Bill Taugher tended goal in Kingston's Memorial Cup bid

In the early days of organized hockey, the rules required that goaltenders stand up – they would be penalized if they fell to their knees to block a puck.

It was only in 1917 that the regulations were changed to allow them to go down to the ice. While this enabled goalies to save more shots, it also put them at higher risk of being hit in the face by a flying puck.

The new rule would have tragic consequences for some goalies – including the greatest Kingston-born goaltender of all time, Bill Taugher. Sadly, he would be struck many times by pucks and sticks and would die at the age of just 35, just a few years after hanging up his skates, leaving a wife and four young children.

Taugher backstopped the Kingston Combines team to the only local trip to the Memorial Cup tournament in 1926. As the Combines name suggests, the squad was a combination of local players from the junior Frontenacs, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College.

During 300 regular season games, and 30 playoff matches, Taugher maintained a remarkable 1.66 goals against average. At the Memorial Cup tournament in Winnipeg, Kingston captured the opening game with a 4-2 win over the Calgary Canadians. However, the Alberta-based squad fought back to win the next two matches and the Memorial Cup.

“Bill Taugher definitely paid a price for being a goalie,” says Patrick Kennedy, a retired Whig-Standard reporter. He wrote a successful nomination application to induct the goaltender into the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame. Taugher was posthumously honoured in 2023.

“In those days, the shots weren’t as hard because the slapshot had not been invented yet,” Kennedy told the Original Hockey Hall of Fame. “However, that was offset by the fact that goalies did not wear masks and their pads were undersized and provided only minimal protection.”

Indeed, it’s remarkable to put a photo of Taugher beside one of Tampa Bay Lightning puckstopper Andrei Vasilevskiy. Dubbed the Michelin Man by some critics, Vasilevskiy wears such huge equipment that it fills most of the net – making it hard for opposing sharpshooters to find an opening.

It was very different in Taugher’s time. “The equipment, all of it very poorly padded, significantly added to the difficulty of playing goal,” recalled the late hockey historian Bill Fitsell. “The catching glove was quite undersized and almost flat, making it very hard to catch anything. And there was no blocker, just an ordinary padded mitt.”

And, of course, there were no masks. In 1927, Elizabeth Graham, the 21-year-old goaltender for the Queen’s women’s hockey team donned a fencing mask for a game against University of Toronto. Just three years later, Clint Benedict was the first goalie in the NHL to wear a mask, but the idea did not catch on. It would be 1959 before Montreal’s Jacques Plante would start to sport a mask and that would launch a trend across the league. For Kingston Combines goalie Bill Taugher, the absence of face protection would prove to be his undoing.

Taugher played a single NHL game, with the Montreal Canadiens at the Montreal Forum. He was called up while still a junior playing in Kingston. Taugher was needed to fill in for the legendary Georges Vezina.

“I don’t think my Dad was paid for the NHL game,” recalls his son Art Taugher, still going strong at age 90. “I remember my grandfather saying that he had to sign some sort of waiver before he played, I supposed so he could maintain his amateur status.”

Following his solid showing at the Memorial Cup tournament, Taugher turned pro and blocked shots in the International Hockey League from 1928 to 1935. He was a standout for the Buffalo Bisons.

After several head injuries, he was forced to retire at the age of 29, experiencing dizzy spells and eventually seizures. Doctors found a brain tumour, and in 1942 he underwent neurosurgery in Toronto. However, he never fully recovered and died at the age of 35.

He left behind his wife Doretta and four young children. “My mother became quite bitter about hockey,” says Art Taugher. “She was convinced that hockey contributed to his early death and she was probably right.”

Bill Taugher owned several houses, which helped financially, but his widow had to take on the child-rearing all by herself. “It was a tough row to hoe,” Art Taugher remembers.

Art Taugher never saw his father play hockey and was only 10 years old when he died. “My Dad always wanted to spend time with me, I think because he knew the end was near.” They would attend hockey games at the Jock Harty Arena and go on drives, such as to watch the opening of the 1000 Islands international bridge in 1938.

The Memorial Cup has been contested for more than a century and Bill Taugher brought a Kingston team the closest ever to winning. “It’s both a great story and a tragic one,” concludes Kennedy.