Pete Babando, a stocky winger of limited skill, won hockey’s Stanley Cup for the Detroit Red Wings in 1950 with a dramatic goal in double overtime of Game 7.
A shy, soft-spoken athlete for whom braggadocio was a foreign word, Mr. Babando had a journeyman’s career before retiring from hockey to return to live in Ontario in quiet anonymity.
Mr. Babando, who has died at 94, was rarely celebrated for his goal and granted few interviews over the subsequent seven decades. He was not a recluse, only uncomfortable in the limelight and a realist about his talents.
“I was just one of those ordinary guys,” he said in 2002. “A plugger, that’s all. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
The right place was about 15 feet in front of a net tended by Chuck Rayner of the New York Rangers and the right time was 8:31 of the second overtime period on an early Monday morning of a game that begun the previous evening. At about 14 minutes past midnight on April 24, 1950, Mr. Babando ended a hockey marathon and earned the right to have his name etched on the Stanley Cup.
The goal caused an eruption by the crowd of 13,095 at the Olympia in Detroit, among them Gordie Howe, whose shaved head was covered in bandages from a nearly fatal injury suffered in the first game of the playoffs.
In the bedlam of the Red Wings dressing room, jubilant teammates surrounded the goal scorer, as an exhausted but relieved goaltender Hank Lumley put an arm around his neck to pull him close for photographs. The Red Wing hero was still wearing his soaking wet uniform long after the end of the game. Mr. Babando pronounced the goal “the greatest thrill of my life.”
Pietro Giuseppe (later, Peter Joseph) Babando was born in Braeburn, Pa., now part of Lower Burrell, on May 10, 1925. His parents, the former Maria Aimone and Louis Babando, were immigrants from Italy’s Piedmont region, outside Turin. The boy and his mother moved to Italy when he was an infant before immigrating to Canada in 1932, settling in South Porcupine, Ont., now part of Timmins, where the senior Mr. Babando was working as a gold miner.
The area was a hotbed of hockey activity, producing many NHL players in the postwar era. Young Pete began his hockey career as a defenceman, playing for South End Public School. At 17, his Timmins Holman Pluggers team won the provincial juvenile title in a game played at Maple Leaf Gardens. He was paired on defence with Allan Stanley, a future star with the Toronto Maple Leafs and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Both defencemen were offered tryouts by the Boston Bruins of the National Hockey League.
After two seasons of Ontario junior hockey in Galt (now Cambridge), Mr. Babando joined the amateur Boston Olympics, whose coach, Hago Harrington, moved the 5-foot-9, 190-pound skater to left wing. His debut at Boston Garden in the fall of 1945 included a pregame ceremony in which the game was dedicated to the memory of two former Olympics players, a Marine sergeant killed on Okinawa and a Navy flyer who went missing over the Pacific. The new forward scored two goals in leading the Olympics to a 7-3 win over the New York Rovers.
Mr. Babando spent his first season as a professional with the Hershey Bears in his native state before joining the parent Bruins for the 1947-48 season. He had a stellar campaign, scoring 23 goals. He finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie behind centre Jim McFadden of Detroit. Red Kelly, a future Hall of Famer, finished third.
A game that season against Chicago ended with players battling in a postgame brawl off the ice. Mr. Babando exchanged blows with two opponents and was headed towards his dressing room when he punched a spectator in the nose. The player said he did so after being taunted by the fan, a salesman and former professional boxer, who said, “You got what was coming to you tonight, Babando.” The player was fined US$100 in municipal court and admonished by the judge to control his temper. The conviction for assault and battery was nullified in county court three years later after the player paid the victim US$250.
After being traded to Detroit in a six-player deal, the winger had a poor campaign, scoring just six goals in 56 regular-season games in which he saw limited action. He was benched again in the playoffs, though inserted in the lineup for the decisive final game.
It was 2-0 for the Rangers when Mr. Babando got the Red Wings on the scoreboard. Detroit tied it. New York went ahead. Detroit tied it again.
“It was nip and tuck,” Mr. Babando once said. “Back and forth. Nobody seemed to have a sure win.”
Nearing the midway point of the second overtime period, after nearly 60 minutes of scoreless play, George Gee won a face-off in the New York end. The puck scooted behind the centre, putting Mr. Babando on his backhand. He coolly shovelled the puck low through a forest of legs towards the New York goal. The shot might have nicked the shin pad of Rangers defenceman Frank Eddolls. In any case, the puck wound up in the corner of the goal, unleashing pandemonium on the ice and in the stands.
“I never seen it until it was in the net,” Mr. Rayner said.
Mr. Babando’s reward was to be dispatched in the offseason to the hapless Chicago Black Hawks in a nine-player deal. After a couple of years, the Hawks traded him to the Rangers, his fourth team in six seasons. In 1952-53, he was reported to be the sole American-born player in the NHL.
In the summer of 1953, he broke his leg while sliding into a base while playing for a Timmins baseball team. He would never play another NHL game.
After four seasons with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League, Mr. Babando regained his amateur status to play senior hockey in Ontario with the North Bay Trappers and Whitby Dunlops, helping the latter team win the Allan Cup as senior champions in 1959.
Mr. Babando was 42 when he retired as a player after six successful seasons in New York with the Clinton Comets of the Eastern Hockey League, a circuit notorious for its violence. He missed all but one game of the Comets’ 1965-66 season, as he played for a team of Italian-Canadian all-stars on an exhibition tour of northern Italy against such opponents as the Milano Diavoli Rossi (Milan Red Devils).
Away from the hockey arena, he worked in the locomotive shop of the Kidd Metallurgical Site, a facility which handled zinc and copper from the Kidd Creek Mine.
Mr. Babando died on Feb. 19 at Timmins and District Hospital. He leaves his wife, Billie, as well as a son, a daughter, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
In 351 NHL games, he scored 86 goals with 73 assists. In 17 playoff games, he scored just three goals, two of those in the same game, the second of those one of the most famous in hockey history.