Tiny Thompson

Canadian ice hockey goaltender: first goaltender to stop the puck by catching it (1903-1981)

Cecil Ralph "Tiny" Thompson (May 31, 1903 – February 9, 1981) was a Canadian professional ice hockey goaltender. He played 12 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL). He played 10 seasons with the Boston Bruins and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. He won the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's best goaltender, four times. He was added to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1959. He won the Stanley Cup once, in 1929 with Boston. At the start of the 1938–39 season, after ten entire seasons with Boston, he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, where he played the rest of the season, and played another full one before stopping. During his time in the NHL, Thompson made 81 shutouts. This is the sixth-most of any goaltender. After stopping playing, he coached some lower-league teams before becoming a famous professional scout. Thompson helped to make common the technique of catching the puck as a method of making a save. He was good at using his stick to play the puck. He was the first goaltender in the NHL to record an assist by passing the puck with his stick to a player on his team.

Tiny Thompson
Hockey Hall of Fame, 1959
Thompson with the Bruins in the early 1930s
Born (1903-05-31)May 31, 1903
Sandon, British Columbia
Died February 9, 1981(1981-02-09) (aged 77)
Calgary, Alberta
Height 5 ft 10 in (178 cm)
Weight 160 lb (73 kg; 11 st 6 lb)
Position Goaltender
Caught Left
Played for Boston Bruins
Detroit Red Wings (NHL)
Playing career 1928–1941

Early life


Thompson was born in Sandon, British Columbia, on May 31, 1903. He grew up in Calgary, Alberta. In 1906, his brother Paul was born in Calgary. Paul would also become a professional ice hockey player.[1] When Cecil was a child, he enjoyed playing baseball and ice hockey.[1] At first, Cecil was not a goaltender. He became a goaltender so that the other children would allow him to play with them.[2] When he became a teenager, other persons on his team began to call him "Tiny" since he was the tallest player. He would be known as "Tiny" for the rest of career.[3]

Thompson began playing junior hockey when he was 16 with the Calgary Monarchs. In his first season, he competed for the Memorial Cup. The Memorial Cup is given to the best junior ice hockey team in Canada. In the two games in which he competed for the Memorial Cup, he gave up 11 goals, which was an average number of goals to give up in that period of ice hockey.[4][5]

In the 1920–21 season, Thompson played for Calgary Alberta Grain. In the next three seasons, he played for a team in Bellevue, Alberta. In the 1924–25 season, he joined the Duluth Hornets. He played 40 games for the Hornets. In those 45 games, he had 11 shutouts.[4][5]

In the next season, Thompson joined the Minneapolis Millers of the American Hockey Association (AHA). He played for the Millers for three seasons. During that time, he appeared in 118 games, making 33 shutouts. He had a 1.37 goals-against average, which is an average of goals surrendered in a span of sixty minutes).[4][5]

NHL career


Boston Bruins


Thompson started playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) in the 1928–29 season. He joined the Boston Bruins since Boston manager Art Ross bought his contract from Minnesota. He did so because he had heard that Thompson was a very good goaltender.[3]

In his first-ever game, Thompson made a shutout. He is the only goaltender that is in the Hockey Hall of Fame that has made a shutout in his first game.[6] I In his first season, Thompson played in all of Boston's 44 games. He made 12 shutouts and has a 1.15 goals-against average. In one full season, a goals-against average of 1.15 is the second-lowest ever in NHL history. George Hainsworth has a lower goals-against average of 0.98 that season, which is the lowest-ever goals-against average for a full season.[4] The Boston Bruins were in first place in the American Division, and they made the playoffs.[7] In the playoffs, they won all of their five games, as they won the Stanley Cup for their first time. In the five playoff games, Thompson made three shutouts, and gave up only three goals during the playoffs.[4] In that season, two brothers, Cecil and Paul, played against each other for the first time in the NHL.[8] Cecil and Paul also played against each other in the Stanley Cup Finals, which was also the first time when brothers played against each other.[5]

In the next season, Cecil played in all of Boston's 44 games again. He made three shutouts and he had a 2.19 goals-against average. Thompson made much less shutouts and a much higher goals-against average because the rules were changed so that players were allowed to pass forward in the attacking area.[4] That season, Boston won all but six games, finishing with a 38–5–1 record, which is the highest-ever winning percentage of any team in the NHL.[9][10] In the playoffs, they lost two games in a row for the first time in that season. The lost the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens. Earlier in the playoffs, his streak of winning his first seven games was ended.[11] It remains the longest winning streak to start a playoff career. Thompson won his first out of four Vezina Trophies that season.[12]

In the 1930–31 season, he played all 44 games again,[4] and was named to the Second All-Star team.[13] In the next season, Boston lost the semi-finals of the playoffs to Montreal. In the second game of the series against Montreal, Thompson was removed from the net near the end of the game. That was so done so Boston would have six attacking players against Montreal's five. Having more attacking players gave Boston a bigger chance to score. Although Boston lost, their coach's idea was described as "amazing".[14]

In the 1931–32 season, Boston did not play in the playoffs for the first time when Thompson played for them. He missed five games during that season, which was the only time that happened to him. In the 43 games he played, Thompson won only 13. The next season, Boston made the playoffs again, but they lost to the Toronto Maple Leafs.[4][9]

The last game of the playoff series against the Maple Leafs was described as Thompson's best. In that game, Boston and Toronto were tied after three usual periods of 20 minutes. Since the game was tied, it proceeded to overtime. After five periods of 20 minutes, the game was tied. At end of the fifth overtime period, managers Conn Smythe of the Maple Leafs and Art Ross of the Bruins ask the president of the NHL, Frank Calder, to stop the game, and finish it later. Calder refused. Early in the sixth overtime period, a pass from Boston player Eddie Shore was intercepted. Ken Doraty of the Maple Leafs went for a breakaway, meaning that he had the puck and was skating toward the other team's net with out any defender between him and Thompson. He scored on Thompson at 4:46 of the sixth overtime period. Even though he lost the game, he was applauded loudly by the fans at Maple Leaf Gardens. This game was the second-longest ever played in the NHL.[15] Even though Thompson lost more games than he won in the playoffs, he finished wit a 1.23 goals-against average.[4]

Thompson got his second Vezina Trophy in the 1932–33 season, making 11 shutouts and getting a 1.76 goals-against average.[12] The next season, Boston missed the playoffs. In the 1934–35 season, Boston placed first in the American Division.[16] Thompson was chosen to the Second All-Star team for his second time.[13] The Bruins won only one of their four playoff games. Their only win came when Thompson had a shutouts. He finished the playoffs with a 1.53 goals-against average.[4]

In the 1935–36 season, Thompson made 10 shutouts, but Boston won only 22 out of 48 games.[4] During that season, Thompson made an assist, meaning that he had made a pass on purpose to a teammate, who scored a goal as a result of getting the puck from him.[3] At that time time, it was very rare for a goaltender to do that. At the end of the season, he was named to First All-Star team for his first time. He also won the Vezina Trophy for his third time. In that season's playoffs, Boston's series against the Toronto Maple Leafs was a series of contrasts. Boston lost the two-game, total-goal series eight goals to six. In one game, Boston won against Toronto 6–0, but they lost the other game 8–0.[4]

In the 1937–38, Thompson played his last entire season with the Bruins. He won 30 out of the 48 games, but Boston lost to the Maple Leafs once again in the playoffs.[17] At end of the season, he won his fourth and last Vezina Trophy,[12] and was named to the First All-Star team for the second time.[13]

Detroit Red Wings


Thompson played only five games in the 1938–39 season,[4] because the Bruins decided to replace him with Frank Brimsek.[18] To make space for Brimsek, Thompson was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for Normie Smith and $15,000.[19] Thompson also received $1000 from Boston. Art Ross, still the manager of the Bruins, predicted that Thompson would play five more years for Detroit; however, he only played two. Although Detroit lost more games than they won, they made the playoffs in both seasons, but they did not win the Stanley Cup. Overall, Thompson appeared in 85 regular season games for Detroit, recording a 32–41–12 record, seven shutouts, and a 2.54 goals-against average, and in 11 playoff games, posting a 5–6, with one shutout and a 2.41 goal-against average.[4]

Post-NHL career


After stopping being a professional player, Thompson became a coach. In the 1940–41 season, he started to coach the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League (AHL).[19] He coached the Bisons for 56 games in two seasons. They missed the playoffs both times.[20] In the 1940–41 season, he played one game for the Bisons as an emergency goaltender.

During World War II, Thompson served in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). He was also the coach of the Calgary RCAF Mustangs of the Alberta Senior Hockey League. He led the Mustangs to the league championship series in 1942–43 against the Calgary Currie Army team. In March 1943, injuries to the Mustangs' goaltenders made him play again. With Thompson in goal, the Mustangs won against Currie Army, 8–4, to tie the best-of-five series at two wins each.[21] He played the deciding game, but his team fell short of winning the Alberta title with a 3–1 loss.[22]

After the war, Thompson became chief Western Canada scout for the Chicago Black Hawks.[15] He was one of few scouts who tried to find a player's personality along with their playing skills, often talking with players as part of efforts to learn about the players he was watching.[23]

Playing style


Thompson was stand-up goaltender, which mean he rarely fell to both knees to try to stop the puck. He was one of the first goaltenders in the NHL to catch the puck in order to stop it. He was the best puck-catcher when he played. With gloves smaller than one of other players, Thompson did not have a lot of padding when he was in net.[1][3]

He often used the same, or very similar method, to stop pucks. He dropped to one knee with the paddle of his goalstick covering the space between his legs, and extending his glove to cover the left side of the net. Although he caught the puck with his glove, he did so without gloves that were like the modern blocker and trapper. The blocker is a glove which is worn on the hand which holds the stick and is used to hit shots on goal back. The trapper is a glove which is worn on the other hand and used to catch shots on goal).

Thompson was described by Johnny Bower, a former goaltender who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, as being able to play the puck well with his stick, and one of the best of his time at passing the puck. In the 1935–36 season, Thompson became the first goaltender to get an assist by intentionally passing the puck with his stick to a fellow player.[1][3][24]



Thompson's points percentage in a season of .875, recorded in the 1929–30 season, still remains a record.[25] His 38 wins during that season was a Boston record that was beat only in the 1982–83 season, by Pete Peeters; since then, no Bruins goaltender has had more than 37 wins in a season.[26] Thompson is the all-time Bruins leader for games, wins, shutouts and goals-against average.[27] Throughout his entire NHL career career, Thompson made 81 shutouts, which is sixth all-time in NHL history,[6] which was second to only George Hainsworth (who had 94) when Thompson stopped playing.[28] He also made seven shutouts in the playoffs.[29] He is fifth all-time in goals-against average, allowing on average only 2.08 goals in a 60-minute span.[30] He led all goaltenders in regular season games played 10 times, and in regular season wins five times.[29]

In 1959, Thompson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.[5] He died in Calgary on February 9, 1981.[31] He was survived by his wife, Edith, and his daughter, Sandra.[32]

Career statistics


Regular season

Season Team League GP W L T SO GAA
1925–26 Minneapolis Millers CHL 36 10 1.64
1926–27 Minneapolis Millers AHA 38 17 11 10 9 1.42
1927–28 Minneapolis Millers AHA 40 28 7 5 12 1.23
1928–29 Boston Bruins NHL 44 26 13 5 12 1.15
1929–30 Boston Bruins NHL 44 38 5 1 3 2.19
1930–31 Boston Bruins NHL 44 28 10 6 3 1.98
1931–32 Boston Bruins NHL 43 13 19 11 9 2.29
1932–33 Boston Bruins NHL 48 25 15 8 11 1.76
1933–34 Boston Bruins NHL 48 18 25 5 5 2.62
1934–35 Boston Bruins NHL 48 26 16 6 8 2.26
1935–36 Boston Bruins NHL 48 22 20 6 10 1.68
1936–37 Boston Bruins NHL 48 23 18 7 6 2.22
1937–38 Boston Bruins NHL 48 30 11 7 7 1.80
1938–39 Boston Bruins NHL 5 3 1 1 0 1.55
1938–39 Detroit Red Wings NHL 39 16 17 6 4 2.53
1939–40 Detroit Red Wings NHL 46 16 24 6 3 2.54
1940–41 Buffalo Bisons AHL 1 0 0 0 0 1.50
NHL Totals 553 284 194 75 81 2.08


Season Team League GP W L T SO GAA
1925–26 Minneapolis Millers CHL 3 3 0 0 2 0.33
1926–27 Minneapolis Millers AHA 6 3 3 0 1 1.33
1927–28 Minneapolis Millers AHA 8 4 0 4 5 0.38
1928–29 Boston Bruins NHL 5 5 0 0 3 0.60
1929–30 Boston Bruins NHL 6 3 3 0 0 1.67
1930–31 Boston Bruins NHL 5 2 3 0 0 2.27
1932–33 Boston Bruins NHL 5 2 3 0 0 1.23
1934–35 Boston Bruins NHL 4 1 3 0 1 1.53
1935–36 Boston Bruins NHL 2 1 1 0 1 4.00
1936–37 Boston Bruins NHL 3 1 2 1 2.67
1937–38 Boston Bruins NHL 3 0 3 0 1.70
1939–40 Detroit Red Wings NHL 6 3 3 1 2.41
1939–40 Detroit Red Wings NHL 5 2 3 0 2.40
1942–43 Calgary RCAF Mustangs CNDHL 4 3.00
NHL Totals 44 20 24 0 7 1.88


Award Year(s)
Vezina Trophy 1930, 1933, 1936, 1938
First All-Star Team Goaltender 1936, 1938
Second All-Star Team Goaltender 1931, 1935
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Allen, Duff & Bower 2002, p. 50
  2. Fischler 2001, p. 133
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Allen, Duff & Bower 2002, p. 51
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 "Tiny Thompson—Career statistics". Hockey Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Tiny Thompson—Biography". Hockey Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Allen, Duff & Bower 2002, p. 49
  7. "1928–29 Boston Bruins statistics". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-09-05. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  8. Weekes 2005, p. 302
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Boston Bruins season". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  10. "1929–30 Boston Bruins statistics". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-08-28. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  11. Weekes & Banks 2002, p. 187
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Vezina Trophy". National Hockey League. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 "Tiny Thompson: Notes". National Hockey League. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  14. Duplacey & Diamond 2002, p. 187
  15. 15.0 15.1 Fischler 2001, p. 134
  16. "1934–35 Boston Bruins statistics". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  17. "1937–38 Boston Bruins statistics". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-11-22. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  18. Fischler 2003, p. 45
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Cecil (Tiny) Thompson 1939–40". Detroit Red Wings. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  20. "Cecil "Tiny" Thompson". hockeydb.com. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  21. "Mustangs flying high for 8–4 victory to deadlock series". Calgary Herald. 1943-03-18. p. 14.
  22. "Currie gives classy display to win provincial title". Calgary Herald. 1943-03-19. p. 12.
  23. Tennant, Jack (1981-02-13). "In memory of Tiny Thompson". Calgary Sun. p. 5.
  24. Thompson was not the first goaltender to actually register an assist, but he was the first to make an intentional assist with his stick. In the 1917–18 season, Georges Vézina was credited with an assist after making a save with his leg pads, and the rebound went to a fellow forward.
  25. "Season Leaders and Records for Points Percentage (Goalie)". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  26. "Boston Bruins Season Leaders". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  27. "Boston Bruins Career Leaders". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2021-05-16. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  28. "Career Leaders and Records for Shutouts". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Tiny Thompson". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  30. "Career Leaders and Records for Goals Against Average". Sports Reference, LCC. Archived from the original on 2017-10-06. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  31. "Cecil (Tiny) Thompson". The New York Times. 1981-02-12. Retrieved 2008-08-25.
  32. "Obituaries". Calgary Sun. 1981-02-11. p. 44.


  • Allen, Kevin; Duff, Bob; Bower, Johnny (2002), Without Fear: Hockey's 50 greatest goaltenders, Chicago: Triumph Books, ISBN 9781572434844
  • Duplacey, James; Diamond, Dan (2000), The Official Rules of Hockey, Globe Pequot, ISBN 9781585740529
  • Fischler, Stan (2001), Boston Bruins: Greatest Moments and Players, Sports Publishing LLC, ISBN 978-1-58261-374-1
  • Fischler, Stan (2003), Who's Who in Hockey, Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 0740719041
  • Weekes, Don (2005), The Big Book of Hockey Trivia, Greystone Books, ISBN 9781553651192
  • Wekes, Don; Banks, Kerry (2004), The Unofficial Guide to Even More of Hockey's Most Unusual Records, Greystone Books, ISBN 9781553650621

Other websites

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
George Hainsworth
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
Roy Worters
Preceded by
Charlie Gardiner
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
Charlie Gardiner
Preceded by
Lorne Chabot
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
Normie Smith
Preceded by
Normie Smith
Winner of the Vezina Trophy
Succeeded by
Frank Brimsek