emergency goaltender david ayres stunned the hockey world when he helped the carolina hurricanes beat the toronto maple leafs on feb. on January 22, 2020, but he wasn’t the first unlikely puckstopper filler to help a team beat the Blades in Toronto. Another last-minute replacement accomplished a similar feat for the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1938 Stanley Cup Final, and he did so after spending much of the afternoon drinking beers at a local bar.
The 1937-38 Black Hawks had returned to the playoffs with a dismal record of 14-25-9. However, that was good enough for third place and last playoff spot in the American division, just one point above the Detroit Red Wings. The NHL then consisted of two four-team divisions, with the top three from each earning a postseason berth. In the first round, Chicago stunned the Montreal Canadians when, in the deciding game of the best-of-three series, Earl Seibert tied things up with 1:26 left in the third and left winger Paul Thompson finished the series with a goal in extra time.
black horse hawks were gaining strength at just the right time, as a reporter from montreal pointed out. “They are a different team from the meek and placid, drab and apathetic Chicago team that visited here all season long. they’ve become a rough and tumble fighting team… the falcons now have agility and dynamism, color and power and, oddly enough, scoring power.” (from “Falcons May Be Dark Horses of Playoffs,” Montreal Gazette, March 28, 1938)
After hitting a pothole in their next game, a 3-1 loss to the New York Americans in the first game of their best-of-three semifinal series, the resilient Chicagoans bounced back with a better showing at the game 2 back in the windy city. the teams entered a second overtime period tied on chicken eggs. In the 13th minute, Chicago’s Cully Dahlstrom, no doubt possessing an extra step on his skates after being named the Calder Trophy winner as the NHL’s best rookie earlier in the day, fired an eyeball into the top corner over Beyond goaltender Earl Robertson to keep the Falcons’ unlikely playoff run alive.
in the decider at madison square garden, they sent a full house home with long faces as they dispatched the amerks with a 3-2 win. The Cinderella Hawks would now, miraculously, play for the Stanley Cup in a best-of-five final against the Maple Leafs.
the black hawks starting goalkeeper falls
Although it wasn’t clear at the time, the team had taken a big hit in that last game against the Americans. Goalie Mike Karakas, whose outstanding play had been a big part of the spring’s success, broke his toe blocking a shot. The severity of the disabled digit was not known until Game Day 1 against the Leafs in Toronto. in those days, teams didn’t have a backup goalkeeper. if the starter failed, a team would have to somehow find a healthy replacement that was close enough to the track.
the next best goaltender in the falcons system, rookie bill goodman, was in winnipeg and might never make it to the game. Manager and coach Bill Stewart wanted to bring in Rangers starter Dave Kerr, but the Leafs had none of it. The only other viable option was a local guy named Alfie Moore, who had played for the Toronto Field Team in Pittsburgh that season. Falcons star Johnny Gottselig, who knew Moore, was sent into town to track him down.
went to moore’s house, where his wife told him she was in a nearby tavern. Not finding it there, Gottselig eventually located it at another watering hole. Seeing his old friend, Moore said, “My God, I’m glad to see you. I’d love to get a couple tickets to tonight’s game.”
“wow, alfie,” replied gottselig, “you have the best seat in the house.” (from the stanley cup, by john devaney and burt goldblatt)
Moore initially balked at the idea, claiming he’d had too many beers to hope to play in any game that night, let alone one on hockey’s biggest stage. But after a bit of cajoling on Gottselig’s part, the idea began to grow on Moore. He was eager to prove that Leafs owner/manager Conn Smythe had made a mistake by choosing Turk Broda over him as his number one goalie.
chicago’s new goalkeeper enjoys a sobering experience
Once on the tarmac, a few black hawks plied their new assistant with coffee and gave him a long shower to try to sober him up. Seeing this crazy spectacle angered Coach Stewart, who resented Smythe and his refusal to allow the Kerr first-class player to play for his Falcons. Things came to a head as the teams were taking to the ice to start the game when Smythe and Stewart exchanged words and then punches. The police came in to break up the junk, but not before Stewart suffered some cuts and bruises to his face.
When the puck finally fell, the leaves came out like a storm and tied up one for moore before the game was over two minutes. But, with the effects of the day’s drunkenness wearing off, Moore settled in nicely and found a rhythm. “The little relief soldier with the hot face was awake and attacking them every second of the match. turning, turning, blocking with his hands, body and feet, he was able to unnerve every blade shot and repel every charge into his webs for the rest of the show.” (from “Substitute Porter Steals First Show,” Toronto Star, April 6, 1938)
gottselig leveled things up before the first half was over, helping to cheer on his team. They ruthlessly checked the sheets and prevented them from getting many quality opportunities at Moore, who placed Syl Apps and company. every time they broke through. Paul Thompson put the Hawks ahead early in the second and Gottselig struck again for a sure score in the third to make it 3-1.
Skating next to the bank of leaves, Moore taunted the leaves: “You were lucky to get that goal tonight. If these guys would have let me have one more beer before they put my pads on, I would have shut you out. (From “From ‘Shangri-La’ to Stanley Cup?” Detroit Free Press, April 2, 1963)
no more moore for the black hawks of 1938
nhl president frank calder ruled moore ineligible for the rest of the series, meaning paul goodman, who hadn’t been on skates in three weeks, had to start game 2. no It was Alfie Moore, conceding five goals as the Leafs cruised to a 5-1 win to tie the series.
With Karakas returning to the crease using a special skate to protect his toe, Chicago rallied in Game 3 at the stadium. A goal from Doc Romnes with less than five minutes left became the winner and put the Falcons within one win of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
in game 4, one of the most fortuitous goals in stanley cup history seemed to indicate that it was not going to be the night of the leafs. With the Falcons taking a 2-1 lead late in the second period, Chicago center Jack Shill lobbed the puck across the ice from his own zone. Toronto goalie Turk Broda came out to play it, but he misjudged it, allowing the puck to slip between his skates and straight into the open net.
The Falcons added another in the third and ran out the clock with a 4-1 win, giving them the Stanley Cup and completing what remains the greatest Cinderella story in hockey history. The 1938 Falcons own by far the worst regular season winning percentage of any Stanley Cup champion (.385). closest to them are the 1948-49 Leafs, the only other champions to have a regular season record under .500 (.475).
a stanley cup celebration without lord stanley
unfortunately for the hawks that night, stanley’s mug was nowhere to be found in the building. Rumors abounded that Smythe had sent him to Toronto in anticipation of a certain return date for Game 5 at Maple Leaf Gardens. however, they turned out to be fake. The cup was actually still in Detroit, where it had resided for two years since the Red Wings won the first of the consecutive titles in 1936. Two days after the final game, Lord Stanley’s cup arrived in a box at the Falcons’ offices, where stewart, romnes, and shill unpacked and finally got a taste of their gleaming silver prize.
if it hadn’t been for moore’s heroism in game 1, it’s very likely that the cup would never have gone to the falcons. the parallels to david ayres’ experience 82 years later are uncanny: both were called up at the last minute, both allowed an early goal and then settled down, and both worked organizing the leafs – ayres was a maintenance man for the Zamboni track and occasional driver for their Toronto Marlies AHL affiliate, and Moore a goalie for their field team in Pittsburgh.
One difference is that it seems unlikely that the 42-year-old Ayres will ever play another NHL game. Moore went on to play in five more NHL contests, for Detroit and the New York Americans. she lost them all, but she would always have that night in toronto.