Monday, July 16, 2012

Bob Gillson, Goaltender, EHL Washington Presidents & Johnstown Jets, 1958-59

Bob Gillson - Owen Sound Mercurys
Bob Gillson was the regular netminder for the Owen Sound Mercurys for the ten years of their existence in the Senior Ontario Hockey Association. (SOHA) from 1947  to 1957. As a boy, Bob had ”rickets” and it was feared he would not be able to walk. His strong determination got him beyond this problem. Bob became part of the Toronto Maple Leaf system but was 4th or 5th on the depth chart. The Leafs wanted to send Bob to one of their western teams for development, but he opted to jump ship in 1947 and go to Owen Sound, where he had a very successful career. He was regarded as one of the top senior hockey goaltenders in Canada. Owen Sound won the Allan Cup (senior hockey supremacy of Canada) largely due to Bob in 1951. (On a side note: Les Binkley (Baltimore and Charlotte Clippers) played in an Allan Cup playoff game for the injured Gillson. Binkley had just turned 16 and the Sarnia Sailors overwhelmed him that night, scoring 8 goals.)  Bob Gillson was voted into the Owen Sound Sports Hall of Fame and still lives there. He is one of two surviving members of that Allan Cup winning team.
‘Mr. Gillson goes to Washington’ His boss Jim Keeling owner of the Owen Sound Mercurys and the then Collingwood Mercurys told Bobby to go to Washington – they had goaltender problems and needed help to get in the playoffs. Keeling was an owner of a Ford dealership in Owen Sound, hence the Owen Sound and Collingwood Mercurys. Jim was a long time friend of Lou Pieri, owner of the Providence Reds, and for this season, also the Washington Presidents as a farm team for Providence. Gillson had also signed a “C” contract with Providence in 1948 which might still have been in force in 1958. At any rate it seems the call to Washington came through Pieri. Several players who played with the Mercurys were one time Providence property - Tom Burlington, Pat McReavy, Bill McComb and Andy McCallum. Another Providence connection - it seems Pieri sent old Providence hockey equipment up to Owen Sound. Bob still has the pants which had been in a museum in Southampton Ont. but discarded and returned to Gillson via Doug Gillespie (former teammate) a few years ago.

Bob Gillson
Toronto Staffords 1946-47
Gillson flew from Toronto to New York. He took a cab from the airport to the railroad station in New York He took the train to New Haven and met the Washington team there. He is uncertain if he played that night or the next. Bob was carrying his goal pads and equipment for the entire journey.(everything but the hockey stick.). In Washington he stayed at the Dodds Hotel. He was the only hockey player staying there. Washington did not make the playoffs. Bob says he is not sure if Georges Vezina or Terry Sawchuk could have got them in (with a good-natured laugh).

Here's 8 games I can verify he played with Washington, as per the Washington Post:
Jan 29, 1959 Washington 3 at New Haven 5
Jan 31, 1959 Washington 6 at Charlotte 5 (OT)
Feb 5, 1959 Washington 1 at Charlotte 4
Feb 7, 1959 Washington 6 at Charlotte 4
Feb 10, 1959 Washington 1 at Philadelphia 5, Gillson 31 Saves
Feb 11, 1959 Washington 1 at Clinton 3, Gillson 31 Saves
Feb 14, 1959 Charlotte 3 at Washington 6, Gillson 25 Saves
Feb 15, 1959 Charlotte 13 at Washington 2
Totals: 8 Games, 42 Goals against. 3 Wins 5 Losses.

Feb 17, 1959 Nipper O'Hearn brought in by the Presidents to replace an ailing Gillson.
Feb 21, 1959 Goaltender Harvey Bennett acquired by the Presidents from the Providence Reds.
Feb 25, 1959 The Washington Presidents will use their 6th goalie of the season tonight, Ed Giacomin.
Bob Gillson - October 2010

EHL history is not cut and dried as it may seem. The 1959-60 EHL Yearbook says that Bob Gillson played 9 games giving up 44 goals for Washington and Johnstown combined. If we subtract out the Washington stats above, then Gillson would have given up 2 goals in 1 game for Johnstown. Bob himself is "absolutely sure" that he played a game for Johnstown, replacing an injured goalie, possibly even in a playoff game. Johnstown used a slew of replacement goaltenders at the end of the season and throughout the playoffs.

However, the book Slap Shots and Snapshots, which has extensive game by game stats for the Jets does not show Gillson having played for Johnstown. I contacted Mike Piskuric who did stats for the Slap Shots and Snapshots. He verified that he found no record of Gillson playing for Johnstown. However, he does show Frazer Gleason, Jets backup goalie having played 33 minutes, and giving up 2 goals, as a replacement on Feb. 27, 1959. (The EHL Yearbook does not show Gleason having played.) Is it possible that Gillson actually played, and the statistician or newspaper sports reporter just assumed that it was Gleason who played? We have no way of knowing for sure. Which is why EHL stats, like any hockey stats that were kept on type written pages, are not as cut and dried as things are in today's computer age.

Bob Gillson Stats from 1959-60 Eastern Hockey League Yearbook:
Games: 9 (Washington-Johnstown)
Goals Against: 44
Shutouts: 0
Goals Against Average: 4.89
(In case you're wondering, 9 full games divided by 44 goals would come to 4.89, so it's probable that the GAA is not taking into account Overtime or any partial games played.)

Note: This article is written from e-mails from Charlie MacDougall hockey historian from Owen Sound, about his discussions with Bob Gillson. The photos were also sent by Charlie.

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