Gerry McNeil: Goaltender Under Pressure

Manuscript Description

Author's Background David McNeil (
Market Considerations
Contents of Companion DVD
Manuscript Status: Complete (except for the Index); audio (mp3) and audio/text/image (mp4) completed for "Preface" only (see below).
Mp4 Presentation

Cover: color portrait. [Gerry McNeil.] 8.75"x11". Appears in Feb. Issue (Vol. 10, No. 2) of Sport magazine in 1951 (p. 19) with an article titled, “The Dirtiest Job on Ice.” [Article focuses on NHL goaltenders.]



Dedication: i

Illustrations: ii-vii

List of Fig. 1-36. Credit, publication history and captions.

Preface: viii-xi
PowerPoint with Audio
MP4 Audio/Text/Images

Introduction to subject: Gerry McNeil and sports photography. Brief chapter outline.

Chapter 1 - The Understudy (pp. 1-34)

Limoilou beginnings. GM attends his first Canadiens’ training camp in the fall of 1943; at only 5'7" he seems too small for the NHL but he impresses the coaching staff. GM told to be ready in case Durnan cannot come to terms with team. Durnan does sign a contract a few hours before game time and goes on to win several Vezina trophies. GM plays with the Montreal Royals (1943-49) but is under contract with the Canadiens; he practises with the Habs whenever they are at home.

Attractions of photographic detail. GM wins the Allan Cup with the Royals in 1947. GM’s brushes with some of the “bad boys” of the QSHL, including Jimmy Orlando and Tony Demers. GM’s socializing and pranks with the Royals. Author’s methodology. Don Delillo on the benign illusion of sport and its representations. Story of how GM is called upon to replace Durnan when the latter suffers an eye injury in 1947.


1 web-preview   GM plays goal for St. Fidele bantam team, Limoilou Québec.

2 web-preview   GM, Dick Irvin, and Mike McMahon, at Canadiens practice in 1944.

3 web-preview   GM enjoys a beverage in the dressing room.

4 web-preview   GM raises fist in celebration on route to 1947 Allan Cup.


5 web-preview   GM weds Theresa Conway on July 27, 1946 in Quebec City.

6 web-preview   Members of the Royals at Leon & Eddie’s in New York, Feb. 18, 1948.

7 web-preview    Durnan goes down with a gash to his forehead


Chapter 2 - Taking the Torch (pp. 35-69)

GM makes it back from Cincinnati just in time to take Durnan’s place when the latter suffers another slash to the forehead in March 1950. GM plays 6 regular season games and clinches the Vezina for Durnan whom he always admired. Distinguishing characteristics of original six arenas. Hy Peskin’s crowd and stadium shots. Dressing up for hockey. Sports photography and the original angle. Leifer’s aesthetically perfect picture. MacAloon’s theory of the spectacle of sport. Hockey in popular American media.

“Sid Abel Night” at the Olympia. Nostalgia and period newspapers. Travel in “original six” era. GM is featured on the cover of The Hockey News. The well known story of how both goalies cried when Durnan finally said he couldn’t go on. GM wins his first playoff game, in overtime.


8 web-preview   A young GM and Doug Harvey in the dressing room.

9 web-preview   Taken from the catwalk; that is Richard getting a shot on net.

10 web-preview   Animated faces of Habs fans cheering on the Rocket.

11 web-preview   Abel stands between McNeil and another wing player.

12 web-preview   A group of the Canadiens and their wives drink beer at Butch Bouchard's cabaret.

13 web-preview   McNeil blocks a shot by Dunc Fisher at the Forum.

Chapter 3 - The Magician (pp. 70-108)

Focus on GM’s shutout streak in the Semi-Final of 1951; Red Wings heavy favorites to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, but Canadiens go up 2-0 after two marathon overtime wins at the Olympia. Staying at the Lyland in Detroit, the $7 per diem. GM on Detroit TV and rooms with the coach Dick Irvin. GM and Rocket–the picture of perfect happiness. More pranks by GM . GM as instigator of Richard’s altercation with referee McLean at the Picadilly Hotel, NY.

Kilpatrick’s photo of GM stopping Howe. GM’s fondness for. Leifer’s famous picture of Ali/Liston. The private and public significance of photographs. Related to Turner’s idea of the threshold moment (i.e., “turning point”) and the spectacle of sport. Kilpatrick’s use of large format camera and strobe lights responsible for rich detail and depth of field. His special enlargement techniques. John Collins’ sport cartoons in The Gazette.

Wings (i.e., Howe) finally score on GM half way through game 3; total amount of shutout hockey, 218 minutes–the longest playoff stretch in over 50 years. (Giguère came within a minute of matching this mark in 2003 and Ilya Bryzgalov surpassed it in 2006.) This chapter does include some detail about train-travel (rookie initiations, etc.) and playoff hideaways.



14 web-preview   Kilpatrick’s photo of GM kicking out a shot from Howe.

15 web-preview   Ted Lindsay goes airborne over McNeil who stops the puck .

16 web-preview   Cartoon by John Collins featuring GM clipping the Wings.

17 web-preview   GM and Richard sharing the joy of an overtime victory.

18 web-preview   Dick Irvin, Gerry McNeil and Maurice Richard.

19 web-preview   Habs celebrate their semi-final win over the Wings.

Chapter 4 - The Goalie in the Barilko Picture (pp. 109-43)


The Barilko mystique. Focus on the Stanley Cup Finals of ‘51, which remains the only NHL playoff series in which every game goes into overtime. Analysis of the excitement of “sudden death” in hockey as opposed to extra time in basketball, football or extra innings in baseball. The balanced competition versus the need for a decision (i.e., winner/loser).


Tracking down Barkley’s photo that epitomizes the agony of defeat versus the thrill of victory. Video replay versus paying attention. The Harvey/Richard pass to win Game 2 as the quintessential spectacular play. The use of the strobe light and the role of chance in sport photography. While Barilko scores on GM, GM’s wife, Theresa, gives birth to a daughter. To shake or not to shake hands.


GM on not always winning when you play your best. GM and Richard shed tears. Turofsky’s photo and its attractions (technical and historical) in context. Compared to Lussier’s image of an airborne Orr (1970). The story behind Turofsky’s picture. GM’s portrait in Sport magazine (see cover). The story behind SI. Moving pictures now the preferred representation of record. GM’s fishing trip with Richard, Harvey and Lach. Fishing as an attempt to escape the spectacle. Sport and risk. Lives in context.



20 web-preview   GM with several Leafs behind immediately after Smith scores in overtime.

21 web-preview   Tod Sloan shoots on GM; the photographer’s flash fails to fire but Sloan’s head get lit up like a halo by a flash on the other side of the rink.

22 web-preview   The picture that has launched a thousand comments.

23 web preview   An Algonquin guide stands on the pontoon of a plane with three members of the Canadiens: Gerry McNeil, Doug Harvey and Maurice Richard.



Chapter 5 - Playing Through (pp. 144-85)


Controversy over Irvin selecting GM for ‘51 All-Star Game over Al Rollins, who won the Vezina the year before. GM’s other All-Star appearances. GM plays in first televised game on CBC; GM plays in front of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Distraction of family illnesses. GM’s daughter (born the day of the Barilko goal) almost dies of a fever; his mother dies of cancer. GM flies home for the funeral but makes it back to Montreal that night to play against the Leafs.


On the face-mask and risk behavior. GM’s most serious injuries. How GM stays in game with shattered cheekbone and subsequent swelling to the face; gives up 5 more goals in 7-5 loss. Confrontation between Irvin and Richard after the game on leaving GM in nets. Sabo on masculinity and pain. Plante and Murphy make their NHL debuts. Richard’s groin pull; Habs get swept in ‘52 octopus Final.


On watching Richard come back after suffering a head injury to score what some would call “the greatest playoff goal ever” against the Bruins in ‘52 Semi-Final. “Sugar” Jim Henry injured. Photographs by St.-Jean of hand-shaking (Richard/Henry, McNeil/Henry); the former portrait celebrated in Biname’s 2005 feature film, The Rocket. (Compare to Leifer’s shot of Ali/Liston II in Mann’s 2001 film.) Final thoughts on playing through pain/injuries.



24 web-preview   Bouchard and GM defending the Montreal net.

25 web-preview   GM plays last two periods with a shattered cheekbone.

26 web-preview   Plante pretends to inspect GM’s chattered cheekbone for the photographer.

27 web-preview   GM shakes hands with “Sugar” Jim Henry in 1952.



Chapter 6 - The Comeback (pp. 186-220)


An examination of GM’s league-leading 10 shutouts and goals-against-average of 2.12 in the 1952-53 season, and of the pressure GM sustained as the Canadiens had themselves only averaged 2.20 goals per game. GM stops Howe from equalling Richard’s a 50-goal season in final game at Olympia. GM to Richard afterwards, “Well, Rock, he’ll have to start over at 1.”


After a questionable performance in the ‘53 Semi-Final against the Hawks, GM asks to be relieved “for the good of the team.” On the precariousness of momentum and confidence. GM supports Plante. Their different attitudes–i.e., the former blamed himself for a loss, the latter his teammates. Ferguson’s fictionalizing. On “cracking up.” On playing at Chicago Stadium and Boston Garden.


 After a 4-1 loss to the Bruins in game two of the Cup Finals, Irvin elects to go back to GM even though GM has suffered a serious ankle injury. A hole is drilled through the casing of GM’s skate to allow a pain-killer to be administered at the bench when needed. On nerves and pain. After a 3-0 shutout, and then a subsequent 7-3 win at the Garden, GM plays in the goalie’s ultimate dream-game–winning the Stanley Cup 1-0 in overtime. St-Jean’s photo of Lach/Richard. The victory photo–spontaneity versus ritual.



28 web-preview   Jack McIntyre breaks in on GM at Chicago Stadium.

29 web-preview   Habs celebrate their Cup win in ‘53 on Forum ice.

30 web-preview   Official team picture of 1952-53 Canadiens.



Chapter 7 - The End of the World (pp. 221-51)


GM suffers an ankle injury in February ‘54 and is replaced by Plante who finishes the season and leads the Habs into the Finals. GM gives up lower berth to Plante. Down 3-1 to Detroit, Irvin decides to replace Plante with GM for game five. GM plays what he considers “the best game of [his] career” and the Canadiens win 1-0 in overtime. Afterwards Irvin tells GM to get that smile off his face: “every shot you stopped, you stopped the wrong way.” GM vows that after this series he will not play another game under Irvin; he keeps this promise (see Chap. 8).


The Canadiens take game six and force a deciding game seven. How Richard puts the puck in the net but actually robs the Habs of victory. Regulation time ends and the score is tied 2-2. Reliable Doug Harvey goes to bat Tony Leswick’s lazy shot out of the air and ends up knocking the puck over GM’s shoulder into the Canadiens’ net. GM comments later, “it’s hard to express what goes through you at a moment like that; it felt like the end of the world.” The Canadiens, feeling that Detroit was too demonstrative in their on ice celebration, skate off without shaking hands; the controversy–shaking-hands vs hypocrisy.


GM’s announces his retirement a few days later; is officially designated as having “sat out the 1954-55 season.” On hockey wives and Biname’s film. Family reasons for GM’s retirement. GM had no regrets. Toe Blake takes over as Canadiens coach; makes deal with GM for GM “to play wherever he wanted for the same money” as long as he remained available to the Canadiens. Final years with Royals, Rochester Americans and Quebec Aces. GM’s NHL farewell tour–he plays 9 games as a Canadien in replacement of Plante in 1956.



31 web-preview   McNeil makes a first-period save off Marcel Pronovost.

32 web preview   Theresa McNeil after a game at the Forum; while the people around her are all wearing smiles, Teacy looks as if she’s about to be executed.

33 web-preview   GM with his son (author of biography) in 1957.



Chapter 8 - The Hockey Sweater (pp. 252-96)


Sport history into sport literature. GM and Wayne Johnston’s The Divine Ryans. The fictional photo. Sports relics and Delillo’s Underworld. GM’s relics. GM’s life after hockey–overcoming alcoholism and homophobia. Growing up the son of a retired NHL goalie. Ruminating about the game.


GM’s longstanding sense of self as a Canadien; serves as pall-bearer at Richard’s funeral. Negative aspects of the modern spectacle (Mumford, Barthes, and Debord). Hockey books as part of MacAloon’s festive frame. The sound of hockey in print. Writing the Game. A gush of illustrated histories. The raconteur--on goaltending, toughness, and violence. Deconstructing hockey’s commercialized nostalgia and its national dreams. The better memoirs, histories and commentaries.


GM recipient of NHL milestone award for 28 shutouts; participant in the annual Canadiens’, Toe Blake, and Dickie Moore golf tournaments; GM’s Hab’s sweater (& #1). His views on the dispute between the NHL and pre-expansion players regarding the use of pension funds. GM participates in card-signing sessions; plays prank on autograph-seeker he suspects of ebay scam.

GM is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in May 2004; dies a month later after telling the author, “thanks for coming.”



34 web-preview"    NHL Hockey Cards for Gerry McNeil (1951, 1952, 1953).

35 web-preview    NHL Hockey Cards for Gerry McNeil (1955, 1956, Special).         

36 web-preview    My father and I pose for a picture in the kitchen.



Epilogue: (pp. 297-307)

Reflections on my father and the NHL since GM’s death in 2004. Getting perspective.




Full index (keywords, proper names) will be prepared by the author.




Approximately 91,000 words (excluding Index)

Last Updated: 11 August 2014