Goaltender Murray Dowey, a last-minute replacement, dodged snowballs from spectators as he backstopped Canada to the 1948 Olympic gold medal in hockey.
Wearing a cap to keep the sun out of his eyes on the outdoor rink, he recorded a shutout in the final game of the Olympic tournament as Canada rolled to a 3-0 victory over the host Swiss team.
Mr. Dowey, who has died at 95, allowed just five goals over eight games. He recorded five shutouts, which remains an Olympic record.
He was the last surviving member of the gold medal-winning team, the Royal Canadian Air Force Flyers.
“Dowey doesn’t look like an athlete, being pale-faced and slim, but he has fine coordination and is not easily flustered,” Jack Sullivan of the Canadian Press wrote after the final match.
The gawky, 155-pound goalie was known for a quick catching hand.
Parachuting him onto the team had been a desperate decision.
In exhibition games in Canada, the Flyers struggled against senior and collegiate competition. The team of active and former military personnel was drubbed 7-0 by Montreal’s McGill University in a game in Ottawa attended by the governor-general and other dignitaries. With the Flyers scheduled to sail to Europe in just three weeks, panicked management shuffled the roster.
Two goalies had been cut from the squad, while a third admitted to being ineligible for the Olympics after having been paid to play senior hockey. General manager Sandy Watson – an RCAF squadron leader and medical officer – and coach George Boucher finally settled on goalies Ross King and Dick Ball.
The team posed for an official photograph, the goalies in their padded leather equipment bookending the front row.
They were preparing to travel to St. Moritz, Switzerland, when Mr. Ball, a 21-year-old University of Toronto student, failed a routine physical. An X-ray indicated a spot on his lung.
George Mara and Wally Halder, both centres with the Flyers, recommended Mr. Dowey, the goalie for their amateur hockey team in Toronto, sponsored by Barker’s Biscuits. Mr. Dowey, who had given up seven goals in his only game as a junior with the Toronto Marlboros, was said to be the best goalie in the city other than Turk Broda of the professional Toronto Maple Leafs.
Mr. Dowey was asleep at home in Toronto one January morning in 1948 when he got a call from Dr. Watson at 1:30 in the morning, according to Pat MacAdam’s book Gold Medal Misfits. The goalie agreed to play at the Olympics as long as he did not lose his job with the Toronto Transportation (later Transit) Commission. Dr. Watson then called Allan Lamport, a future mayor of Toronto, to arrange a two-month paid leave of absence. At 3 a.m., Mr. Dowey was told to be at Downsview Airport three hours later for a flight to Ottawa.
He reported on time, only to learn fog had grounded all aircraft. He caught a train to Ottawa, where he was sworn into the RCAF, given the entry rank of aircraftman second class and issued an ill-fitting formal blue uniform. He then took an overnight sleeper train to New York City, where he met his Olympic teammates for the first time shortly before boarding the RMS Queen Elizabeth.
Even after all the drama and roster shuffling, the Flyers were not expected to do well. Some experts predicted they would be lucky to finish fourth in the nine-team, round-robin Olympic tournament.
Those fears seemed well placed after Mr. Dowey surrendered a goal to Sweden just 155 seconds into the first game on the outdoor rink in St. Moritz. Canada responded with three goals to win the game.
But not before Mr. Dowey got a harsh lesson in European hockey rules. Late in the game, he caught and forwarded the puck, a two-minute penalty, which he had to serve in the penalty box. Defenceman André Laperrière borrowed the goalie’s blocker and trapper glove to complete the game’s final eight seconds without incident.
The Flyers then blanked Britain (3-0) and Poland (15-0). The goalie’s shutout streak extended to 225 minutes and 30 seconds before bespectacled Italian left-winger Enrico (Dino) Menardi banked the puck off Mr. Dowey’s left skate for a marker from behind the Canadian net. That fluke goal narrowed the score to 19-1. Canada added a pair of late goals for a convincing 21-1 victory.
The Flyers next overwhelmed the Americans by 12-3, followed by a 0-0 draw with the favoured Czechoslovakians. A 12-0 victory over Austria and the 3-0 whitewashing of the Swiss gave Canada the gold medal on goal differential.
Mr. Dowey concluded the tournament with a shutout streak of 195 minutes and 30 seconds.
The final game was played on slushy ice before a hostile, snowball-tossing crowd and referees who seemed only to have eyes for Canadian infractions.
“Near the end of the game there was a scramble in front of my net, and a Swiss player, Heinrich Boller, punched me in the face when I was down,” Mr. Dowey later recalled. “He was only given a two-minute penalty. I decided to keep my mouth shut or I’d probably end up in the penalty box with him for talking.”
Murray Albert Dowey was born in Toronto on Jan. 3, 1926, to the former Winifred (Winnie) Curtis and Albert Dowey. The father, a Belfast-born letter carrier who took a machine-gun bullet through the left calf in the Battle of Amiens, was a decade older than his English-born bride, an 18-year-old who gave her occupation on her marriage certificate as chocolate dipper.
In 1942, Murray Dowey began work at the TTC as an $11.37-per-week office boy.
He was one of the city’s top baseball pitchers and a well-regarded goalie in the Toronto Hockey League, an amateur circuit with teams sponsored by local businesses. He played for Tip Top Tailors for one season before enlisting in the war effort after turning 18.
He was rejected by the navy for asthma, hay fever and other respiratory ailments. He wound up in the army, playing hockey for the Army Daggers. He was transferred to the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps in London before being demobilized.
After the Olympics, Mr. Dowey played two more seasons of amateur hockey before retiring as a player.
“I thought I’d play a little longer,” he later told sports columnist Jack Kinsella. “Then I caught one in the mouth, and another over the eye. My wife said, ‘That’s all, Dad.’ I decided to retire while I was ahead.”
He retired from the TTC as an administration supervisor in 1986.
Mr. Dowey died in Toronto on May 26. He leaves two sons, four grandsons and five great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by the former Gertrude Patterson, his wife of 58 years, whom he married in 1945.
The Flyers’ unlikely victory was promptly forgotten. Honours came belatedly. The team has since been inducted into the CAF Sports Hall of Fame (1971), the Ottawa Sport Hall of Fame (1998) and the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame (2008). Mr. Dowey was enshrined by the Etobicoke Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
As it turned out, the goalie Mr. Dowey replaced had been misdiagnosed. Mr. Ball was in perfect health. He can be seen in the original official team portrait on the left side of the front row. He suffered a further indignity when later versions of the photograph featured Mr. Dowey’s head pasted atop Mr. Ball’s body.