call from a friend to tell him he had been traded to Montreal along with Leon Rochefort, Dave Balon and Len Ronson for Plante, Phil Goyette and Don Marshall. He turned on the radio and heard it himself. "To this day, the Rangers have never told me I was traded," Worsley told the Hall of Fame.
He went from facing 40-50 shots a game in New York to a team that was a perennial powerhouse, still with some of the players from the team that won five straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960. Injuries caused him to spend most of the next two seasons with the Quebec Aces, but he was called up in 1964-65 and helped Montreal win four Cups in a five-year span, interrupted only by Toronto's last Stanley Cup triumph in 1967.
"With the trade, he got his reward by playing for a very good team," said former goalie Ken Dryden, who joined the Canadiens in 1971. "I played against him his last couple of seasons in Minnesota. He still wasn't wearing a mask, which was unbelievable." Worsley was sold to the expansion North Stars for cash in 1970 and retired, but was talked into playing four more years in Minnesota. He wore a mask only for the final six games before he retired in 1974 to his longtime home in Beloeil. He then worked many years as a scout for the North Stars.
Worsley retired with a career record of 335-352-150 with 43 shutouts. In the playoffs, he was 40-26 with five shutouts. When he left the NHL, only one goalie, Andy Brown of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was still not wearing a mask.