Gerry McNeil

Last updated
Gerry McNeil
Born(1926-04-17)April 17, 1926
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada
Died June 17, 2004(2004-06-17) (aged 78)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Height 5 ft 7 in (170 cm)
Weight 155 lb (70 kg; 11 st 1 lb)
Position Goaltender
Caught Left
Played for Montreal Canadiens
Playing career 19471961

Gerald George McNeil (April 17, 1926 – June 17, 2004) was a professional ice hockey goaltender who won two Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1950s.



McNeil first signed with the Canadiens in 1943 when he was only 17. While playing with their farm team, the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League (QSHL), he served as a practice goalie with the Habs whenever they were in Montreal. McNeil won the Byng of Vimy award for the most valuable player three times in the QSHL, and the Royals won the Allan Cup in 1947. [1]

McNeil was called up from the Cincinnati Mohawks of the American Hockey League (AHL) in March 1950 when Montreal's goaltender, Bill Durnan, was hit in the head with a skate blade. Teams in this era usually carried a single goalie who played every minute, barring injury. McNeil recorded a 1.50 goals against average (GAA) over six games and preserved Durnan's sixth and final Vezina Trophy, then awarded to the goalie who played the most, of the team with the fewest goals against. This rookie performance earned McNeil "the Schaefer player of the week" award. [2] Durnan returned but felt he had lost his edge, so he announced that he sit out a playoff game against the New York Rangers. McNeil initially refused to take "Bill's spot," so Durnan was asked to talk to his understudy in a private part of the dressing room. Both men shed tears, as the "torch" was passed down, and McNeil then succeeded Durnan as Montreal's goalie. [3]

McNeil played every game for the Canadiens from March 1950 to November 1952, a streak that included two entire 70-game seasons, 1950–51 and 1951–52. In the 1951 Stanley Cup playoffs, McNeil went 214 minutes of shutout hockey against the powerful Detroit Red Wings, a stretch that included two marathon overtime games at the Detroit Olympia. McNeil made 38 of his 62 game one saves in extra time, a performance that prompted Jack Adams, Detroit's general manager, to remark, "It was like running into one-hit pitching your first time out. The greatest goalkeeping this team ever faced." [4] The Canadiens won both games on goals by Maurice Richard and a stellar performance by McNeil, who was dubbed by the Detroit press, "the magician." [5] When the Canadiens went on to eliminate the heavily-favored Red Wings, Detroit's coach, Tommy Ivan, remarked, "Gerry McNeil was the difference. He was terrific in their net." [6] The 1951 Stanley Cup Finals remain the only best-of-seven series in which every game required overtime. Bill Barilko's Cup-winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs against McNeil was famously captured in a photograph by Nat Turofsky, remaining part of the legend surrounding Barilko's death. [7] [8]

McNeil recorded 10 shutouts in the 1952-53 NHL season, making his play essential as the Canadiens only scored 155 goals in 70 games, a 2.21 goals per game rate. The last game of the regular season was against Detroit at the Olympia, and sitting at 49 goals, Gordie Howe was set to match and perhaps beat Richard's then-record of 50 in a season, set when he had scored 50 goals in 50 games in 1943-44. Howe did not score on five shots against McNeil, who was heard telling Richard after the game, "well Rock, he'll have to start over at one again." [9] McNeil's Stanley Cup victory a few weeks later was immortalized in Wayne Johnston's novel, The Divine Ryans. [10] He won the Cup the night before his 27th birthday with a shutout in overtime.

In the 1954 Stanley Cup Finals McNeil suffered another overtime loss, this time in game seven, when the puck was deflected past him by his teammate Doug Harvey. He retired that summer but returned to professional hockey a year later with the Montreal Royals. He then filled in for an asthmatic Jacques Plante at the beginning of the 1956-57 NHL season, before playing the rest of the season with the Royals. After then played two seasons with the Rochester Americans in the AHL before finishing his professional career in his hometown with the Quebec Aces.

McNeil led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup Finals all four seasons from 1950 to 1954, the seasons in which he was their number one goalie. This stretch was the first four of ten consecutive appearances in the Cup Finals for the Habs.

McNeil was known to play his best when it mattered most. He finished his NHL career with a 2.32 GAA for the regular season and a 1.89 in the playoffs. He appeared in three NHL All-Star games, (1951, 1952 and 1953) and posted a 2.00 GAA. His 28 regular season shutouts earned him an NHL Milestone Award in 1982.

Personal life

Born to Peter McNeil and Rose Dyotte (dit Gyotte) in 1926, McNeil was married to Theresa Conway (1927–2009) for 58 years, and the couple had four children, Shannon, Karen, David, and Donna, and six grandchildren. After retiring from hockey, McNeil worked as a sales representative for a number of organizations. His last position was regional sales manager for Thomas Adams, a Seagram's company. He spent a number of winters in Panama City Beach, Florida with his hockey buddies: Elmer Lach, Ken Mosdell and Maurice Richard. He joined the first two as pallbearers at Richard's funeral in May 2000 and died himself of cancer in 2004. [11]

Career statistics

Regular season

1943–44 Montreal Jr. Royals QJHL31801003.33
1943–44Montreal Royals QSHL 21126011015.24
1944–45Montreal RoyalsQSHL23184113509004.00
1945–46Montreal RoyalsQSHL26213215608713.35
1946–47Montreal RoyalsQSHL4025132240012423.10
1947–48 Montreal Canadiens NHL 201195704.42
1947–48Montreal RoyalsQSHL4733140282015633.32
1948–49Montreal RoyalsQSHL5935195354017853.02
1949–50 Montreal CanadiensNHL6312360911.50
1949–50 Cincinnati Mohawks AHL 55123013330020133.65
1950–51 Montreal CanadiensNHL70253015420018462.63
1951–52 Montreal CanadiensNHL70342610420016452.34
1952–53 Montreal CanadiensNHL662523183960140102.12
1953–54 Montreal CanadiensNHL5328196318011462.15
1955–56Montreal RoyalsQHL5430177333012852.31
1956–57 Montreal CanadiensNHL94505403103.44
1956–57Montreal RoyalsQHL5926284361017532.91
1957–58 Rochester Americans AHL6828346415822953.30
1958–59 Rochester AmericansAHL6631305401019922.98
1959–60Montreal Royals EPHL 28139616806752.39
1960–61 Quebec Aces AHL5021271293317633.60
QSHL/QHL totals329198701048213.16
NHL totals2761191055216535649282.36


1943–44Montreal RoyalsQSHL73404203004.29
1944–45Montreal RoyalsQSHL74304203014.29
1945–46Montreal RoyalsQSHL117226603102.82
1946–47Montreal RoyalsQSHL117406602202.00
1947–48Montreal RoyalsQSHL3030180903.00
1948–49Montreal RoyalsQSHL93405402512.78
1949–50Montreal CanadiensNHL211135502.22
1950–51Montreal CanadiensNHL11567852511.91
1951–52Montreal CanadiensNHL11476882312.01
1952–53Montreal CanadiensNHL8534861621.98
1953–54Montreal CanadiensNHL321190310.95
1955–56Montreal RoyalsQHL1991011616313.26
1956–57Montreal RoyalsQHL4042451102.69
1958–59Rochester AmericansAHL5143041202.37
1959–60Montreal RoyalsEPHL14868423412.42
QSHL/QHL totals6133342428622133.09
NHL totals35171822847251.89

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  1. Charles Halpin, "Royals McNeil Unanimous Choice on Third Gazette All-Star Squad," The Gazette 12 Mar. 1949: 21. See also The Goaltender Homepage, "Our History: The Historical Website of the Montreal Canadiens.", and "Hockey" Accessed 27 Feb. 2012.
  2. "National League," The Hockey News 18 Mar. 1950: 9.
  3. D’Arcy Jenish, The Montreal Canadiens: 100 Years of Glory (Toronto: Doubleday, 2008), 126–27.
  4. Quoted by Brian Kendall, Shutout: The Legend of Terry Sawchuk (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1996), 42.
  5. Paul Chandler, "League’s Ignored Goalie is Magician," The Detroit News 28 Mar. 1951: 57.
  6. Quoted by Dink Carroll, "Playing the Field," The Gazette 9 Apr. 1951: 22.
  7. Vyhnak, Carola (1 June 2017). "The 11-year mystery of Leafs' 'Bashin' Bill Barilko'". Toronto Star. Retrieved 24 May 2020.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. Wright, Marshall D. (2014). The National Hockey League, 1917-1967: A Year-by-Year Statistical History. McFarland. ISBN   978-0-7864-5767-0 . Retrieved 24 May 2020.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. Quoted in Dick Irvin, The Habs: An Oral History of the Montreal Canadiens, 1940-80 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1992), 94.
  10. See Wayne Johnston, The Divine Ryans (Toronto: Vintage, 1990), 152–56.
  11. See David Naylor, "NHL Goalie Made Hockey History" The Globe and Mail 26 July 2004: R5.