Gerry McNeil may forever be remembered for one goal he allowed - Bill Barilko's legendary Stanley Cup winning shot in 1951. However, there was much more to McNeil's career than one goal allowed.
Born in Quebec City on April 17, 1926, McNeil took part in his first Canadiens training camp in 1943 at the age of 17. He was a Quebec City high school goaltender when he was recommended to Canadiens manager Tommy Gorman by defenceman Mike McMahon. He was given a tryout, strapping on the heavy, waterlogged equipment the team dumped at his feet, and soon was offered a contract.
"It was for $2,300 for the year, on top of my schooling and board," McNeil recalled. "I went back home and my dad, who was making $19 a week at the pulp-and-paper mill, said it would be a good thing for me to give hockey a try."
McNeil moved into the Queen's Hotel in Montreal, all expenses paid. At once, he was playing hockey for Catholic High School, tending goal for the senior league Royals, and practising with the Canadiens, backup to the great Bill Durnan.
With the Royals of the QSHL, McNeil had the best goals against average in the league in 1946 and 1947. He was named a first team all-star and league MVP three years in succession, starting in 1947.
He made his debut with the Canadiens in 1947 playing in 2 games and was summoned full-time in 1950-51 when Bill Durnan retired, playing every minute of every game in his rookie season.
McNeil backstopped the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup finals against Toronto in 1951 and Detroit in 1952, but it wasn't until the 1952-53 season that he was able to lead the Canadiens to his own Stanley Cup. That same season, he was selected to the NHL's Second All-Star Team.
Towards the end of the 1953-54 season though, McNeil lost his starting position to a young superstar named Jacques Plante. When the Canadiens were facing elimination against Detroit in the 1953-54 Stanley Cup finals, Plante was pulled by coach Dick Irvin in favour of the veteran McNeil. The Canadiens promptly won the next two games to force a seventh game. Unfortunately, an overtime fluke undid the Habs, as an easy shot by the Red Wings was tipped off Canadiens defenceman Doug Harvey's glove behind McNeil.
The goal crushed McNeil, and he retired to coach junior hockey the next season. He did return to the game, earning a second Stanley Cup victory as Plante's back-up in 1956-57, but he was never again an NHL starter.
McNeil returned to the Royals for two season before moving on to the Rochester Americans of the AHL for two more. He retired for good from hockey after the 1960-61 season.
Upon his first retirement in 1957, McNeil went to work at the Seagram's distillery, remaining there for over 20 years.
McNeil was a fervant Habs fans his entire life. At the end of the 2003-04 season he visited Jose Theodore. The two puckstoppers had a fun time in each others company as they traded pieces of goalie equipement, trying them on for size. They both gained an appreciation for their respective era's.
McNeil passed away on June 17, 2004, at the age of 78.