History

Train in Vain: The Herb Pinder Story

PACIFIC COLISEUM. October, 1969. The opening night of the WHL season. Herb Pinder is excited, naturally. He has been training for this game; he has come to know his new team, the Vancouver Canucks. He likes the goalie, Bud Gardner. Bud has been in and out of the big leagues – he played for Detroit – and is a funny guy. He tells stories about being chauffeured in a limousine to CPHL games in Memphis, and confesses in the dressing room that he’d usually wear glasses, if not for the fear of getting dropped. He has the eye exam memorized, he says to Herb.

“E, F P, T O Z… L P E D,” Bud carries on.

It’s the sort of stoicism Herb likes in a goalkeeper; it’s one of the reasons he signs the contract so readily.

There are provisions in the document that Herb expects. $750, a bonus for winning the WHL’s Lester Patrick Cup. $500 for topping the league in the season standings. A salary of $6,500. It’s a figure that smarts a little. Herb has already declined a $5,000 scholarship, offered to all members of the Olympic team. He knows he should be in Winnipeg, preparing to study. But Herb Pinder lives for ice hockey, and when he meets with his new coach and manager, Joe Crozier, he doesn’t bring up their agreements about his education just yet. He doesn’t want anything to distract from the start of the season, and Joe’s stubbornness can be hard to deal with. Besides, the adrenaline is starting to flow; fans are already streaming to their seats. His jersey – home blue, with white and red stripes – hangs in the dressing room. He’ll sport number 15.

The Canucks lose to the visitors, the Seattle Totems, that night. The team travels through Washington and Oregon over the next week, winning against Portland’s squad and exacting revenge on the Totems in their own building. Goalie Bud shuts them out. As a low-minutes forward Herb is just happy to be utilized, but trouble with his ankle – he fractured it in France after winning the bronze medal, on a skiiing jaunt – is flaring up again, and he doesn’t have the supernatural stoicism of a goalkeeeper to hide his pain. Coach Joe notices, and for the next three games Herb watches his team struggle on the ice from the Coliseum’s stands. The thought that he may have played his first and last games as a Vancouver Canuck worries him far more than the throbbing pain in his ankle.

In November, Herb sits on the edge of his bed with his suitcase packed, and makes a call to San Diego. Hockey has abandoned him, it crossed the southern border on a silvery coach, and with each lonely night he understands a little more that he must return to Winnipeg. He wants to remind Coach Joe of the conversation the two had when they first spoke, and their agreement: to pay out the contract if his position in the squad wasn’t solidified by Christmas.

“Listen, Sonny Jimbo.” The line crackles. “You made your mind up when you signed the contract. You said you want your money.”

Herb doesn’t have an easy response. He senses a change in temper, somehow, in the silence.

“So I’m going to keep you in Vancouver. All year. And you’re not going to play, but you’re going to be practicing from eight in the morning till six at night. I’ll see you when I get back. You’re going to hang around, and I’ll see you then.”

Later, sitting in the passenger cab of a trans-national train as it trundles slowly through chiseled banks of snow, Herb Pinder carefully pens his parting words to the organization. He wants to clear the air; set down in writing that he has not abandoned his contract, but will not waste his time in Vancouver on the whims of an unreasonable coach. There is no response, and certainly no cheque signed and dispatched to him over that long Christmas.

It is not until a hot August day in Calgary that Herb meets with the team again. The representative is Bud Poile. Poile is the Canucks’ new general manager, tasked with Vancouver’s incorporation into an expanded NHL. There is no immediate financial recourse for Herb; that battle will continue for years. But Poile is reasonable, a wise, savvy hockey manager, worked up in the familiar excitement of a new season. He will put a settlement offer forward to the ownership group. He explains that Joe Crozier is gone, set to coach in the AHL now, replaced by Hal Laycoe. And – to Herb’s further delight – Poile expects to retain George “Bud” Gardner, who will be the Vancouver Canucks’ first starting goalkeeper in the National Hockey League.

*

Sources:

Pinder v. Vancouver Hockey Club Ltd. British Columbia Supreme Court, 1972. Accessed at Westlaw International, May 15, 2013.

Herb Pinder Bio, Stats and Results.’ sports-reference.com.

Absurd Goalie Monday: George Gardner.‘ scottywazz.blogspot.com.au.

1969-1970 Vancouver Canucks Results and Schedule.’ hockeydb.com.

Wikipedia – Various.

Most details are accurate.

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2 comments on “Train in Vain: The Herb Pinder Story

  1. Scott on said:

    Very well written, and an interesting look into an often overlooked part of hockey history. I look forward to more

  2. jeremyo on said:

    Glad you enjoyed it! It was great fun to research and write. There’s just something fantastic and strange about the old days of hockey that make it so intriguing… I’ll definitely find some other nuggets in the Canucks history to share.

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