( Photo Credit: Ice Hockey Wiki )

By: Steve McClure | Follow me on Twitter / X @stmcclure1993

As we approach the anniversary of the Boston Bruins’ first Stanley Cup celebration in 1929, it’s important to understand the contribution of one Cecil ‘Tiny’ Thompson, the 25-year-old who took over the team’s goaltending job in the fall of ’28.

Thompson had usurped Hal Winkler, who had accumulated 15 shutouts the prior season, with his own stellar play. Winkler was demoted to the Bruins’ minor league affiliate Minneapolis Millers, as National Hockey League teams only carried one netminder at the time (*Winkler’s name would be added to the Stanley Cup decades later as an official member of the team). The rookie goaltender posted a shutout in his very first NHL game, and after the team stumbled to a 5-7-2 start to the regular season, Thompson stood on his head after the new year, spearheading an 11-0-2 run in January. That month’s stretch of superiority proved to be the catalyst that catapulted the 1928-29 Bruins to a first-place finish in the American division. It was the team’s second division title in a row, a streak that would stretch to four consecutive years by 1931.

He was born in 1903 in Sandon, British Columbia; at the time, Sandon was a flourishing’ silver town’ dotted with brothels and surrounded by steep mountains. However, silver prices soon diminished, and eventually, Sandon became, for all intents and purposes, a ghost town; the town was disincorporated by 1920. It is believed the Thompson family moved to Calgary, Alberta, sometime around 1906 or 1907, and this is where Tiny spent most of his formative years.

Standing at five-feet-ten-inches, some maintain Thompson’s nickname ‘Tiny’ was a joke based on the ironic notion that he was one of the taller players during his professional playing days, but it appears he carried this moniker with him in his youth, and the nickname persisted as an adult. According to Tiny himself, “Just about everyone I played against in those [pre-teen] days was bigger than me, so they nicknamed me ‘Tiny,’ although I wasn’t crazy about it. I guess alongside them; I looked tiny.”

Thompson became one of the first netminders to use the stick-gripping glove as an actual ‘catching’ glove, as goalies of this era depended on the same handwear as other skaters and routinely gripped the stick with both hands. It wasn’t until more than a decade later that the vital tool that resembled a first baseman’s glove was introduced—by the Ranger’s Emile ‘The Cat’ Francis—to aid NHL goalies. Thompson found great success with this innovative strategy, and to this day, what NHL fan does not love the showy flourish of a great ‘glove save’ by today’s modern netminders?

Having played forward in his youth, Thompson was adept at stickhandling and passing the puck. Instead of simply blocking shots and steering pucks to the sideboards as goalies regularly did, he would routinely solicit the puck to open teammates in hopes of creating offense; in fact, Thompson was the first NHL goaltender to register an assist in 1936. Another valuable skill was Thompson’s ability to ‘belly flop’ just at the right time in order to break up scoring opportunities. Though considered a ‘stand up’ goalie, like the rest of his peers, Tiny was quite agile and could effectively dive to the ice to extricate the puck from attacking skaters and then spring back to position.

In that 1928-29 championship year, the rookie accrued a 26-13-5 record with a microscopic 1.15 goals against average, including 12 shutouts. But it was in the playoffs when Tiny became gargantuan. He stingily posted three shoutouts and owned a 0.60 goals-against average when it counted most. Two of the shutouts came at Boston Garden against the Canadian division champion Montreal Canadiens in the semifinal best-of-five series, and the third shutout, also at Boston Garden, came in Game One of the Stanley Cup finals versus the New York Rangers. No doubt, his impressive GAA and 5-0 record in the playoffs propelled the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup title.

As a Stanley Cup finals sidelight, Tiny earned the upper hand over brother Paul, who was a left-wing for the New York Rangers at the time, marking one of the few times in professional sports history that a brother combination has met each other in the finals. Later, in 1937, while playing for Chicago, little brother Paul put a puck past Tiny to become the first player in NHL history to score on his own brother. Decades later another Bruins legend, Phil Esposito, would make a regular habit of scoring on his little brother Tony—tallying 25 goals over the course of 18 games.

  Tiny and brother Paul
(Photo Credit: Leslie Jones Collection | Boston Public Library)

Thompson was traded by general manager Art Ross to the Detroit Red Wings at the beginning of the 1938-39 season. Ross was confident that upstart rookie Frank Brimsek could carry the load after watching Brimsek win the opening two games of the season while filling in for Thompson, who had suffered an eye injury toward the end of training camp. Tiny had briefly returned to the starting lineup but was traded in November for goaltender Normie Smith and $15,000—what was, at the time, the most lucrative return for a goaltender in NHL history.

Smith was to serve as the Bruins’ potential insurance policy between the pipes if Brimsek faltered; however, when he was demoted to the minor league team, Smith refused the assignment and retired instead. In Detroit, Thompson lost more than he had won in two seasons with the Red Wings, a mediocre team at the time, and retired from the NHL after the 1940 season.

Thompson’s 38 regular-season victories during the 1929-30 season place him third best on the Bruins’ single-season ‘wins’ list, behind Linus Ullmark’s 40-win performance last year and Pete Peeters’ 40-win season in 1982-83. In addition, he still owns the NHL record for ‘longest winning streak in a season’ (tied with three others), which took place during his Vezina Trophy-winning season of 1929-30.

The NHL Hall of Fame elected the 4x Vezina Trophy-winning Thompson in 1959. He was a 1929 Stanley Cup champion and a 2x NHL First Team All-Star, and his 252 career victories place him second on the Bruins’ all-time list behind Tuukka Rask.