On paper, Gilles Meloche doesn’t seem like a great netminder. He gave up the third most goals in NHL history at 2,755 and has the fourth most losses. His 270-351-131 record isn’t turning heads, either.
The numbers don’t lie, but they also don’t tell the whole story. He was the only meaningful line of defense for many of the teams he played for and waited years for his performance to matter in the playoffs.
When the Chicago Black Hawks drafted Meloche 70th overall in 1970, they already had future Hall of Famer Tony Esposito in net, and he was just 27. So Meloche was traded to the California Golden Seals in 1971. When he started playing for them in 1971-72, they were the worst team in the league. Meloche welcomed the trade that gave him a chance to play, weak team or not.
Breakaways were common, but Meloche never gave up on a puck. He was 5-foot-8, not a huge intimidator in net, but performed heroics nightly. If he failed, he’d just say he needed to “try harder,” even if he never had a chance.
When the Seals relocated and became the Cleveland Barons in 1976-77, Meloche found himself on a team caught in a three-way tie for fourth last in the league. When they merged with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978, he finally got his chance. He had a good team to work with and didn’t squander the opportunity.
In seven seasons, he took Minnesota to the Stanley Cup final once and the semifinal twice. But that was as close as he got to a Cup. Minnesota traded him to Edmonton, where he never played a game before being traded to Pittsburgh in 1985-86. He spent his final three seasons there before calling it a career.
Born: July 12, 1950, Montreal, Que.
NHL Career: 1971-88
Teams: Chi, Cal/Cle, Min, Pit
Stats: 270-351-131, 3.65 GAA, .885 SP, 20 SO
DID YOU KNOW?
Meloche worked as the Penguins’ goalie coach for 24 years, stepping down in 2013. He still works as a special-assignment scout for them. He never won a Cup as a player but coached on three championship squads.