Bruce Gamble

WHILE he might not be the most recognizable goaltender from the Lakehead, to those in the today’s era, Bruce Gamble is undoubtedly one of the best netminders ever to come out of the city.

Getting his first taste of junior hockey locally as a 14-year-old with the Port Arthur West End Bruins during the 1952-53 campaign, Gamble eventually went on to tend goal for the Port Arthur North Stars, backstopping them to a Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League title in 1956.

Heading out on the Memorial Cup trail that year, his North Stars’ side defeated the St. Boniface Canadians from Manitoba in six games in western semifinal action before dropping a hard-fought seven-game set vs. the Regina Pats in the west championship series.

From there, Gamble continued his junior. career in southern Ontario and joined the Guelph Biltmores of the OHA.

In his initial season in Guelph, he was stellar in leading the Biltmores to a first place finish in league play before going on to win the OHA title.

His contributions saw him named to the league’s all-star squad in net.

In the 1958 playoffs, the Hull-Ottawa Canadiens added him to their roster as a pick-up. He did not disappoint, winning 10 games in all during the postseason helping them win the Memorial Cup.

Turning pro the next season, the goalkeeper joined the Vancouver Canucks in the old Western Hockey League where he won 29 times and posted seven shutouts, enroute to earning WHL Rookie of the Year and second all-star team laurels.

That same year he made his NHL debut, with the New York Rangers, where he made a trio of starts.

After that, Gamble suited up the Providence Reds for a season and a half, before making 51 appearances for the Boston Bruins in 1960-61.

Toiling with the Bruins and likes of the Portland Buckaroos (WHL), Kingston Frontenacs (EPHL), where he was a first team all-star honouree in 1962-63, Springfield Indians (AHL) and Tulsa Oilers (WHL) over four seasons.

This included balking at a demotion back down to Springfield for the 1964-65 campaign where he refused to play again for the infamous Eddie Shore, opting instead to sit out the entire season back home in Port Arthur.

The following year though, he went on to be acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he would spend the better part of six NHL seasons.

Featured in this was making 23 appearances for Toronto during their last Stanley Cup run in 1967. Unfortunately, however, he did not get his name engraved on Lord Stanley’s Mug.

In 1967-68 with the Leafs, he tied for the NHL-lead in save percentage at .934 and played in their All-Star Game, where he was named its most valuable player.

He then wrapped up his NHL career seeing playing time with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1970-71 and 1971-72.

Statistically, Gamble was solid. Through the first 65 years of the NHL, he had the most wins of any netminder, who hailed from northwestern Ontario, upon his retirement with 111.

His victories still leave him third all-time on the local NHL wins list, trailing only Wayne Stephenson’s 146 and Matt Murray’s 127.

He also posted the most NHL shutouts of any goaltender from the Lakehead, with 22, over the course of his career.

That has him eight clear of Stephenson’s 14 while Murray and Carter Hutton both have 13 and counting.

Over the 100-plus years of the league, Gamble and Stephenson presently sit tied for 148th in NHL history in games played at 328 among the 828 puck-stoppers who have seen action in net.

Gamble did all this while being one of the last goalies to play the majority of his pro career without wearing a mask.

Tack on another 170 triumphs at other levels of professional hockey, he certainly made his mark in the game.

Over the years, he had a total of eight hockey cards produced and they range in price from over $4 all the way to $115 for his 1967-68 Topps, with Toronto.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 1984, he sadly passed away at age 44, just two years prior to that.

While gone nearly four decades now, Bruce Gamble should definitely be remembered as one of our local hockey legends.

June 15, 2021: Local legends: Bruce Gamble