Remembering when the Red Wings won the longest game in Stanley Cup history

Little Norm Smith played seven seasons in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1930s, helping them to two Stanley Cup titles.

Little Norm Smith played seven seasons in goal for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1930s, helping them to two Stanley Cup titles.

Little Normie Smith tended goal for parts of seven seasons for the Detroit Red Wings, but he was never better than in the 1936 playoffs when he blanked the Montreal Maroons for an amazing 248 minutes and 32 seconds—a record shutout sequence for the playoffs. Smith’s stonewalling was the principal reason the Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup that season.

A good chunk of Smith’s shutout streak occurred on March 24-25, 1936, a game so long it spanned nine periods of hockey and two dates on the calendar.

That evening at the Montreal Forum the Wings were facing off against the Maroons in the opener of a best-of-five semifinal series. Jack Adams’ boys had finished on top of the American Division, but many experts were picking the Maroons—first-place finishers in the Canadian Division and defending Stanley Cup champions—to once again go all the way.

None of the 10,000 fans who filed into the Forum that evening could have predicted that, come the following calendar day, he or she would still be watching these two teams batting each other for the first goal of the game. But that’s what happened, as Detroit and Montreal skated through three regulation periods and then five overtime periods without either side scoring.

“When I went into the game, I had some butterflies,” Smith recalled in 1986 on the golden anniversary of what remains hockey’s longest game. “Of course, I had no idea how long the game would eventually last. But as it got longer and longer into the game, I seemed to settle down.”

Which was more than could be said of the puck. There were no Zambonis then to smooth the ice between periods, Wings forward Pete Kelly recalled. “They only swept the ice, so it was quite rough with a lot of kate marks. The longer the game went on, the more difficult the puck was to control.”

It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the score was still 0-0 when the Wings and Maroons wearily trudged onto the ice for the start of the sixth overtime period. The Maroons had been fortified by sips of coffee and brandy between periods while the Wings had used up two gallons rubbing alcohol. The play continued as before—sluggish and cautious—as both goalies‘ pads grew heavy with water and sweat.

It was a shy 21-year-old forward named Modere “Mud” Bruneteau who finally brought the marathon to a halt. The rookie right winger had played sparingly during the regular season, scoring just two goals. But with about 8 minutes left in the sixth OT, Adams sent him over the boards for his first shift of the night. Bruneteau’s fresh legs were the difference. He trailed Hec Kilrea on a rush across the Montreal blue line, zoomed around the defense, and took a pass in front of the net. The clock read 2:25 A.M. when the rookie’s shot—Detroit’s 66th of the game—sailed past Lorne Chabot to give the Wings a 1-0 victory.

“Thank God that Chabot fell down as I drove the puck toward the net,” said Bruneteau, who struggled to the locker room as some appreciative fans jammed dollar bills into his gloves and jersey. “It was the funniest thing. The puck just stuck there in the twine and didn’t fall on the ice.”

Maybe the puck was just too damn exhausted, like everybody else in the building. To this day, no NHL game has ever lasted as long. It was officially clocked at 176 minutes and 30 seconds, the equivelent of nearly three regulation games. The unprecedented triple-header left everyone from the referees to the wire-service operators totally spent. Smith, who had made an incredible 90 saves in suffocating pressure, was the most bone-tired of the lot. “I really found out how tired I was afterwards when we went to the Lumberjacks Club in Montreal and I had one bottle of ale,” Smith recalled. “That sent me right back on my heels.”

Remarkably, Smith came back to blank the Maroons in Game 2. The frustrated Maroons finally broke through in Game 3, which the Wings won, 2-1, to sweep the series. Playing the equivalent of five games in less than a week, Smith had allowed just one shot to get past him—-a performance that had even the Maroons clapping him on the back after the series ended.

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