Hugh Lehman

Though he is remembered by NHL historians as the first goalkeeper of the Chicago Blackhawks and mentor to Chuck Gardiner, one of the greatest goalies of all time, Hugh Lehman's Hall of Fame hockey career pre-dated his arrival in the National Hockey League

Born in 1885, Lehman's long hockey career in began in 1903-04 in his hometown of Pembroke, Ontario. He established himself as a top goaltender with Berlin (now known as Kitchener) of the Ontario Professional League.

Word of Lehman's stature as a top goalie reached all the way out west, where brothers Frank and Lester Patrick were creating the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and were in search of hockey players. They lured Lehman to come out west and play for New Westminster, a suburb of Vancouver. He would not disappoint, playing three seasons with the Royals and leading them to a PCHA title in 1911-12.

When the Royals folded, he moved on to the Vancouver Millionaires and it was in this city he would spend the rest of his days in the PCHA/WCHL. He led the Millionaires to the Stanley Cup in 1915, beating the powerful Ottawa Senators. The Millionaires would contend for the Cup in 1918, 1921 and 1923 because of Lehman's excellent goalkeeping, but the NHL teams proved to be too powerful in those match ups.

In 1922-23, the Millionaires became the Vancouver Maroons and Lehman continued in goal. His excellent goalkeeping in the 1923 playoff against Ottawa wasn't enough, but it won the respect of hockey writers, and even the Senators players. Frank Patrick called the Senators the greatest team he'd ever seen.

By this time Lehman had all but cemented his status as the best goalie outside of the NHL. He led the PCHA in goals against six times and played in 8 Stanley Cup finals. He was an innovator, becoming one of the earliest goalies to venture out of his net to stickhandle the puck. One mythical story has Lehman skating up ice and scoring a goal. No evidence of this feat exists in Vancouver newspaper archives, although some suggest it may have happened back when Lehman was still playing in Ontario.

But age was finally catching up with Lehman. The PCHA ran into financial trouble and merged with the WCHL, and Lehman's goaltending seemed to act almost a barometer to the problems of the western leagues. In 1925-26, Lehman did poorly and so did the WHL. The league disbanded and its players joined NHL teams.

The 41 year old Lehman joined the brand-new Chicago Blackhawks in 1926-27, but he was now over the hill and gave up the most goals against in the NHL. The next season he was awful in five games and gave way to Chuck Gardiner, whom he tutored. He became coach of the Blackhawks that season, but was fired at season's end.

In his days after hockey he embarked on a lengthy career in the road construction business, working his way up to company president of a paving outfit. Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958, "Old Eagle Eyes" died April 8th, 1961.


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