Born: February 9, 1926 (Hamilton, Ontario)
Died: May 6, 2014 (Ancaster, Ontario)
Nick Pidsodny played goal like battling Billy Smith long before Billy Smith ever strapped on a pair of goalie pads.
Pidsodny often battled with opponents who crowded him in his crease. More than once he temporarily gave up stopping pucks to duke it out with a rival player who he felt had taken too many liberties.
The goalie had only just begun his career with the Oakland Oaks in 1945-46 when he began to build the reputation that made him a crowd favourite at home and a target of boo birds on the road.
In a game against the arch-rival San Francisco Shamrocks, Pidsodny took exception to a stick waved in front of his unmasked face and punched an opponent. “With less than a minute to play, Butch Van Deelan of San Francisco barged the Oakland net and goalie Nick Pidsodny, thinking Van Deelan was aiming at him with his stick, let fly a punch,” the Oakland Tribune reported two days before Christmas in 1945. “Soon everybody on the ice was battling.” Oakland defeated the Shamrocks, 7-1.
The post-war crowds in Oakland cheered young Pidsodny, a 19-year-old from Hamilton, Ont. A fan club was formed in his name and the Tribune soon noticed the budding star.
“Young Nick Pidsodny of the Oaks can’t be underrated,” reported Ed Schoenfeld of the Tribune. “He has been somewhat erratic at times, but at others he has proved sterling with his stops made on his stomach, ear and what have you.”
He had 17 wins and 7 losses in 24 games with the Oaks of the Pacific Coast Hockey League.
Incredibly, the young netminder played his first serious games with the Philadelphia Falcons of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League at age 17. He went 1-3.
He led the EAHL in victories in 1944-45 with 24 wins against 15 losses and one tie for the Baltimore Blades. (A young Stan Fischler, later to be a prominent hockey writer, regarded Pidsodny as a goaltending hero of his youthful fandom.) He was loaned to the Boston Olympics for two games that season and also made a six-game debut with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League, going 2-4.
The 24-game stint in Oakland led to a quick promotion to the Dallas Texans of the United States Hockey League. He led the circuit in victories in 1946-47 with 27, but soon found himself abandoned in the nets, as a weaker Texans squad left him with the unwanted league lead in losses in in 1947-48 with 39. He lost another 38 the following year with the Houston Huskies.
Pidsodny returned to Canada for the 1949-50 season, where he guarded the net of the Sydney Millionaires for the first of four senior campaigns on Cape Breton Island. His pugnacious temperament found full expression in wild melees in Nova Scotia. He once was at the heart of a bench-clearing donnybrook in Glace Bay when a fan dumped a bucket of water (in later tellings, the liquid was described as piss) on him from a balcony overlooking his goal.
He spent part of the 1951-52 campaign with the Vancouver Canucks, going 11-12 with a 3.66 goals-against average.
For a time he was No. 3 on the Montreal Canadiens depth chart, behind Gerry McNeil and a young Jacques Plante. He never played in an NHL game.
After a season with the Windsor (Ont.) Bulldogs, the goalie returned to the Maritimes for the 1954-55 season, playing in 66 games for the Moncton Hawks, leading the Atlantic Canada Senior Hockey League with a 3.11 goals-against average. He went 9-4 in the playoffs as the Hawks won the league championship.
In the Allan Cup playdowns that season, the Hawks swept the Ottawa RCAF Flyers in four straight games, Pidsodny allowing just nine goals. The Hawks were eliminated in five games by the Kitchener-Waterloo (Ont.) Flying Dutchman, Moncton’s only win coming when the goalie shut out the eventual cup champions.
After two seasons with the Hawks, Pidsodny moved to the Dalhousie (N.S.) Rangers of the New Brunswick Senior Hockey League, leading the circuit in wins (26 in a 48-game schedule) and goals-against average (3.38). The Rangers won the league title and then the Maritime championship in eight consecutive wins. (Despite the success, the Rangers decided not to contest the Allan Cup playdowns.)
Pidsodny ended his playing career with the Washington Presidents of the Eastern Hockey League in 1957-58.
Away from the rink, Pidsodny was a car salesman, an occupation he held for 60 years.
He died at The Meadows Long Term Care facility in Ancaster, Ont., on May 6, aged 88. He leaves Joyce, his wife of 39 years; two daughters; two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife, Mary (née Ermeta), who died in 1970. He was also predeceased by his older brother Peter, a defenceman who played with the San Diego Skyhawks of the PCHL, the Hamilton Tigers of the Ontario Hockey Association, and the Baltimore Clippers of the EHL. The two brothers were also teammates on the woeful Houston Huskies in 1948-49.