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AN APPRECIATION

Worsley never shied away

February 03, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Threat of imminent bodily harm -- even if it was doom shaped in the form of a Bobby Hull slap shot -- didn't make a set-in-his-ways goaltender change his mind and put on a mask.

Not until his final season in the NHL. Gump, you see, had it all figured out.

"He often said he was already married and had kids, so it didn't matter whether he was ugly or not," said former Minnesota North Stars defenseman Tom Reid, laughing.

Reid, a broadcaster with the Minnesota Wild, was trading stories in a telephone interview from St. Louis about his former teammate and Hall of Fame goalie, Lorne "Gump" Worsley, who died last week near Montreal. Worsley died several days after suffering a heart attack. He was 77.

Although he stood 5 feet 7, Gump loomed large in the Minnesota sports scene in the early '70s. Fans marveled at his bravery in the crease and sympathized with his much-publicized fear of flying.

Somehow, being able to see his face made him more real to the fans at the Met Center in Bloomington. As did his well-rounded physique.

"He was the worst-looking athlete you could imagine," said Cesare Maniago, Worsley's teammate for four seasons in Minnesota. "But he played into his 40s, and it was amazing what he was able to do."

Worsley's legendary sense of humor was often aimed at himself. He once was asked how much he weighed, according to a book about North Stars teammate Bill Goldsworthy, "The Goldy Shuffle."

"About 180 pounds," Worsley said.

"Is that firm?" asked the interviewer.

"No," said Worsley. "I never look at the scales."

Then there was the oft-told story during his days with the woeful New York Rangers. Asked which team gave him the most trouble, Worsley said: "The Rangers."

Reid said Worsley liked to bake cookies and had a creative training regimen.

"I remember the first training camp I ever went to with him," Reid said. "That was in Winnipeg. He was wearing his black dress shoes. And he had knee-high black socks on with a pair of shorts and he's walking around the track. We're all running and he's smoking a cigarette. He was not going to run, that's for sure.

"In those days, you went to camp to get into shape. It was never about being in shape when you got there."

None of that mattered.

During one of those seasons in Minnesota (1971-72), Worsley appeared in 34 games and had a goals-against-average of 2.12. He also played in the 1972 All-Star game. He and Maniago shared goaltending duties and were roommates on the road.

Maniago, in a phone interview from his home in suburban Vancouver, relished skating down memory lane, recalling Gump's love of rye whiskey, massive fear of flying and the time he earned a standing ovation in Boston after putting on a virtual one-man show. And Maniago was especially grateful he was able to see his former teammate a couple of years ago, traveling to Worsley's home in Beloeil, Canada.

"Living so far away, you just don't know when you are going to see people again," Maniago said. "We had a great afternoon together. We had a great relationship and kept in touch over the years."

The North Stars were able to bring Worsley out of retirement, telling him that the travel, and flying, would be minimized because of the team's central location. Still, Maniago said every flight was an adventure, recalling how Worsley "would literally break out into sweat" during takeoff and how it would start all over again upon descent.

Worsley's 21-season NHL career started with a decade with the Rangers (he was rookie of the year in 1953) and turned dramatically when a eight-player deal sent him to Montreal in 1963, and he would help the Canadiens win four Stanley Cups. His nickname dated to his youth because of an apparent resemblance to a comic-strip character, Andy Gump.

Worsley shared the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender with Charlie Hodge in 1966 and Rogie Vachon in 1968 and made the NHL's first all-star team in 1968. He retired after the 1973-74 season with Minnesota and was a scout with the North Stars.

At Worsley's request, there will be no funeral service, the Montreal Gazette reported. Among his survivors is his wife, Doreen.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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