Like a party begun with a practical joke, the 1962-63 National League hockey season got off to a boffo start as the forever cellar-dwelling Boston Bruins pulled the chair out from under the lofty Montreal Canadiens with a 5-0 shutout in their very first game. As soon as the astonished laughter subsided, however, order began to reassert itself Skating as smoothly as ever during the next two weeks, and with virtually no change in their last year's lineup (save for the absence through illness of their prizewinning goalie, Jacques Plante), the Canadiens climbed slowly but surely toward the first-place position in which they are expected to finish the season. With their own rosters pretty much intact, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks both seemed in shape to repeat their last year's close scramble for second place. The continuing surprise of the new season was Detroit. With seven new men on the ice, the Red Wings were skating along at the top of the league,although few gave them much chance to stay up there. With their only real strength still concentrated in ageless Gordie Howe, now formally installed as assistant coach, the Red Wings are once again picked by the experts to share the bottom floors with the New York Rangers and the Bruins, who are confidently predicted to end up, as usual, in last place. If Boston thus has little to look forward to, it can at least take pride in its possession of the most interesting rookie in the league: a Canadien-killing goaltender, as relentlessly cheerful in defeat as he was in the fleeting moments of victory.
Some individuals are thwarted more by the peculiar circumstances of their era than by a lack of talent or industry; consider the luckless playwrights who labored in Shakespeare's shadow. Such a victim of time is Bob Perreault (below), the beleaguered but irrepressible new goaltender of the inept Boston Bruins and formerly, under the nom de boxe of Kid Flamingo, a reluctant and belabored prizefighter. "My trunks were yellow," he says. "They match my heart."
At 31, Perreault is the oldest rookie in the National Hockey League. He is, however, the second youngest goaltender. It is Perreault's misfortune to be roughly contemporary with a formidable company of goalkeepers: Chicago's Glenn Hall, also 31; Terry Sawchuk of Detroit, 32; Montreal's Jacques Plante and New York's Gump Worsley, both 33. Toronto's Johnny Bower admits to 38 but seems only now to be entering his prime.
Perreault has played major league hockey before: six games with Montreal in 1955-56 and three games with Detroit in 1958-59, achieving a shutout on each occasion. "Plante and Sawchuk!" says Boston Captain Don McKenney, awestruck. "He had to take their jobs away. The poor guy never had an opportunity."
The only team in the NHL that has lacked a distinguished goalie over the past decade has been Boston. It has also lacked a distinguished defense and, not to be slighting, a distinguished offense. These deficiencies do not tend to improve a goaltender's lot, which is a desperate, hazardous and intolerable one under the best of circumstances.
Lynn Patrick, the Bruins' general manager and brother of New York's Muzz, concedes he should have given Perreault a trial when the goalie first came to his notice seven years ago, but Patrick was put off by a notably comic build. Perreault is 5 feet 7, weighs 184 pounds and is shaped rather like Mr. Magoo.
"They call me chubby in Cleveland and portly in Buffalo," says Perreault, cheerfully, indicating two of the cities he has played in during his 11 winters in the minors, "but in Hershey they call me le chat—quick hands." Perreault's major assets are, indeed, his remarkably fast hands, but the word around the NHL is that he is a "good goalie from the waist down," meaning he has trouble blocking shoulder-high shots.
"All you have to do to play goal," he says, "is be fast and close your eyes. I don't know how I shut out Montreal the first game of the season; I have my eyes shut tight all the time. Follow the puck, that's how you play goal. Soon as it's hit you make the move. You make the good move, it's stop. You make the bad move, it's in, eh? In Providence, two years I sit on the bench, taking it nice and easy. I look good on the bench. I put on a few pounds. It's good for a goalie to be fat. The puck don't hurt so much."
"Bobby's a roly-poly guy," says Patrick. "He doesn't look like a goaltender. He just looks like he's lucky."
Perreault doesn't act like a goalie, either. "Most of them are kind of nutty, stay by themselves," says Patrick. "But Bobby's the most popular guy on the team. After he shut out Montreal he went around the dressing room, with his belly sucked in, and shook everyone's hand and he was the hero. On a bus ride to Ottawa after an exhibition game he rebroadcast the Patterson-Liston fight for the boys in French. 'Rive droite, rive droite, le nez, la t√™te...fini. On the sole of Patterson's shoe it say: Eat at Joe's Diner. Patterson was going to fight him on inside but Liston hit him on outside.' "
"That—Bobby," says Boston Coach Phil Watson, "he's fat, sloppy and no good. Most of your goaltenders are very temperamental. They get babied so much. Bobby, he's a happy-go-lucky guy. He's a nut. He's a funny duck. He never gets nervous or jittery. He gives me a lot of confidence. He gives the team a Jot of confidence."
"He make the big save," says Boston Wing Andy Pronovost. "The team is down and then—whoop!—the team it go up. This guy will make a mistake and then make joke. Listen, his wife phone him and say something is wrong with the transmission of his car. You know what he do? Laugh."
"He's a funny guy, Bobby," says McKenney. "Nothing bothers him. Goalies are usually quiet, reserved. They're alone a lot. If anyone beats them, it's a goal. They take a lot of the burden on their shoulders. The poor guys are all alone."
"All the time I've been happy," says Perreault, without wonder.
Bobby Perreault's long, devious trail to the NHL is paved with evidence of his wacky good humor. There is, for example, the short, slap-happy career of Kid Flamingo. "We just decided to go boxing," says Perreault, casually disclosing its genesis. "We was just laughing all the time. This boxing was just like a sideline for the boys. There were three or four of us in the business. I get $15 a fight. We put the money together to buy a car. A Pissaro. That was a car something like a Rolls-Royce, eh? That wasn't a new one, but that was a long one, six bar booths long. Four mile to a gallon. It was black, with a little green to it. Two big lights on the wing. We drove it all around. Not too fast. Too hard on the gas.
"One night I fight this guy that weighs 175 pound. I was about 140, 138. No, this guy wasn't the big colored guy. That colored guy, I see him in the dressing room. I wonder who he is going to fight. He was big one, eh? Later on I see him in the ring. 'Hey,' I say, 'who you fight, anyway?' 'You,' he say. It was too late then. This other fight was in Grand M√®re. The fight start, and boom! I was down. I went boom maybe four, five time. I was flat on my back and yell at my manager Romeo—he's an M.C. in a Montreal night club. 'Throw in the towel,' I say. 'I can't,' say my manager. 'Why not?' I say. 'I left it in the dressing room,' he say.
"Same fight, third round, that manager he took my mouthpiece and throw it in the crowd. Why? He was nervous, eh? That was in Grand M√®re, and the guy I was fight was a home-town boy, so the crowd won't give it back. We was laughing all the time, anyway. Another time they give me hell because I wore long underwear under my yellow trunks—but it was so cold!
The long-retired Kid Flamingo made a brief comeback on NHL ice when the Bruins played Toronto in their second game of this season. Perreault's teammate Ted Green caught him a swipe with a hockey stick and almost knocked him out. "Greenie swing at [Eddie] Shack—two hands!—miss and hit me. I thought I had a broken jaw," said Bobby. Boston took a 10-minute timeout; Perreault had only cut his tongue. "Bobby, we going to win this game with you in the nets tonight?" Watson asked him. "Sure," said Perreault, bloody but unbowed. Watson told the rest of the Bruins: "He wants to play." "The Kid Flamingo took it on the button," Perreault announced, "but the Kid Flamingo didn't go down."
Another of Perreault's escapades involved a monkey called Chief, a straw hat and a pipe. As Bobby tells it: "We got the monkey in Florida. We were four guy, went for a little ride and decide to get a monkey. That was in 1953. We bring it into boarding house and hide it under blanket so no one know we got it in there. That monkey, he stoned all the time. He drink a whole bottle of beer, then look in the bottle like this." Perreault squinted disconsolately into an imaginary beer bottle. "But no one want to keep him—smell.
"One day when I was playing for Shawinigan Falls against Three Rivers I bring Chief out on the ice with me. I wear straw hat, too, smoke pipe. I tie him to the top of the net and get ready to play. I thought that would be good for the people. Not bad, eh? Oh, yeah, the people really enjoyed it. But the referee say to me, 'Take that monkey out of there, we want no monkey business.' I don't know. I say there no rule against it. They spanked me for a while, but there was nothing in the rule book about that. There was a new rule next year: a goalie can wear nothing but his equipment. In juniors I was worse. I smoke pipe all the game, keep the straw hat on all the game. That monkey he in the Grand. M√®re zoo now.
"I tell you the time I stole—I took, I borrow—this cop's horse in Detroit? We were sudsing, eh? I see this horse and get on him and ride him all around Cadillac Square. The cop catch me. He couldn't understand what I was saying, but I know he mean business."
Perreault now owns legitimately one and a half trotters in Three Rivers, Quebec, where he was born and lives in the off season with his wife Pierrette, son Mirke, 5, and daughter Josée, 3. "The one I own, Ringading, not too hot, really bad, but with the other, Bye Bye Love, we win two races. I train them in the morning, but it takes three years to have license to drive them. Too much trouble." Perreault goes for flat racing, too. "I was at the races one time and this horse I bet on was first when they go behind the billboard [tote board]. He was last when they came out. You know, I think they change jockeys on me back there." Perreault also enjoys curling (in Hershey he was a member of a team called the Six Pack Rats), golf ("I'm not too good, really bad, eh?—90"), baseball (he tried out with the Dodgers at Vero Beach. "They just pick four or five of us guy for a little see-around there") and football. "I really like thatgame," he says. "I wish my son he play a little football." Perreault is a fast, demoniac and tailgating driver in his old, worn Buick. "I went 95 in that lemon last Saturday," he said the other day. "I would have gone faster but I was in bad shape—my tongue. I have small wheel on one side. Supposed to be better, one guy told me."
During the off season Perreault is the day bartender at the Club Des Forges in Three Rivers, of which he is part owner. "I like that," he says. "Lots of action, lots of noise, lots of girls: singers, the half-strip, eh?"
Perreault's career in professional hockey began in Providence in 1951. After two years with the Reds he went with Sherbrooke for a season. Then followed a year with the Montreal Royals, three years with Shawinigan—in 1954—55 he won the Vezina Memorial Trophy for being the outstanding goalie in the Quebec Hockey League—and, most recently, five seasons with Hershey in the American Hockey League. In 1958-59 he was awarded the Harry Holmes Memorial Trophy, again for being the best goal-tender in the league.
Perreault wears a religious medal when he plays. Before each period and, if there is opportunity, after every save, he touches it to his forehead, eyes, nose, lips. Playing goal for Boston offers frequent occasion for divine intervention. In the seven games the fourth-place Bruins have played to date, they have won one, lost three and tied three; the opposition has scored 22 goals in Perreault's six games, and Perreault, in weary despair, has made a total of 205 saves. Although a somewhat ridiculous, shabby-looking figure in his long, baggy uniform sweater, he is no source of amusement as he glides fearfully about his semicircle like a mechanical clock figure. He has a look of terror and of a hopelessness which approaches pain.
"Bobby's a heck of a goaltender," says Captain McKenney. "I don't think he'll be the one who'll let us down."
He hasn't. When Boston lost its first game of the season to Detroit 5-3 after a win and two ties (last season the Bruins lost eight straight before they managed to win one), the subject of the team's concern was Perreault. "Poor guy," said the veteran Right Wing Jerry Toppazzini, "we didn't give him a chance tonight." Perreault somberly tied his pointy shoes, then broke into his almost perpetual grin. "That's the game," he said. "Let's try to win another one, eh?" He withdrew a long cigar from his breast pocket, where a white handkerchief showed three even peaks, like a child's vision of the Alps. "If we make the playoffs," Bobby said, "I smoke cigar ail summer."