Wednesday 7 December 2011

Tom Paton

Tom L. Paton (b.1854) was a goaltender for the Montreal Hockey Club (or AAA, or Winged Wheelers) from 1885 to 1893. He is easily the most successful goaltender of the pre-Stanley Cup era, and indeed for the 19th century. His team won the Montreal Winter Carnival championship in 1885 and 1887, and the championship of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC) in 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1893. With James Stewart and Allan Cameron playing in front of him on the defence, the Winger Wheelers were often an impenetrable defensive fortress.

The goaltender's task in the 1880s was clearly different in execution from that of the modern goalie, due to the fact that he was prohibited from falling to the ice to make saves. However, it is easy to overstate the degree of difference; olde tyme goalers used whatever body part was handy in order to stop the puck, just like today's netminders. Quebec Hockey Club goaltender Frank Stocking, who played senior hockey from 1892 to 1901, describes the goaltender's role in Art Farrell's 1899 book Hockey: Canada's Royal Winter Game as follows:

In stopping the puck, the feet, limbs, body and hands are all used according to the nature of the shot. The stick is used to clear the puck from the goals after stop has been made, but rarely to make the stop. Some goalers use the hands much more frequently than others and make splendid stops in this way. But this depends on the individual's handiness, those accustomed to play baseball and cricket, excelling. The most difficult shot to stop results from a quick pass in front of goals at the height of about one foot off the ice.

It should be noted that Stocking wrote this passage after the introduction of goalie pads, which were introduced by Winnipeg goaltender George Merritt in 1896, who used cricket pads to protect his shins. One surmises that, before these pads were in use, a goaltender would have been more likely to use his stick to make stops, to limit the numbers of shots against his shins. Although 1880s goaltenders did wear some shin protection, it was not nearly as full as the cricket pads would be.

Also note the reference to clearing the puck; though Tom Paton was clearly an effective goaltender in terms of stopping the puck, it seems his most noteworthy feature was his skill at clearing the puck once it was stopped. From a Montreal Gazette game report of January 14, 1888, for example, we have the following:

Brown by a rush took the puck well up where Lee made a gallant effort to score without success, as Paton was on the alerts and sent it down only to be returned to him to defend his charge which he did well.
McQuisten was the first man to show up prominently; he passed it to Brown who shot for goals, but as Paton was keeping a sharp lookout it was sent up again where another spell of open play occurred.

Lee sent in another sharp one to Paton, who sent it back.

He was not just a stickhandler, though, as this passage from the January 30, 1893 edition of the Gazette suggests:

At the start the puck was carried down to the Montreal end of the ice and shot after shot was made at the goal, but Paton stopped them with his hands, stick or feet. He seemed to be in every part of the goals at once, and every time the puck was shot in it was as speedily returned, and finally Cameron scooped it up to the other end of the rink.

So I see Paton very much as a 19th Century Martin Brodeur: a goaltender who is very proficient at stopping the puck, but who also contributes greatly to his side's efforts with his stick.

More on Paton, and Stewart and Cameron, in the coming days.


  1. Any relation to Harry Cameron?

  2. Not to my knowledge. Allan Cameron will be the subject of a post soon. Although well-regarded as a rusher he was more of an all-round player than Harry Cameron, who was primaryily an offensive player.


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