André Marcel Gill
Born: September 19, 1941 (Sorel, Québec)
Died: December 2, 2014 (Sorel-Tracy, Québec)
In December, 1967, a desperate Boston Bruins team called up André Gill to be an emergency fill-in in the nets after both starters suffered injuries. Gill, a 26-year-old rookie, responded admirably, winning his first three NHL games. He then sputtered, losing twice, and, after just five games in eight days in Boston’s livery, Gill was returned to the minors, never again to play in the NHL.
Born in the port city of Sorel, Que., the 5-foot-7, 145-pound goalie played junior hockey for the hometown Sorel Royaux before joining the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League for the 1962-63 season.
The diminutive net-minder was in his sixth season with the Bears when the parent Bruins suddenly found themselves without a starting goaltender. Gerry Cheevers had suffered a dislocated shoulder in a collision with Stan Mikita of the Chicago Black Hawks and Eddie Johnston then broke a bone in his right hand during practice.
Coach Harry Sinden put in an emergency call to Hershey for Gill to start against the Rangers in New York on Dec. 23, 1967. (The backup was rookie Wayne Doll of the Long Island Ducks.)
Wearing Boston sweater No. 30, Gill also learned the Bruins were without all-star defenceman Bobby Orr for the game. The Rangers went on the power play just 70 seconds after the opening face-off.
“In his first three minutes, [Gill] must have wished for the minor-league life again,” wrote Gerald eskenazi of the New York Times. The Rangers “shot from the blue line. … They peppered him from up close. He saw line drives come from all angles. Some were wide of the mark, but he was called upon to make several good saves.”
Gill stopped all 41 shots he faced to earn the shut out in a 4-0 Bruins victory in his debut.
“We go into New York and we have to put this kid, André Gill, into the net,” Bruins coach Harry Sinden later told newspaper columnist Jim Coleman. “Gill blanked the Rangers, 4-0. Gill really won it all by himself but out players began to recover their confidence that night. Now, I think we’re back on the right track.”
December 25: The Bruins defeated the expansion Oakland Seals 6-3 at the Boston Garden, a Christmas Day game in which “Peace on Earth” was forgotten after a fan reached out to punch Charlie Burns of the Seals while he battled Ken Hodge of the Bruins. This led to a bench-clearing brawl. As for the three Seals goals, rookie Gill “didn’t have a chance” on any of them, according to Sinden.
December 27: The hometown Bruins ended Chicago’s 10-game unbeaten streak with a decisive 7-2 win. Gill gave up goals by Mikita and Doug Mohns, but made 22 saves for his third consecutive victory. Asked the difference between the NHL and the minors, Gill said: “Up here they shoot harder and faster, especially Bobby Hull. There wasn’t much for me to do tonight. The defence did it all.”
December 30: Gill surrendered a 30-foot shot by Parker MacDonald with less than five minutes to play as the Bruins lost 5-4 on the road against the Minnesota North Stars. The Bruins led 3-1 midway through the first period, only to see the lead evaporate before the period expired. On the winning goal, “MacDonald took the puck at centre ice, skated unmolested across the Boston blue line and let fly with what looked like an easy shot,” the Associated Press reported. “André Gill, the Bruin goalie who had let a long shot in earlier, was off balance and the puck went under his glove.”
December 31: In Detroit, Gill once again got the start, but after Bruce MacGregor made it 3-1 midway through the first, coach Sinden pulled the rookie in favour of Johnston. The Red Wings went on to win, 6-4.
Gill returned to Hershey early in the new year, where he would spend another four full seasons. In 1968-69, the Bears won the Calder Cup as AHL champions, though Gill served as backup to Long John Henderson, who played every minute of every playoff game.
Gill was selected by the Dayton Aeros in the World Hockey Association’s general player draft in 1972. The Aeros sold his rights to the Chicago Cougars, who ended the inaugural 1972-73 season with the worst record of 12 teams. Gill won only four games, while losing 24.
The tiny goalie went 4-7-2 the following season, though he posted a 6-5 mark in the playoffs.
Gill ended his pro career with short stints in the lower minors with the Long Island Cougars, Hampton Gulls and Richmond Wildcats.
He died of cancer in his hometown, now known as Sorel-Tracy. He leaves his wife, Claire Allard; a daughter and two sons; three grandchildren; a brother; and, two sisters.