Hall of Fame goalie Glenn Hall once described the business of puck-stopping as “sixty minutes of hell.” Fortunately, Hall, the man who played 502 consecutive NHL games without a mask, never had to endure the hockey Hades that befell New York Rangers goalie Ken ‘Tubby’ McAuley one night in Detroit. Facing the Red Wings Jan. 23, 1944, McAuley allowed 15 straight goals in what was the most one-sided shutout in NHL history. “Tubby should have been awarded the Croix de Guerre,” said Rangers coach Frank Boucher, “if not the Victoria Cross.”
Alas, McAuley got neither prize, but he sure grabbed plenty of ink in the NHL Record Book. It included his involvement with the following: most consecutive goals, one team, one game; most points, one team, one game; most goals, one team, one period; and most points, one team, one period.
McAuley never beefed about his fate – he was tickled pink just to be in the bigs in the first place. He was a wartime replacement, one of many stoppers manager Lester Patrick tried to find after ‘Sugar’ Jim Henry enlisted in the Canadian armed forces. During 1942-43, one Patrick discovery was worse than the other. The losers list included Jimmy Franks, Bill Beveridge, Lionel Bouvrette and Steve Buzinski, the latter of whom is regarded as the worst goalie ever to go between NHL pipes. Hence, his nickname – Steve Buzinski, ‘The Puck Goes Inski.’
Desperate to avoid another goals-against avalanche for 1943-44, Patrick listened to his scouts. He heard good things about Edmonton native McAuley, who had been playing senior hockey with the Edmonton Maple Leafs, then the Regina Rangers.
Goaltending excellence was a rarity during wartime hockey. Tubby played all 50 Rangers games that season and won a grand total of six. That made it agonizingly tough on the Blueshirts radio broadcasters, play-by-play man Bert Lee and his analyst Ward Wilson. But they found a way to give hope to their avid listeners. Whenever the Blueshirts were behind in a game – which was too often – Lee would turn to his sidekick and opine, “Time enough for one goal, Ward, time enough for 20!” And Wilson, the perfect straight man, would nod his approval.
However, on that fateful night in Detroit not even super-optimist Lee could summon the chutzpah to suggest in the third period that a New York victory was in sight. It already was 8-0 for Detroit at the end of two and 15-0 at the end of three, although some observers believe goal No. 16 beat Tubby before the final buzzer. Which prompts the question: how could an Original Six team redefine futility with Hall of Fame right winger Bryan Hextall and all-star defenseman Ott Heller in the lineup?
Boucher had the answer: “They were our only real hockey players.” He wasn’t kidding either. Stripped by wartime enlistments, Patrick was forced to employ no less than 32 players in search of a winning combo. One of those stickhandlers was Boucher himself. Egad! Frank was 42, and the Hall of Fame center had not skated in the NHL for six years. He still managed to produce four goals and 14 points in 15 games and outscored no less than 19 other Rangers that season.
It had been hinted at the time that the club’s problems were partly due to Boucher’s coaching. But Patrick learned first-hand the Rangers’ issues had nothing to do with the bench boss. In his autobiography, When The Rangers Were Young, Boucher explained how Patrick got the message. “Just before we left for Detroit,” Boucher wrote, “I got a call from Ottawa that my brother Carroll had died, and I told Lester I wanted to go home for a few days. He said of course: that he’d be glad to handle the team in Detroit.”
As bad luck would have it, this was the worst decision ‘The Silver Fox’ ever made. Although Patrick had coached the Rangers to Stanley Cups in 1928 and 1933, he never orchestrated so dissonant a lineup as he did that night in the Motor City. “It was,” Boucher astutely noted, “a shocking experience for Lester.”
Never mind Patrick, what about poor McAuley who faced 62 Wings shots and couldn’t have been relieved even if he wanted to get off the hook? Not only did Patrick keep Tubby in goal throughout that dismal season, he rehired him for 1944-45.
Even more bizarre to some who remember that game is the fact Tubby McAuley eventually was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame. If you’re wondering why, it could well be for merely surviving that shell-shocked night in Detroit.