The main reason why Team USA was able to win Gold at those two Olympics was because of the play of their goaltender. In 1960, it was the terrific play of netminder Jack McCartan and in 1980, it was the unbelievable play of masked man Jimmy Craig.
While both goaltenders got the job done on the international stage, they were not able to get done in the NHL. Both of these guys knew how to win and had the talent to be a great goaltender but in the NHL, these abilities were all for naught.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of hockey's one save wonders.
Jack McCartan, New York Rangers
If you’re a die-hard hockey fan who grew up in the 1950s and early ’60s, this name might sound familiar.
Jack McCartan is known for being the first United States Olympic goaltender to win a gold medal. McCartan won gold in 1960 back in Squaw Valley, California, before Jim Craig (later for him) accomplished the same feat in 1980 in Lake Placid.
Unfortunately for McCartan, his NHL career was far from spectacular. MCartan’s strong play impressed the New York Rangers enough to sign him after his impressive play.
McCartan did not fare well at all in the big leagues. In the 1960-61 season, the Olympic champ played in seven-and-a-half games and allowed a whopping total of 36 goals. In comparison, McCartan allowed just 17 goals in seven games in the Olympics and was clearly the best goaltender in the tournament.
McCartan would end up being sent down to the minors and never returned to the NHL.
Jim Carey, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues
After the Washington Capitals parted ways with veteran goaltender Don Beaupre after the 1993-94 season, the Capitals were in the hunt for a new netminder that they could rely on to be their No. 1.
The Capitals appeared to have found their man during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. Jim “Net Detective” Carey. That season, Carey took the NHL by storm, going 18-6-3 with a 2.13 goals against average (GAA), a .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
For his strong play in ’94-95, Carey finished third in voting for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. The Net Detective also finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie and third in voting for the NHL all-star team.
Believe it or not, Carey was even better the following season, as he posted a league-best nine shutouts, won 35 games, had a 2.26 GAA and a .906 save percentage. After the season, Carey was awarded the Vezina Trophy, was named to the NHL First All-Star Team, and finished eighth in voting for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
After that season, however, Carey’s netminding prowess seemed to disappear. He allowed plenty of soft goals, lost his confidence and also lost everything it takes to be a successful NHL goaltender whether it was with the Capitals, Boston Bruins or St. Louis Blues.
The last time Carey played professional hockey was in 1998-99 with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the International Hockey League (IHL). While with the Cyclones, Carey ended up suffering an inner-ear concussion and missed the remainder of the postseason and, unfortunately, the rest of his hockey career.
Blaine Lacher, Boston Bruins
During the very season that Jim Carey came into the NHL, another young goaltender also took the league by storm before disappearing into hockey darkness.
In the lockout-shortened season, the Boston Bruins had a young netminder by the name of Blaine Lacher. After working on his game with the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, Lacher got called up by NHL Bruins and immediately took control of the congested goaltending debacle by beating out Craig Billington and Vincent Riendeau.
In his first seven starts, Lacher went 6-1 and finished the season with a 19-11-2 record, a 2.41 GAA, a .902 save percentage and four shutouts. Lacher helped the Bruins reach the postseason as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Unfortunately, things seemed to go downhill for Lacher from here on out as his Bruins lost to the New Jersey Devils in five games:
The following season, Lacher played in just 12 games. He went 3-5-2, allowed 44 goals, had a GAA of 3.52 and a save percentage .845. These numbers certainly did not equal an NHL starting netminder.
The rest of Lacher’s 1995-96 season was split between Providence and the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks. The 1996-97 campaign would be the last professional hockey season for Lacher, who spent it with the Grand Rapid Griffins, also of the IHL, and went 1-8-1 before hanging the pads up.
Jim Craig, Atlanta Flames, Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars
In 1980, goaltender Jim Craig was one of the main reasons behind Team USA’s miracle run to the gold medal in Lake Placid.
Outstanding would be an understatement to describe Craig’s play in the 1980 Olympics, particularly against the heavily favoured Soviet Union team. In that game alone, the U.S. was outshot 42-16, but Craig made 39 saves, many of the unbelievable variety.
It was Craig’s performance in that game that helped the Americans reach the following match against Finland, where the U.S. would officially capture the gold medal, beating the Finns 4-2. Craig will go down in history as a man who played a significant role in one of the landmark moments in U.S. sports history.
Unfortunately for Craig, he was fresh out of miracles when he came to the NHL. Following his superstar performance in the Olympics, Craig would play in 30 NHL games combined for the Atlanta Flames, Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars.
Craig would go 11-10-7 with a 3.78 GAA, a .839 save percentage and no shutouts in the NHL. Certainly not numbers that would make anyone a starting goaltender at hockey’s highest level of play.