Hey folks, another great piece here by George Grimm. We will have two more to help round out the summer before training camp starts. And don’t forget to buy his book when it is released in September!!
Reminiscing with Bob Froese
by George Grimm
Bob Froese began his hockey journey on the frozen ponds and rinks of St. Catharines Ontario where he followed in his father’s footsteps and became a goaltender.
Bob Froese; ‘It’s funny when I was a kid I would put catalogs on my legs for pads and stuff like that but the funniest thing that I thought was pretty ingenious, I went downstairs to drain my mother’s bleach bottle which was white to make a mask. So I made little cut outs and thought it was great. I had strings tied around it to hold it on but I didn’t wear it too long before I was ready to pass out. I didn’t realize I was asphyxiating myself from the smell of the bleach. You learn fast or die young.”
Bob played his junior hockey with the hometown St. Catharines Black Hawks and moved with the team to Niagara Falls Flyers of the OHA and was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the 10th round, (160th overall) in the 1978 Amateur Draft.
After one season in the Blues’ minor league system Bob signed an amateur tryout contract and was eventually signed as a free agent by Philadelphia in 1981 and made his NHL debut at the age of 24 with the Flyers in January of 1982. He recorded his first NHL shutout in only his third game, ironically against the Rangers. As Pelle Lindbergh’s backup that season, Froese posted a 17-4-3 record with an impressive 2.52 GAA. The next season Lindbergh struggled and Froese assumed the starter’s role appearing in 12 more games than Lindbergh. However, the next season, Flyer management tabbed the Swede as their goaltender of the future and Froese was once again relegated to a backup role and often incurred the wrath of Coach Mike Keenan.
Bob Froese: “I’ve always had great relationships with any coach or any teammate I ever played with. Mike Keenan was the one guy that I didn’t have a great relationship with and I can understand it now, in fact it’s only been in the last year and a half that someone explained it to me and it makes perfect sense. I just wish I would’ve known about it sooner. But the difference between Lindbergh and I is that he was a quarter horse and I was a Clydesdale. I wasn’t supersensitive or temperamental; there are a lot of goaltenders who are but that’s part of their psyche, who they are. But what was explained to me is that I played better if I had good competition; the better the competition I had the better I played. Pelle was not like that. Pelle needed to be number one and he didn’t do well, didn’t flourish amid competition. And Mike Keenan recognized that and so Mike’s plan was to put me down and to treat me in a way that Pelle could recognize that he was number one. I just wish Mike would’ve let me in on it, it would’ve been a little bit easier for me to deal with. It was ingenious because it worked.
Mike had a lot of idiosyncrasies like a lot of people do but he was a great motivator. Sometimes he didn’t know when to take his finger off the button, but he could get teams to work hard, but sometimes only for a short period of time. I think fear is a short-term motivator but the desire to please your coach is a long-term motivator.”
In November 1985 Lindbergh died due to injuries suffered when he lost control of his customized Porsche and crashed into a wall. The goaltenders alcohol-related death had a profound impact on Bob and many of his teammates.
Bob Froese: “It was a life-changing event for me and I think a lot of us made a promise or vow, I know a lot of guys said that day that they wouldn’t drink anymore. That wasn’t a big thing in my life although I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since that day. It was life-changing as far as what I do now. I’ve been a pastor for 21 years with the same church outside of Buffalo but that day I surrendered my life to the Lord because I was afraid to die. Because I understood from growing up that when you die there only two places; you either go to heaven or hell.”
Froese was then thrust back into the starting role and led the NHL with five shutouts and shared the William Jennings trophy with teammate Darren Jensen. However after the Flyers were beaten by the Rangers in the Division Semi-finals in 1986, Keenan was unhappy with his goaltending situation and Bob lost his starting role to Ron Hextall. Bob asked for a trade around Halloween of that year and was finally dealt to the Rangers for defenseman Kjell Samuelsson and a 1989 second-round draft pick (Patrik Juhlin) on Dec. 18, 1986.
Bob Froese: “I wanted to play. I mean if you asked my teammates and a lot of people around the league I was a guy who could play. I’m not saying I was better than Pelle or Ron but I just wanted the opportunity to play and I had played with Bobby Clarke so I knew him, not only did I play with him but his last year he really took Dave Poulin and myself under his wing to prepare us for the locker room he would be leaving behind. More than anything else all I wanted to do was play because I don’t think anyone joins a team to sit on the bench
I was surprised that I was traded to the Rangers because they had John Vanbiesbrouck, and he and I were numbers one and two the previous year for the end-of-season All-Star selections. But I really appreciated Phil Esposito. I thought he was a wonderful guy to play for. I really looked up to him in a lot of ways. I thought he had a handle on what being a “team” meant and that was apparently because of the way the old Boston Bruins were. I know a lot of players appreciated him and I still hold him in high regard, not only because he was a great athlete and a great leader but he was really a person who cared about other people.
I’ll tell you, when Espo coached, you wanted to play for him. He had that character about him. That’s something that you can’t buy and you can’t teach. I think if he had put more focus into coaching we would’ve been more successful. But he also wanted to be GM and those two things are extremely hard to do. You had to be a real administrative type of person to do both and that wasn’t Phil. But he was a great motivator and sometimes if you’ve got a great coach you’re willing to go through a brick wall for the guy and that’s what Phil had. I really appreciated Phil Esposito. You play for your teammates and you play for the fans but most importantly you’re playing for that coach.
When I got there Beezer was the guy and he had done well. And goalies are naturally competitive and any goalie who says they’re not is lying – there is only one net. But it actually worked out because Beazer played the majority of the home games and I played the majority of the road games. So that’s the way it worked out at that point
I was just happy to be in a place where I felt I was wanted and Phil had done well by me as far as the way he treated me and financially and so I was happy to be there.”
Bob’s first start as a Ranger came unexpectedly on December 23, 1986, five days after being acquired from Philly. John Vanbiesbrouck was supposed to start the game but right before warmups it was discovered that Beezer’s arm and chest protector had been left at the Rangers practice site in Rye Playland and so Froese got the call. “I thought it was a joke” Froese told reporters. “It was about a minute before we went out for warmups and I was just chatting with Ron Greschner when someone came by and said some of Johnny’s pads were up in Rye and that I’d be starting.”
The Rangers beat the Devils that night 8-5. “Yeah it was a real goaltender’s duel” “Frosty” said wryly. “But the most important thing is to get the “W”. It’s like I told the guys after the game, if you get me eight goals every night, it’s going to be easy.”
In a November 1987 game against the Islanders, Bob was briefly credited with a goal when Billy Smith dashed to the bench on a delayed Ranger penalty and an errant pass by Brent Sutter flew past point man Gerald Diduck and into the Islanders’ empty net. At the time official scorer Ed Hertensten deemed that Froese was the last Ranger to touch the puck and was therefore credited with the goal.
Bob Froese: “I was just happy that the goal counted because it was a game we wound up winning 3-1. But after the game I was in the locker room and I saw it on the tape and I said that’s not my goal. And I remember Bill Torrey and Billy Smith came out and said that I wanted the goal. I couldn’t have cared less! So all along I was saying I don’t want it and Espo was telling me to keep my mouth shut because it was good for public relations. It was interesting but one of my closest friends on the team David Shaw finally got credit for the goal. I told him that he owed me because he had a bonus clause for goals.”
Because of his easygoing manner Bob was well liked by teammates and fans as well as the media and was given the Rangers Good Guy Award in 1987-88.
Bob suffered a shoulder injury early in the 1989-90 season and after appearing in only 15 games retired at the end of the campaign. He then transitioned easily into a coaching role, mentoring a young Mike Richter.
Bob Froese: “Mike and I became close friends and that’s why I eventually became the goalie coach. I left when Mike Keenan came in and I went to Don Maloney who was just a wonderful guy and I worked for him on the Island. But Mike was a phenomenal athlete and just a great goaltender. But as good a goaltender as he was I found him to be an even better person. There’s a picture that I have of me with my arms around Mike and John and part of my role was to make sure that the competition didn’t have a negative effect on Mike in regards to dealing with a veteran like John and to, in some way, protect Mike and I understood my role. I still think that Mike Richter was one of the best specimens as a goalie, he did things I only wish I could do but he was a super teammate, one of the pleasures in my life is to have known and played with a guy like that.”
Bob Froese provided the Rangers with consistent, reliable goaltending for four seasons. In 98 games with the Rangers Bob compiled a 36-43-8 record with one shutout and a 3.63 GAA In six playoff appearances with the Blueshirts, Bob went 1-3 with a 4.56 GAA. Overall in eight NHL seasons Froese posted a 128-72-20 record in 242 games with 13 shutouts and a 3.10 GAA. In 18 NHL playoff games he had a 3-9 record with a 3.96 GAA.
Bob made another transition more than two decades ago when he became a pastor. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in religion from Liberty University, then a master’s degree in religion at Liberty’s Baptist Theological Seminary and finally a Ph. D. from Trinity Theological Seminary. He has served as senior pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Clarence, N.Y. for 21 years.
Bob Froese: “Twenty one years ago the senior elder in our church asked me if I would consider joining the pastoral staff and I thought he was nuts. I had a wonderful position working with the goaltenders and the young players and I really enjoyed it. But the more I prayed about it the more the Lord began leading me towards being a pastor. And it’s not something I looked forward to because I always joke about it, I’m not complaining but in hockey as a goalie they shoot at you from the front but sometimes as a pastor they shoot at you from the back. But it’s been 21 years and I’ve been able to get my schooling and I eventually earned my PhD and I worked at it with the same energy and the same diligence as I did in my hockey career. And there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful that the Lord led me to this decision.
George Grimm is the former publisher of Sportstat, The Ranger Report and columnist for the Blueshirt Bulletin. His book about the Emile Francis Era Rangers “We Did Everything but Win” is scheduled to be released in September 2017 by Skyhorse Publishing. . He currently writes the Retro Rangers column for Insidehockey.com and is working on a book about the history of Ranger goaltenders.