"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
The Hall of Fame goalie, the next to last to play without a mask, won four Stanley Cups. Said former North Stars teammate Lou Nanne: "He didn't look like an athlete and smoked like a chimney between periods, but he was terrific when he put the pads on."
His nickname came when a high school friend said Worsley reminded him of an inelegant comic-strip character named Andy Gump…
Fans were often intolerant, and George Plimpton wrote in his book “Open Net” that objects thrown at Worsley during his career included “eggs, beer, soup cans, marbles, an octopus, rotten fish, light bulbs, ink bottles, a dead turkey, a persimmon, a folding chair and a dead rabbit.” No wonder Worsley once said that the only job worse than a hockey goalie was “being the javelin catcher on a track team.”
"Gumper" lost more NHL games than any other goalie, but was loved by all...
What was it about Worsley that made him so popular in his playing days and beyond? Worsley had a tremendous sense of humor and he could put defeat quickly behind him to prepare for the next game.
Maybe it was the 1961 Bobby Hull slap shot that ricocheted off Gumper's forehead and broke a seat-back in the second deck of Chicago Stadium. It hospitalized him, but he laughed if off and returned to the NHL without a mask. He didn't wear face protection until the last six games of his career in Minnesota.
"My face is my mask," he always said, and it bore the marks of 21 NHL seasons.
While playing with the perennial losing Rangers in the 1950s, Worsley was asked which NHL team scared him the most.
Worsley is remembered by local hockey icons as a jovial anachronism, a throwback to an era when a goalie could carry a potbelly but no facemask.
Former North Stars defenseman Tom Reid, the Wild radio broadcaster, has an old team picture hanging in his St. Paul pub, with goalies Cesar Maniago and Worsley at each end.
Maniago towered over the 5-7 Worsley, who made up for his lack of size with his lack of conditioning. "We had a training camp in Winnipeg, and we started 'dry-land' training," Reid said. "We'd run up and down hills, run around the track, do firemen's carries. We were all told to bring running shoes and shorts.
"One day we're running on the track and I look over and there's Gump. He's got on black wingtip brogues, with knee-high black socks and a pair of shorts, smoking a cigarette, and walking."
When New York Rangers coach Phil Watson accused him of having a beer belly, Worsley said: "He should know better than that. He knows I only drink V.O."
Reid and former North Stars General Manager Lou Nanne said Worsley was afraid to fly. He suffered a nervous breakdown during the '68-'69 season after a flight from Montreal to Chicago.
Nanne said he was able to lure Worsley out of retirement by assuring him that travel from centrally located Minnesota would not be as harrowing.
"That's how we got him," Nanne said. "That flight from Montreal to Chicago, they hit an air pocket, he got to Chicago, got on a train and went home. I used to sit behind him on our charter flights and we'd take off, and I'd reach up and shake his chair, and he'd about have a heart attack."
Worsley feared routine flights and yet chose not to wear a face mask…"It's mind-boggling when you think about that, playing with no face mask," Nanne said. "Somebody asked him that once -- 'You've never worn a face mask?' Gump said, 'You think I'd look like this if I did?' "