Roberts made record-setting appearance for Chicago 70 years ago

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Roberts, the Black Hawks assistant trainer, was doing odd jobs at Chicago Stadium when starting goalie Harry Lumley declared himself unfit to return for the third period after injuring his knee in the first period of game against the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 25, 1951. 

There was no better candidate to fill in for the final 20 minutes than Roberts, who had all of nine games of NHL goaltending experience. That he was within a couple of weeks of turning 46, and that his nine games were played between 1925-33, seemed of no concern to Chicago coach Ebbie Goodfellow.

The start of the third period was delayed so that Roberts could suit up. He would stop everything that came his way in the Black Hawks’ 5-2 loss (shot totals weren’t kept in those days), Chicago’s season-high home-ice crowd of 12,208 watching him face a Red Wings team that featured the famed “Production Line” of center Sid Abel, right wing Gordie Howe and left wing Ted Lindsay.

The lineups for the Nov. 25, 1951 game between the Chicago Black Hawks and Detroit Red Wings, goalie Moe Roberts penned in beneath Harry Lumley, and Lumley in 1951 action with Chicago.

 

In going in goal, Roberts set two NHL records:

At 45 years, 347 days of age, he became the oldest goalie to appear in an NHL game, eclipsing the record of Lester Patrick (44 years, 99 days), the coach who appeared in the 1928 Stanley Cup Final in emergency relief for his New York Rangers. Roberts was the oldest player at any position in NHL history at the time, Howe (52 years, six days) and Chris Chelios (48 years, 71 days) having since passed him.

And the 25-year, 352-day span between Roberts’ first and last NHL game remains the longest ever for a goalie; it leads Martin Brodeur (22 years, 282 days), Gump Worsley (21, 175), Jacques Plante (20, 155) and John Vanbiesbrouck (20, 129). Three skaters have longer spans: Howe (33, 178), Jaromir Jagr (27, 87) and Chelios (26, 29).

The emergency stint was just one highlight in the remarkable life of Roberts, given name Morris or Maurice, depending on your choice of government certificate.

Born Dec. 12, 1905 in Waterbury, Connecticut and raised in Somerville, Massachusetts, he would become a goalie for the amateur Boston Athletic Association. It was with the Unicorns that Boston Bruins coach and GM Art Ross discovered him, signing him as a practice goalie and stick boy.

Roberts was four days from his 20th birthday on Dec. 8, 1925, probably taping sticks at Boston Arena, when Bruins goalie Charlie “Doc” Stewart, a dentist when he wasn’t in the net, suffered a badly slashed leg early in the second period against the visiting Montreal Maroons, leaving to be stitched up with the score 2-2. In went Roberts, who surrendered nothing over roughly 35 minutes in what would be a 3-2 victory.

New York Americans goalie Moe Roberts kneels following a goal during a 7-3 loss on Nov. 28, 1933 to Toronto at Maple Leaf Gardens.

 

“Roberts was given a big hand as he warmed up with all the Boston team firing testing shots at him,” a game report read. “The Bruins substitute goalie was under bombardment from the opening whistle of the final period but acquitted himself creditably.”

(At age 19 years, 351 days, Roberts then was the youngest U.S.-born player in NHL history. Lumley remains the youngest goalie ever, making his debut for the war-depleted Red Wings on Dec. 19, 1943 at 17 years, 38 days.)

Roberts played again three nights later, in Pittsburgh against the Pirates, losing 5-3, then vanished into the minors until he resurfaced on March 10, 1932 with the New York Americans, defeating the crosstown rival New York Rangers 5-1.

Again, he was an emergency reliever, filling the skates of an ailing starter Roy Worters. Enthused the Brooklyn Times Union, as unearthed by hockey historian Stephen Smith:

“(Roberts) filled them capably at all times, sensationally at some, bringing down volleys of applause from the assemblage during the play and receiving ovations when he came on the ice for the second and third periods.”

Goalie Moe Roberts is seen far left of the front row in this team photo of the 1932-33 minor pro Canadian-American Hockey League New Haven Eagles.

Roberts was back for six more games for the Americans in 1933-34, substituting for the injured Worters, going 1-4 with a 4.46 goals-against average, then slipped back into the minors for the next eight seasons, achieving his greatest fame in Cleveland with the International, then American league’s Falcons and Barons from 1936-42.

The 1937-38 Barons won 21 in a row, Roberts earning four of his five shutouts that season during the streak, then won the Calder Cup championship the following year.

At 36, he left the game on Oct. 23, 1942, enlisting in the Navy as a ship’s cook. Roberts returned from his war service to play for Washington of the Eastern league in 1945-46, then a season of senior hockey in 1947-48 with Munsee in the Ohio State League. 

Roberts’ brief NHL career saw him go 3-5 with a 3.71 goals-against-average; 16 seasons in the minor pros saw him have a 2.48 GAA with 56 shutouts, 2.38 GAA with five shutouts in the postseason. 

He would latch on with the Black Hawks as assistant trainer and practice goalie, strapping on the pads when required, and in 2005, 30 years after his death at age 69, he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, elected to the Cleveland Hockey Legends Ring of Honor the same year.

Roberts is quietly celebrated for a colorful career that spanned four decades, from the 1920s into the 1950s. No team should be more appreciative of him than the Blackhawks, who during Thanksgiving week 70 years ago were grateful for his unexpected, record-setting play in a Chicago sweater. 

Photos: U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame; Hockey Hall of Fame
 

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