Book Review: “Guardians of the Goal” by George Grimm

by | Oct 14, 2019

In his second book Guardians of the Goal, George Grimm tackles the knotty problem all authors face of equaling (and surpassing) a brilliant first effort.

In his wonderful debut We Did Everything But Win he painted a broad canvas of the New York Rangers during the Emile Francis era using brilliant colors supplied by the players and personalities who took part during that nostalgic period.

But for Guardians of the Goal George changes tack: focusing solely and precisely where the puck stops in ice hockey: the goal-tender.

Guardians of the Goal is a history of New York Rangers goal-tenders.

Every Ranger who strapped on the pads, put their hands inside the blocker and donned the face mask (in later years because in the early days of hockey goalies didn’t wear face masks) from 1926/1927 to 2018/2019 is chronicled both anecdotally and statistically. Even emergency goal-tenders are listed and discussed as well.

George Grimm leaves no goal-tender unturned in this tome.

To paraphrase Aeschylus, to be a Rangers goal-tender one was obliged to suffer or as George quotes former Rangers goalie Steve Baker that Rangers goalies were “ the few, the proud, and the very busy.”

And indeed they were kept very busy through many dark decades with occasional periods of glory and hope with even brief moments of Stanley Cup triumph thrown in for good measure.

George Grimm balancing understatement and the right amount of pathos recites sublime tales like Lester Patrick donning the pads in the 1928 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Gump Worsley, when asked by a reporter which team gave him the most trouble, retorted, “The New York Rangers.”

Eddie Giacomin overcoming severe burns suffered in his youth to guard the pipes during the Emile Francis era.

Mike Richter, defying the odds to help the Rangers win the 1994 Stanley Cup; and Hendrik Lundqvist breaking nearly every single Rangers goal-tending record as he continues to guard the Rangers goal during the 2019/20 season.

Throughout the book Grimm lingers affectionately on other Rangers franchise goalies like Davey Kerr, Chuck Rayner, John Davidson, and John Vanbiesbrouck.

But as every Rangers fan knows the change from the sublime to the ridiculous can occur instantly.

George, straight-faced, unveils a procession of Rangers goal-tending flops like bow-legged Steve Buzinski and Ken McAuley (96 games with a GAA of 5.61) and the insanely flakey Gilles Gratton who popularized artistically decorative face masks; believed that he had past lives; would streak naked on the ice after practice sessions; and would beg off from playing in games because the planets weren’t aligned right.

There are also moments of sadness and poignancy: Eddie Giacomin’s emotional return to Madison Square Garden after he had been waived to the Detroit Red Wings in 1975; the death of Terry Sawchuk; and Bob Froese explaining how the death of a fellow teammate led him to the path of becoming a Christian pastor (one of the finest moments in this book).

In addition to chronicling all Rangers goal-tender George Grimm benchmarks his book with interludes on Rangers General Managers: using their deeds and misdeeds to explain why the Rangers went so long between Stanley Cup triumphs and the years of rebuilding, frustration, and disappointment experienced by devoted Rangers fans.

It during these intermissions where Grimm’s prose sharpens and cuttingly (and cunningly) slices those GMs he deems are responsible for the many decades of suffering.

Guardians of the Goal is a charming gift for Rangers fans both young and old.

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