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Top 100 Goalies: No. 90 — Mike Palmateer

A petulant parent put Palmateer on the track towards becoming a memorable NHL keeper.

It’s amusing how some star goalies started out between the pipes. For Mike Palmateer, an oversensitive hockey dad – not his – played a big part.

Growing up in Toronto, Palmateer was registered in two leagues by his own father, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. At seven, in just his second season, Palmateer led both leagues in scoring as a forward. In his third year, while playing on a rep team, Palmateer took a chance on playing goalie when his coach asked the squad in practice if anyone wanted to give it a try. Palmateer got to play a game in net and won. The father of the team’s usual goalie got so mad, he pulled his kid from the team, and all of a sudden Palmateer’s services were needed full time. He still played forward in house league until he was 15 (he won the scoring title that year, too), but netminding was clearly his future. “That’s how I got my wandering ability,” Palmateer said. “And it allowed me to think like a forward.”

Influenced by Johnny Bower and Roger Crozier, Palmateer loved the pokecheck and had no problem straying from his crease. His play with the junior Toronto Marlboros caught the eye of scouts, and in 1974, Palmateer’s hometown Maple Leafs drafted him 85th overall. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “I watched them on TV every Wednesday and Saturday. What was really cool was the phone call I got when they drafted me: Johnny Bower was the one that called.”

Palmateer got some seasoning in the minors, first with Saginaw of the International League, then Oklahoma City in the Central League. That second, longer stop made an impression on him. “We played in a great rink called The Myriad,” Palmateer said. “It sat 10,000 – not that we got that many, unless it was nickel beer night. But those were some of my best memories. The guys on that team – you only had each other.”

Golf outings, bonding after games and on the road, it was all good for the youngster. But after two years in the minors, Palmateer made his NHL debut and ended up playing 50 games for the Leafs in 1976-77. Toronto made the playoffs, and the team had itself a new starter.

Year 2 went even better. He made 63 starts, shaved half a goal off his goals-against average, to 2.74, and helped the Leafs to the Stanley Cup semifinal. They swept Los Angeles in the first round, then took out a rising New York Islanders team that was on the cusp of a dynasty. The Montreal Canadiens, in the midst of their own dynasty, conquered Toronto in the third round. Palmateer was stellar, though he points out he had help from players such as Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Ian Turnbull. “We were a good team,” Palmateer said. “Borje Salming got hurt early, but Turnbull stepped up and was huge for us.”

During his third season with the Maple Leafs, Palmateer continued to sizzle, finishing fifth in Hart Trophy voting. Like many players in Toronto at that time, Palmateer didn’t last long under owner Harold Ballard and GM Punch Imlach. After four seasons with the Leafs, Palmateer went to Washington when management wouldn’t pay him market value. “I was actually going to go to L.A.” Palmateer said. “But at the time there had to be compensation through an arbitrator, and the Leafs couldn’t work anything out with the Kings.”

Instead, the Leafs worked out a trade with the Capitals that saw Palmateer sent to Washington for defenseman Robert Picard. The Capitals were doormats in the Patrick Division, though Palmateer enjoyed his time there. In his first season there, he notched eight assists, which was a record for the time.

Palmateer spent two years with the Caps, but injuries piled up. For an athletic netminder, that was trouble, and ownership in Washington got impatient. He finished his career back in Toronto after a trade and later took a scouting role with the Leafs in 2001. He retired from that in 2015.

These days, despite numerous knee surgeries, Palmateer stays active by playing in charity golf tournaments, spending his winters in Florida. His career may not have lasted long, but he became a favorite among a generation of Leafs fans who remember his heroics and fearless playing style in net.

Born: Jan. 13, 1954, Toronto, Ont.
NHL Career: 1976-84
Teams: Tor, Wsh
Stats: 149-138-52, 3.53 GAA, .888 SP, 17 SO

DID YOU KNOW?

As a scout, Palmateer championed several future NHLers at the draft table. One was goalie Tuukka Rask, whom the Leafs took in the first round in 2005 before trading him to Boston. Palmateer was also high on Winnipeg starter Connor Hellebuyck, but Toronto couldn’t get him in time. Up front, another diamond in the rough slipped to Florida, but the Leafs later got him anyway. “I really liked Zach Hyman,” Palmateer said.

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