Sunday, 4 December 2011

Tom Paton's Glove Hand

If you're interested in the early history of hockey, you should be sure to check out Ultimate Hockey, a book published in 1999. It contains one of the very few attempts to actually address the history of the organized game before the Stanley Cup. It tries very much to be like a Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, for instance when it has a summary box for each decade with a bunch of "best" and "worst" players in a variety of categories.

But here's an illustration of why when reading this book, as entertaining and informative as it can be, you should have a salt lick standing by. In "The Earlies" section (by which they mean the years before 1900), one category they list is "Best Glove Hand (Goalie)", and award the honour to Tom Paton. Now, if you're interested in this period of hockey history you had damn well better know who Paton is; here's a link to help if you don't. Paton was the greatest goaltender in hockey from about 1885 to 1893, playing for the famed Montreal Winged Wheelers. So you might think that saying he had the best glove hand of his era would be quite likely, since he was the best goaltender. But here's a picture of him, c.1890, in full uniform:

Not sure which one he is? These days, you can easily spot a goaltender by the equipment he wears: great big leg pads, a chest protector that makes him seem twice his actual size, a huge trapper that could catch a Chinook salmon. But in this photo, just like all guardians of the flags, Paton is attired just like his teammates, including the near-mandatory moustaches for Victorian-era sportsmen. Goaltenders in Paton's time stopped pucks with their skates, and most importantly their sticks. They weren't allowed to drop to the ice to makes saves, either. So to say that Paton had the best glove hand of his generation is completely nonsensical. No one even wore gloves. You can't even call them netminders, since Paton predates goal nets.

If you haven't guessed yet, Paton is the one in the middle, sitting beside the two Montreal Winter Carnival trophies. He's a player we'll surely be discussing more often here in the future.

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