Curt Ridley had the misfortune of trying to break into the NHL, first with the Bruins and then the Rangers, at a time when both teams were pretty well stocked in goal.
Curt was born on September 23rd 1951 in Minnedosa, Manitoba and began his hockey journey like most Canadian kids playing on outdoor rinks in frigid temperatures.
Curt Ridley: “In Canada that’s what we do in the winter. My dad was in the Armed Forces, the Air Force and we always had the greatest recreational complexes. When I was very young though it was always outdoors. But that’s just what we did, 20-30 below on outside rinks. I never played goal until I was 12. I played for the Province of Quebec in a Pee-Wee International tournament. I played defense and when we moved to Manitoba they started a Junior A team that was around in the 40’s and I tried out as a defenseman because I had been playing out for many years but realized quite shortly that, ‘ain’t gonna make the club’. So I went and stood over by the goaltenders and became the number one goalie. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Ridley began his junior career with the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 1968-69, playing 68 games over two seasons and posting a 3.31 GAA as well as five shutouts. He also played five games for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey league in 1970-71 posting an impressive 2.81 GAA.
Curt was then drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round (number 28) of the 1971 Amateur Draft. The only problem was that the Bruins already had Gerry Cheevers and Ed Johnston and the odds of unseating one of those veterans were slim.
Curt Ridley: “Don’t forget they also had Ross Brooks and Dan Bouchard. They had a few goaltenders in front of me and being just a kid with no experience I knew it was going to be a tough road. But the Bruins organization treated me very well. My first pro training camp with Boston, believe it or not a lot of times at night we’d get three or four of the other guys together and play Monopoly. Now figure that out okay? And my first roommate in training camp with Boston was Ace Bailey. I tell you it broke my heart on 9/11, broke my heart. Great guy, just a fantastic dude.”
(Garnet “Ace” Bailey and Bruin scout Mark Bavis were passengers on United Airlines Flight 175 when it crashed into the World Trade Center in New York during the September 11th attacks.)
Curt never got to play for Boston, tending goal for the Bruins farm clubs in in Oklahoma City and Dayton instead. But in June of 1973 Ridley was claimed by the Rangers in the Reverse Draft and assigned to the Providence Reds of the AHL.
Curt Ridley: “When the Bruins left me unprotected and I was selected by the Rangers I got a call from Dennis Ball who was the Chief scout and he called and said ‘Welcome to the Rangers’. I said ‘Oh okay’, I knew Giacomin and Villemure were there and I thought here we go again, except, instead of five goalies in front of me in a way I guess there were only two. So things were looking up. The Rangers treated me fantastic and I loved Providence. The coach in Providence at the time was a guy named Johnny Muckler. Great guy and he also coached me later on down the road with the Dallas BlackHawks. But Providence was a great town. I just had a little operation, I tweaked my knee and my wife got me on Facebook for something to do and I’m in touch with a lot of people, from Providence to this day thanks to Facebook.”
Ridley made his NHL debut with the Rangers on December 19, 1974 in Boston under less than ideal circumstances. The Rangers brought nine players up from Providence to fill in for regulars who were under the weather and Curt was one of them. Curt got the start that night wound up sharing a Rangers record that still stands today, although not one that he cares to remember. He surrendered four goals in the first period and two more in the first 43 seconds of the second period. But that wasn’t the record. The Bruins scored a record five goals in 2 minutes and 55 seconds against Curt and Eddie Giacomin. First Boston’s Bobby Schmautz scored at 19:13 of the first period. Then Ken Hodge scored 18 seconds into the second period followed by a goal by Phil Esposito 23 seconds later. Giacomin then came in to replace the beleaguered Ridley and promptly surrendered a goal to Don Marcotte 15 seconds later. Johnny Bucyk then scored at 2:08 to set the record.
Curt Ridley: “If I remember correctly and it’s close to 40 years, I think the flu bug was going around. Because quite a few of the Rangers were out, and I think Villemure had the flu. It was a great experience but to this day I still have nightmares. What was the score 10- something? 11- something? The Cat pulled me after six and Giacomin went in and they pumped some by him so I didn’t feel that bad.”
The Bruins won the game 11-3 out shooting the Rangers 44-16. But the question is whether it was fair to be thrown into that situation as a rookie playing his first NHL game?
Curt Ridley: “Not under that situation. No not really. Being limited with the Rangers players, their star players being out and Boston had a full blown out squad. I think Orr scored two on me, Espo scored two on me and Greg Sheppard.”
Emile Francis later spoke to reporters about starting the rookie. “We’ve been thinking about playing Ridley a long time. There was no better place to play him than just 45 minutes from Providence. It’s important for a goalie to get used to a defense and he had four of his buddies from Providence with him. He was the Lone Ranger in the first period. I took him out like you would take a pitcher out in Baseball. I told him he played real well.”
Curt Ridley: “Emile was like a father figure to everybody. He just said, man it was a tough one. Keep your chin up and don’t worry about it. Stuff happens.”
Curt got another start 10 days later and beat the Kansas City Scouts 2-1 at the Garden.
Curt Ridley: “He gave me another shot and I should have had a shutout, Should have. But I think it was Simon Nolet. He put one over, I think it was my right side high in the corner. I should have had it. That would have been great; it could have redeemed myself in my own mind.”
In September of 1975, Ridley was dealt to the Atlanta Flames for forward Jerry Byers, But once again he was third on the depth chart this time behind Dan Bouchard and Phil Myre, So Curt ended up playing in Tulsa of the Central Hockey League where he had a very good year and won the Terry Sawchuk Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league.
Curt Ridley: “I was fortunate enough to be playing in Tulsa and Orland Kurtenbach was the coach. I would imagine that he had a lot to do with it. The players in front of me were just fantastic and the next thing I knew I was in Vancouver.”
The next year Curt was sent to Vancouver for the Canucks first round pick in the 1976 amateur Draft. While with the Canucks, Curt played two games against the Russians shutting out Spartak Moscow 2-0 in 1978 and beating Dynamo Moscow 6-2 in 1980.
Curt Ridley: “I enjoyed playing against the Russians in Vancouver. We played against them twice and I’m very happy to say that we were undefeated.”
While in the Vancouver organization Curt spent a good part of the 1978-79 season with the Dallas Black Hawks, leading them to the Adams Cup as CHL Champions. He also won the Max McNab Trophy as Playoff MVP that year. Overall he played 96 games over four seasons with the Canucks and was then sent to Toronto for cash in February of 1980.
Curt Ridley: “I got hurt and Jake (Milford) sent me back down to Dallas. He said ‘you’re going down for two weeks to get yourself back in shape’ I said ‘okay that’s fine’. Two weeks went by and I called him and said ‘Jake what’s happening?’ Both goaltenders in Vancouver were playing very well at the time. I can understand that. He said, ‘you stay down there for another week’. A week later I called again and he said, ‘no, no, no you stay down there’. So I asked him if he minded if I make some phone calls and try to make a deal for myself to get out of Vancouver. He said ‘No not at all.’ So I made some calls and was sold to Toronto. I really enjoyed myself in Toronto, one of the original six teams like the Rangers and Bruins. And as a kid I always wanted to play in Toronto. Didn’t play there long but I met some great players. You know a lot of players didn’t get along with Punch Imlach. Let me tell you, he was the cat’s ass. He was just great to me. I have nothing but praise for him. Punch was like in the old Eddie Shore days, either get with the program or hit the road. But it was his butt on the line.”
After two seasons with the Maple Leafs, Curt’s career wound down in the Central Hockey League in 1982.
Curt Ridley: “I didn’t really retire. The season was over and no one contacted me and I didn’t contact them so it was over. I just walked from the game and they walked away from me. I moved back to Winnipeg and worked for MTS where I sold telephone systems, wireless communications. After that being from Winnipeg the cold got to me and I moved to Dallas Texas where I had played before. and I’ve lived here ever since. I go to the Stars games every now and then, but I don’t like crowds anymore. Fortunately my wife works for a guy by the name of Roger Staubach who has a suite and he’ll sometimes put the tickets up for sale at a very reduced price and so we watch from a suite.”
Ridley posted solid NHL numbers but due to circumstances he became a true journeyman goaltender, playing for 13 teams in 6 leagues in a 12 year career. But he has no regrets.
Curt Ridley: “As a player I was average, maybe a little less. I had my moments, I also had some bad moments. I didn’t think I’d ever play in the NHL so it was all a plus. I met great people on and off the ice. I met some great booster club people who were just fantastic. It was a great experience playing against Bobby Orr, Esposito, Dionne, McDonald I could go on and on, it was a kids dream. I played against Gordie Howe for God’s sake. It was a dream that had come true.”