Throwback Thursday: NHL Introduces the Penalty Shot
The NHL added the penalty shot on Nov. 10, 1934. Back then, the rules surrounding the exciting play were a lot different than they are today.
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.
Each week, VICE Sports takes a look back at an important event from sports history for Throwback Thursday, or #TBT for all you cool kids. You can read previous installments here.
It's Nov. 10, 1934. The Maple Leafs are hosting the Canadiens for their season opener. Montreal is up 1-0 and forward Georges Mantha has the puck on his stick as he drives toward Toronto's net. He had broken away and, according to Toronto newspaper the Globe, "was all set for an open sally" on goaltender George Hainsworth. But Mantha was unable to fire off a shot. Instead, he was hauled down by Maple Leafs forward Bill Thoms.
The PA announcer at the Gardens chimed in, saying, "Oh my, looks like that's going to be a penalty shot."
A year earlier the trip wouldn't have been noteworthy, but prior to the 1934-35 season the league introduced the penalty shot. Thoms' infraction may have stopped a scoring opportunity, but it was also historic. It led to the awarding of the NHL's first penalty shot.
Although Mantha was the offended player, Canadiens coach Newsy Lalonde, after much deliberation, opted to let Armand Mondou take the shot. Mondou, who scored five goals the previous season with Montreal, now had the chance to enshrine himself into hockey lore. But it wasn't meant to be. Shooting from a stationary position, his shot never left the ice and slid easily into Hainsworth's glove. The Maple Leafs ended up regrouping late that period and tied the game to force overtime. Halfway into the ten minutes of the extra frame, Busher Jackson buried what would be the game-winning goal to give Toronto its second win of the season.
While Mondou was not able to convert on his opportunity, three nights later, Ralph "Scotty" Bowman left no doubt. In another game featuring a Montreal team (the Maroons), the St. Louis Eagles were awarded a penalty shot in the second period. As Syd Howe was winding up for a shot, he was tripped by Stew Evans. In the aftermath, the Eagles were granted a penalty shot to make up for the missed scoring chance.
Bowman was nominated as te shooter, and he did not disappoint. He successfully slipped the puck past Alex Connell and tied the game, much to the delight of the home crowd. Although the Eagles ended up losing that game in overtime, Bowman made NHL history by becoming the first player to score a goal on a penalty shot.
In the depths of the Great Depression, the penalty shot was seen as a way to inject some additional excitement into hockey games. Pushed forward by the Patrick brothers who had previously introduced the concept into their league—the Pacific Coast Hockey Association—during the 1920s, it ushered in a new wave of excitement. When the new rule was announced, the Globe referred to it as a "snipers' delight" and, according to the New York Times, referees believed it would be tantamount to a "sure goal." However, the penalty shot in 1934-35 was nothing like the iteration we see in today's game.
Back then, players made the shot 38 feet out from the net while staying within a circle that was ten feet in diameter. You could either take the shot from a stationary position, as Mondou did, or skate with the puck, like Bowman, provided you did not leave the designated area. Under these regulations, goaltenders had a significant advantage.
As a result, over the coming years, the NHL tweaked the rules by moving the penalty shot circle closer to the net and getting rid of the circle altogether. The league instead went on to introduce a red line 30 feet from the goaltender. This line gradually got closer to the net and with other changes to the rule throughout the 1930s, the success rate varied from season to season as the league continued to experiment.
But it was during the Second World War when the NHL made a huge change to the penalty shot rule. Players could now skate up to the goaltender in a one-on-one situation like we see now. Writing for the Society for International Hockey Research's journal, Joseph Nieforth said, "finally, the league had accomplished what it had set out to do—create an exciting play which produced a reasonable scoring chance."
Since then, the NHL has seen 1,601 regular-season penalty shots through the 2014-15 season, with 530 them finding twine, good enough for an average success rate of 33 percent. On one side were goaltenders like Rogie Vachon, who turned aside all six penalty shot attempts he faced throughout his career. And the other end were shooters like Pavel Bure who converted seven times and is the NHL's all-time leader in penalty shot goals.
There's certainly been no shortage of drama and excitement since the penalty shot was introduced. It revolutionized the game and helped pave the way for the shootout, which has given us some of the best...
and some of the worst one-on-one moments.
So there you have it, the NHL's first penalty shot—#tbt to when a penalty shot could be a standing clapper from 40 feet out.