Jim Souhan: No masking this character

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 28, 2007 - 8:23 PM

The death of a North Stars mainstay triggered a flood of tales about a goalie who was human, heroic and often hilarious.

Gump Worsley, the Hall of Fame goalie who played for the Minnesota North Stars, died on Friday, five days after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.

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.

"Gump was always one of the centers of attention, because he was so comical. The name certainly fit him to a 'T'."

Worsley's real name was Lorne. Friends decided he looked like a comic-strip character named Andy Gump, and the name stuck.

Had he played today, he might have been known as "Homer," because, like the Simpsons character, Worsley was known for his potbelly and punch lines.

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."

Worsley was the second-to-last goaltender ever to play without a mask. "My face," he would explain, "is my mask."

When playing for the hapless Rangers early in his career, Worsley was asked which team gave him the most trouble. His reply: "The New York Rangers."

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."

Reid remembered sitting next to Worsley on a flight, and Worsley squeezing the blood out of Reid's leg during takeoff. "He always carried a hanky," Reid said. "And by the time we landed, you could have squeezed water out of that hanky, he was so nervous. We'd always fly North Central Air, and Gump called it, 'Air Duck,' or 'Air Chance.' "

Worsley feared routine flights and yet chose not to wear a face mask. Reid and Nanne said Worsley would use his goalie stick on opponents who shot high, but one time he caught a shot from Bobby Hull in the forehead. "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?' "

Nanne remembers Worsley smoking before games -- and between periods. "He made up his own rules," Nanne said.

Worsley also decided when he wanted to play. Sometimes before a game, he'd ask Reid to toss him a puck, then he'd drop it and tell his teammates, "Oh, this might not be such a good game."

  • Photo gallery For a look at Gump Worsley's career in pictures, go to www.startribune.com

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