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Frank Brimsek

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Frank Brimsek
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1966
Born (1915-09-26)September 26, 1915
Eveleth, MN, USA
Died November 11, 1998(1998-11-11) (aged 83)
Virginia, MN, USA
Height 5 ft 9 in (175 cm)
Weight 170 lb (77 kg; 12 st 2 lb)
Position Goaltender
Caught Left
Played for Boston Bruins
Chicago Black Hawks
Playing career 1938–1950

Francis Charles "Mr. Zero" Brimsek (September 26, 1915 – November 11, 1998) was an American professional ice hockey goaltender who played ten seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Boston Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks. Brimsek started his career playing exhibition games with the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets in 1934–35. The Detroit Red Wings initially owned Brimsek's rights before they traded them to the Bruins in 1937. In 1938–39, Brimsek made his NHL debut with the Bruins since their starting goalie, Tiny Thompson, sustained an injury during an exhibition match. Initially deemed as a short term call-up, Brimsek soon found himself as the Bruins' starting goalie. He went on to record six shutouts in his first seven games which earned him the moniker of "Mr. Zero".

Brimsek spent his first nine NHL seasons with the Bruins and during this time, he received numerous individual awards. He won the Calder Memorial Trophy, the Vezina Trophy twice, and he was named to the NHL All-Star Team eight times (twice on the First Team and six times on the Second Team). He was also a member of two Stanley Cup championships (1939 and 1941). During World War II, Brimsek left the NHL for two years in order to serve with the United States Coast Guard skating with the vaunted Coast Guard Cutters which featured fellow Eveleth native John Mariucci. After being discharged from the Coast Guard, Brimsek returned to the NHL for the 1945–46 season where it was noted that his skills were not as sharp as before he left. Despite this, he still managed to be one of the best goalies in the league. Brimsek was traded to the Black Hawks following the 1948–49 season due to personal reasons. He spent one season with the Black Hawks before retiring from professional hockey.

One of the most accomplished American goalies of all-time, Brimsek held the record for most wins, and shutouts recorded by an American netminder at the time of his retirement. His wins record stood for 54 years while his shutouts record stood for 61 years. His eight berths to the NHL All-Star Team rank him second all-time among all goalies. In 1966, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first American goalie to be inducted; and in 1973, he was part of the inaugural class of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1998, Brimsek was ranked number 67 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, the highest ranked American goaltender.


Brimsek was born in the hockey hotbed of Eveleth, Minnesota on September 26, 1915.[1] His parents were of Slovene descent.[2] The town of Eveleth produced at that time four other hockey players who would play in the National Hockey League (NHL): Mike Karakas, Sam LoPresti, Al Suomi and John Mariucci.[3] Brimsek and Karakas played on the same baseball team in high school.[4] Brimsek first started playing hockey when his brother, John, the second-string goalie on the Eveleth High School team, expressed his desire to be a defenseman instead. John was moved to his desired position, while Frank replaced him.[5] Soon, Brimsek found himself spending most of his spare time on the Eveleth rinks playing hockey. Unlike most of his friends who wanted to be high-scoring forwards, Brimsek never showed any desire to play any other position except for goalie. Just before winter, Brimsek and his friends would get on a dry lot, and they would practice shooting at him.[6] After graduating from high school, Brimsek went to play for the St. Cloud State Teachers College hockey team.[7] He also graduated from college with a machine shop student's degree.[8]

Playing career[edit]

Early career[edit]

In the fall of 1934, Brimsek was invited to the Detroit Red Wings training camp for a shot at playing in the National Hockey League (NHL). Jack Adams, the Red Wings' coach and manager, made a bad impression on Brimsek. He felt that Adams had a habit of favoritism.[4] This led him to try out for another professional team, the Baltimore Orioles of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League (EAHL). Unfortunately for Brimsek, the Orioles decided to cut him. Disappointed, Brimsek hitchhiked back to Eveleth.[5] On his way back home, he had a chance meeting with the owner of the Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, John H. Harris.[9] The Yellow Jackets were in need for a goaltender and Harris proceeded to sign Brimsek to the team.[5] Brimsek started for the Yellow Jackets for the first time in 1934–35 by playing 16 games exhibition games. Out of those 16 games, he won 14 of them.[10]

The next season, the Yellow Jackets joined the EAHL.[11] Brimsek finished with the most wins and shutouts of any goal tender in the league with 20 and 8 respectively. At the end of the season, he was named to the league's Second All-Star Team and he was awarded the George L. Davis Trophy for having the lowest goals against average (GAA).[4] Impressed by Brimsek, Harris wanted to protect his interests in the goalie so he ironically had the Red Wings put Brimsek on their protected list. Harris then tried to get the Red Wings to call Brimsek up.[9] However, the Red Wings wanted Brimsek to first play one year for their amateur team in Pontiac, but Brimsek turned down the offer. Brimsek opted to stay with the Yellow Jackets instead.[12] Harris then shopped Brimsek around the NHL until he was accepted by the Boston Bruins in October 1937. The Bruins were already well established in net with future hall-of-famer Tiny Thompson. This led to Brimsek being assigned by the Bruins to the Providence Reds of the International-American Hockey League (IAHL) for the 1937–38 season. In his only full season with the Reds, Brimsek helped his team win the Calder Cup and he was named to the league's First All-Star Team.[4]

Boston Bruins[edit]

Pre World War II[edit]

Brimsek started the 1938–39 season with the Reds, but he would not stay long with them. During an NHL exhibition game, Thompson got injured and it was unlikely that Thompson would recuperate in time for the beginning of the regular season. Needing a replacement, Brimsek was called up by the Bruins.[13] In his NHL debut, Brimsek helped his team defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 3–2. He started in net for one more game, a 4–1 victory against the Red Wings, before being sent back down to the Reds as Thompson recovered. Art Ross, the Bruins' coach and general manager, had seen enough of Brimsek during his two stints in Boston to contemplate promoting Brimsek full-time with the Bruins.[14] Thompson was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for goaltender Normie Smith and $15,000.00 U.S. cash on November 16, 1938, after playing only five games with the Bruins.[15] Ross then proceeded to promote Brimsek as the team's new starting goalie.[16] This did not sit well with Bruins fans as Thompson was a favorite and he was the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.[4]

In Brimsek's first game as the starting goalie, his team fell 2–0 to the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal. Meanwhile, on that same night, Thompson won his first game with the Red Wings.[17] Also, Brimsek wore red hockey pants instead of the team's colors, and he was wearing Thompson's former jersey number, No. 1. These little details did not help him improve his image with the fans.[18][19] The next game yielded a more positive result for Brimsek, as he shutout the Chicago Black Hawks. This did not earn him the acknowledgement of Bruins fans yet as when he made his first appearance in Boston, the fans greeted him coldly. However, after shutting out his opponents for the second straight game, the fans warmed up to him immediately.[17] Brimsek earned six shutouts in his first seven games, leading to the fans and the media calling him by the nickname of "Mr. Zero". During that seven game span, he also set a then modern-NHL record for longest shutout streak of 231 minutes and 54 seconds.[19] At the end of the regular season, Brimsek had backstopped the Bruins to a first-place finish in the league. Brimsek finished the season with the most wins (33), shutouts (10) and the lowest GAA (1.56) in the league.[10] In the playoffs, Brimsek and his team defeated the New York Rangers before beating the Maple Leafs in the 1939 Stanley Cup Finals.[20] Adding to his Stanley Cup victory, Brimsek was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy, the Vezina Trophy, and he was named to the NHL First All-Star Team.[10]

The following season, Brimsek finished first in the league in wins again and he was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team. This would be his first of six berths to the NHL Second All-Star Team.[10] The Bruins were eliminated in the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, New York Rangers, in the semi-finals.[21] In 1940–41, Brimsek backstopped the Bruins to their third consecutive first-place finish in the league. The Bruins made it to the 1941 Stanley Cup Finals and were matched up with the Red Wings. The Red Wings fell in four games in a best-of-seven series giving Brimsek his second and last Stanley Cup victory.[22] For his efforts during the regular season, Brimsek was named to the NHL Second All-Star Team for the second year in a row.[4] Continuing on the previous season's success, Brimsek won the Vezina Trophy and was named to the NHL First All-Star Team for the second time in his career.[23] However, Brimsek's team could not replicate their playoff success as they were eliminated by the Red Wings in the semi-finals.[24]

World War II and aftermath[edit]

Following the outbreak of World War II, three of the Bruins' best forwards decided to join the Royal Canadian Air Force midway through the 1941–42 season.[25] These three forwards made up the Kraut Line, one of the best lines in the NHL. Despite missing three of their best players, the Bruins managed to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals the next season. In the finals, they were eliminated by the Red Wings, four games to none.[26] Due to his play in the regular season, Brimsek was again named to the NHL Second All-Star Team. However, it was popular opinion at the time that Brimsek deserved the spot on the First All-Star Team over Johnny Mowers, including Mowers' own coach and general manager, Jack Adams.[27][28]

Brimsek decided to help the war effort next season by joining the United States Coast Guard. During his time with the Coast Guard, he played with the Coast Guard Cutters hockey team in Curtis Bay, Maryland, and later served in the South Pacific.[29] After the war ended, Brimsek returned to the Bruins in time for the 1945–46 season. However, Brimsek was not as sharp as he was before due to having not played any professional hockey for two years.[30][5] In his first season back, Brimsek guided the Bruins to the Finals, matching up with the Montreal Canadiens. The Bruins were defeated in five games with three games requiring overtime. Brimsek was applauded for his performance in the playoffs, compensating for his team's weak defence.[31][32] This marked Brimsek's fourth appearance in the Finals and it would be his last. At the end of the season, Brimsek was also named to the NHL Second All-Star Team, the fifth time in his career.

Brimsek remained with the Bruins for three more seasons. He was named to the NHL Second All-Star team twice more and was selected to play in the inaugural NHL All-Star Game in 1947.[33] The Bruins made the playoffs all three seasons but were eliminated in the semi-finals in all of them.[34][35][36] Brimsek was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 1947–48, finishing behind Buddy O'Connor of the Rangers.[10] Personal problems plagued Brimsek during his final years in Boston. His 10-month-old son had died in January 1949, and his coach and longtime teammate, Dit Clapper, had resigned from his coaching duties.[37] It did not also help that the Boston crowd would occasionally boo Brimsek for his play.[4] After the 1948–49 season, Brimsek requested a trade from Boston to Chicago in order to be closer to home, and to the new blueprint business he had started there.[38] Boston granted his request and he was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks in exchange for cash.[10] Brimsek only played one season with the Black Hawks, recording 22 wins, 38 losses and 10 ties in 70 games played.[10] The team finished last in the standings.[39] Brimsek's lone season with the Hawks was the only season where his team did not reach the playoffs. He retired at the conclusion of the season.[4]

Retirement and legacy[edit]

Brimsek played a stand-up style of goaltending. Goalies playing this style usually stay on their feet instead of dropping down on their knees to make a save. Brimsek is also remembered for having a quick catching hand and for "taking the feet out" of opposing players that were being a nuisance in front of his net.[40] After retiring, Brimsek returned to Minnesota and worked as a railroad engineer.[4] Even after his retirement, Brimsek regularly received fan mail.[18] In 1966, Brimsek was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first American-born goalie to be inducted, and in 1973 he was an inaugural inductee of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Brimsek died on November 11, 1998 in Virginia, Minnesota, leaving behind his wife, Peggy, his two daughters, Chris and Karen, and his five grandchildren.[18]

In 1998, Brimsek was ranked number 67 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, the highest ranked American goaltender.[41] An annual award, given to the top high school goaltender in Minnesota, is given in Brimsek's honor.[42] Brimsek's 252 wins and 40 shutouts each stood for a long time as the most ever recorded by an American netminder. His wins record was finally broken by Tom Barrasso on February 15, 1994 and his shutouts record has only been equaled by John Vanbiesbrouck and Jonathan Quick .[43][44] In addition, Brimsek's eight berths to the NHL All-Star Team are the second most among goalies in history, behind only Glenn Hall's ten berths.[45]

Career statistics[edit]

Regular season[edit]

Season Team League GP W L T MIN GA SO GAA
1934–35 Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets X-Games 16 14 2 0 960 39 1 2.44
1935–36 Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets EAHL 38 20 16 2 2280 74 8 1.95
1936–37 Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets EAHL 47 19 23 5 2820 142 3 3.02
1937–38 Providence Reds IAHL 48 25 16 7 2950 86 5 1.75
1938–39 Providence Reds IAHL 9 5 2 2 570 18 0 1.89
1938–39 Boston Bruins NHL 43 33 9 1 2610 68 10 1.56
1939–40 Boston Bruins NHL 48 31 12 5 2950 98 6 1.99
1940–41 Boston Bruins NHL 48 27 8 13 3040 102 6 2.01
1941–42 Boston Bruins NHL 47 24 17 6 2930 115 3 2.35
1942–43 Boston Bruins NHL 50 24 17 9 3000 176 1 3.52
1943–44 Coast Guard Cutters EAHL 27 19 6 2 1620 83 1 3.07
1945–46 Boston Bruins NHL 34 16 14 4 2040 111 2 3.26
1946–47 Boston Bruins NHL 60 26 23 11 3600 175 3 2.92
1947–48 Boston Bruins NHL 60 23 24 13 3600 168 3 2.80
1948–49 Boston Bruins NHL 54 26 20 8 3240 147 1 2.72
1949–50 Chicago Black Hawks NHL 70 22 38 10 4200 244 5 3.49
NHL totals[10] 514 252 182 80 31,210 1404 40 2.70


Season Team League GP W L T MIN GA SO GAA
1935–36 Pittsburgh Yellowjackets EAHL 8 4 3 1 480 19 2 2.36
1937–38 Providence Reds IAHL 7 5 2 0 515 16 0 1.86
1938–39 Boston Bruins NHL 12 8 4 863 18 1 1.25
1939–40 Boston Bruins NHL 6 2 4 360 15 0 2.50
1940–41 Boston Bruins NHL 11 8 3 678 23 1 2.04
1941–42 Boston Bruins NHL 5 2 3 307 16 0 3.13
1942–43 Boston Bruins NHL 9 4 5 560 33 0 3.54
1943–44 Coast Guard Cutters X-Games 5 4 0 300 4 1 0.80
1945–46 Boston Bruins NHL 10 5 5 651 29 0 2.67
1946–47 Boston Bruins NHL 5 1 4 343 16 0 2.80
1947–48 Boston Bruins NHL 5 1 4 317 20 0 3.79
1948–49 Boston Bruins NHL 5 1 4 316 16 0 3.04
NHL totals[10] 68 32 36 4395 186 2 2.54



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  2. ^ Sell, Jack (1938-12-21). "Brimsek only 36 minutes from new hockey shutout record". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 44. Retrieved 2014-03-14. 
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  6. ^ Carroll, Dink (1980-03-04). "U.S hockey gold stirs memory of Mr. Zero". The Montreal Gazette. p. 36. Retrieved 2013-10-14. 
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  26. ^ "Wings win Stanley Cup in four straight". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. 1943-04-09. p. 40. Retrieved 2015-04-29. 
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External links[edit]

Preceded by
Cully Dahlstrom
Winner of the Calder Memorial Trophy
Succeeded by
Kilby MacDonald
Preceded by
Cecil Thompson
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
David Kerr
Preceded by
Turk Broda
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
Johnny Mowers