Late in the 1965-66 NHL season, Toronto Maple Leafs coach-GM Punch Imlach found himself running out of goalies.
Johnny Bower suffered injured ribs in a collision with New York Rangers forward Jean Ratelle. Terry Sawchuk, out with a charley horse, rushed back to fill the void, only to aggravate the injury more seriously in practice.
Gary Smith, who’d been called up when Sawchuk was originally hurt, also suffered a leg injury in his third game as a Leaf.
That left Imlach with three options – teenager Al Smith from Toronto Marlboros juniors, or two minor-league journeymen – Al Millar and Bruce Gamble.
#Leafs Punch Imlach says that veteran Bruce Gamble will be the likely backup to regular goalie Johnny Bower this season. pic.twitter.com/dCknCPRLrc
— Hockey50Yearsago (@hockey50years) August 26, 2017
Not wanting to risk fracturing the confidence of the young Al Smith, Imlach opted for roll the dice with Gamble, who hadn’t played an NHL game since 1962 with the Boston Bruins.
Gamble was hailed from Tulsa of the Central League. He made 35 saves in his debut, earning the third star in a 3-3 tie with the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens. Then he got on an amazing roll.
49 yrs ago, the NHL played its final all-star game where Cup champs faced all-stars. Bruce Gamble was MVP as Leafs beat the All-Stars 4-3. pic.twitter.com/qDPXsugyDm
— O-Pee-Chee Stars (@opeecheestars) January 17, 2017
At Montreal the next night, Gamble turned aside 31 shots for a 4-0 victory. Two days later, he blocked 33 shots to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0. Boston’s John McKenzie finally got a puck past Gamble in a 5-3 Toronto win. That ended Gamble’s shutout sequence at 171 minutes and 55 seconds. But he wasn’t done laying goose eggs on the opposition.
In his next start, Gamble delivered a 35-save performance, making a Frank Mahovlich goal stand up for a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings. He posted 27 saves and beat the Bruins 6-0.
In six games, he’d posted a 5-0-1 record, four shutouts and a ,969 save percentage.