Terry Sawchuk: A Face Only a Hockey Puck Could Love
Once upon a time, NHL goalies played without masks. Unsurprisingly, their faces frequently took beatings. In 1966, LIFE magazine published an article, “The Goalie Is the Goat,” that not only tried to put a human countenance on “hockey’s reviled and bludgeoned fall-guys,” but led off with the striking photo above: Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk, looking for all the world like a modern Frankenstein’s monster.
This face belongs to Terry Sawchuk [wrote LIFE], a 36-year-old goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Re-created here, by a professional make-up artist and a doctor, are some of the more than 400 stitches he has earned during 16 years in the National Hockey League. Sawchuk has sustained other injuries not shown here: a slashed eyeball requiring three stitches, a 70% loss of function in his right arm because 60 bone chips were removed from his elbow, and a permanent “sway-back” caused by continual bent-over posture.
Last year there were only six NHL goalies, but games had to be interrupted so regularly for spot surgical repairs that a new rule was passed requiring every team to carry a spare. The bloody ordeal has bred a special kind of man — half commando and half human pincushion — and it is not surprising he has special problems.
“How would you like it,” LIFE quoted another Hall of Fame goalie, Jacques Plante, the first in the NHL to regularly wear a mask, “if you were out on your job or in your office and you made a little mistake. And suddenly a bright red light flashed on behind you and then 18,000 people started screaming, ‘Pig!Stupid! You couldn’t even stop a basketball! Get the bum out of there!’”
Sawchuk, meanwhile, had one of the strangest careers of any great NHL player. He was a four-time Stanley Cup winner, an 11-time All Star, won four Vezina trophies and a boatload of other laurels. He also bounced around from team to team — he played for five between 1949 and 1970 — and was depressive, alcoholic and reportedly abusive toward his wife (who eventually divorced him) and kids for years. In 1970, he was badly injured during a fight with his Rangers teammate Ron Stewart, and eventually died of internal injuries, including a bleeding liver. Sawchuk never blamed Stewart for the fight, and repeatedly said the whole thing was a stupid accident. He was 40 years old.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1971. Below is a photo of him at 22 years old, when he was, according to LIFE, “the greatest hockey goalie ever.”