Mike Karakas

Alphonse Lacroix and Moe Roberts were the first American born goalies to play in the NHL, but it was Mike Karakas who became the first American-born star goalkeeper. He also was the goalie who introduced the now common trapper glove to the NHL by having a catch-all strap sewn from the index finger to the thumb. Some claim it was Frank Brimsek, another American goaltender, but he made it popular. It was Karakas who introduced it.

And he used that glove hand spectacularly. It was said that Karakas had the quickest glove hand of his time. He was a maddening goalie in that he was highly inconsistent. He tended to be at his best in big games, but otherwise really struggled with consistency.

Born in Aurora, Minn. in 1911, Mike Karakas played high school hockey at Eveleth. Karakas turned pro with the Chicago Shamrocks of the AHA. He was a sensation with them and continued great with the St. Louis Flyers and Tulsa Oilers.

It was only a matter of time before an NHL team would sign him, and when all-star goaltender Lorne Chabot was injured in the Chicago Blackhawks training camp, Mike took over as Chicago's goaler in 1935-36.

He was so good that Chabot was out of a job. His first season saw Karakas post a great 1.92 goals against average and 9 shutouts, earning him NHL rookie of the year honours. He also was an all-star.

Karakas could not duplicate his freshman success, and he flopped in 1936-37, giving up the second most goals. The Blackhawks plummeted right along with him into the cellar of the American Division. He was just as bad the following year, but the Hawks avoided the cellar thanks to Detroit taking the plunge after two straight Stanley Cups.

The Blackhawks didn't look like they'd last long in the 1938 playoffs, but not only did they, but they shocked the experts by beating the powerful Leafs to win the Stanley Cup. Karakas played very well in the semifinal and final, even though Karakas was forced out of the first two games of the finals with a broken toe. Alfie Moore took over and won the game. After Moore was ruled ineligible and Paul Goodman lost the second game, Karakas returned for game three and four wearing a steel toe guard and completed the storybook upset over the Leafs. Allowing only 15 goals all post-season, Karakas was very sharp, giving the Hawks their last Cup until 1961 when a new generation took over.

The Blackhawks and Karakas resumed their indifferent play in 1938-39 and finished last. Karakas was demoted to the minor leagues and replaced by Goodman. Karakas was loaned to the Montreal Canadiens when they lost Wilf Cude with a shoulder injury. He didn't win one of his 5 games, only tying one.

Karakas was seemingly forever banished to the AHL, where he starred with the Providence Reds, leading the team to the 1941 Calder Cup championship. It took World War II to bring him back to the NHL. The war had taken the NHL's talent and suddenly the Blackhawks needed Karakas again because the inexperienced Hec Highton was showing a bad display of goaltending.

Karakas returned and showed improved consistency. He played the final 26 games of the 50 game schedule in 1943-44 and his great goalkeeping helped the Blackhawks into the playoffs. He had a 3.04 goals against average and three shutouts in the high-scoring NHL, which was remarkable. In the playoffs he unthinkably led another Cinderella Hawks team into the Stanley Cup finals. But this time the Montreal Canadiens were unbeatable in the playoffs, and though Karakas was good, he wasn't good enough to stop the Habs powerful attack. The Blackhawks were swept in four straight games.

The next year, Doug Bentley joined his brother Max in the armed forces and only the goalkeeping of Karakas prevented the Hawks from avoiding the cellar. That he recorded a league high 4 shutouts was miraculous, and he was selected for the second all-star team.

In his last NHL season, the Blackhawks were in first place at one point and it seemed as if they might just be a serious contender for the Cup. But in the 1946 playoffs, the Canadiens just demolished the Blackhawks and Karakas looked weak.

With players returning from the war, and new netminder Paul Bibeault now available, the Hawks returned the 35 year old Karakas to Providence to round out his hockey career.

Karakas is an original member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He died May 2nd,1992.


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