Sports Heroes Who Served is a series that highlights the accomplishments of athletes who served in the U.S. military.
Francis Charles "Kid Zero" Brimsek was an American professional ice hockey goaltender who played nine seasons for the Boston Bruins and one season with the Chicago Blackhawks before retiring in 1950.
He also served during World War II in the Coast Guard.
Brimsek was born in the hockey-loving town of Eveleth, Minnesota, on Sept. 26, 1915. The town produced four other hockey players who would play in the National Hockey League: Mike Karakas, Sam LoPresti, Al Suomi and John Mariucci.
Unlike most of his high school friends who wanted to be high-scoring forwards, Brimsek never showed any desire to play any other position than goalie.
After high school, Brimsek played for the St. Cloud State Teachers College hockey team; the college is now known as St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He also graduated from college with a machine shop degree, which he later used in the Coast Guard and after retiring from the National Hockey League.
Brimsek's talent was noticed by Art Ross, the Boston Bruins' coach and general manager. Brimsek was invited to join the team beginning in the 1938–39 season; he played starting goalie.
Brimsek earned six shutouts in his first seven games, and the fans began to call him "Kid Zero." During that seven-game span, he also set the NHL record for the longest shutout streak, 231 minutes and 54 seconds.
He played a stand-up style of goaltending in which the goalie usually stays on his feet to make a save, rather than dropping to his knees.
When World War II started, three of the Bruins' best forwards — center Milt Schmidt, left wing Woody Dumart, and right winger Bobby Bauer — joined the Royal Canadian Air Force midway through the 1941–42 season.
Despite their absence, the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup Final the next season with Brimsek still on the team; however, the team didn't win that game.
On July 1, 1943, Brimsek enlisted in the Coast Guard. His first duty station after boot camp was Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard, six miles from Baltimore, Maryland.
By October 1943, he was playing net in a three-man rotation with the Coast Guard Cutters hockey team. Experts said the team, which was stacked with guys who had played professionally, was better suited for the Stanley Cup rather than the "amateur" Eastern League.
In November 1943, Brimsek returned to Boston with the Cutters to play in the Boston Olympics. Over the next few months, Brimsek and the Cutters played more games, winning the Eastern League Championship in the spring of 1944.
In June 1944, Brimsek transferred to Alameda, California, to prepare for Pacific duty. Before the end of 1944, he was on a Coast Guard cutter that participated in the Pacific Ocean invasions of Tarawa Atoll and Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.
In September 1945, he was on a cutter in Tokyo Bay, as Japan surrendered on the battleship USS Missouri. In mid-November 1945, he received an honorable discharge from the Coast Guard and immediately returned to the Bruins.
While in the Coast Guard, he had achieved the rank of petty officer 2nd class with a rating of motor machinist mate where he excelled because of his machine shop training.
After retiring from the NHL in 1950, Brimsek returned to Minnesota and worked as a railroad engineer, putting his degree to use again.
Among his many awards, Brimsek won the Calder Memorial Trophy as a rookie and twice won the Vezina Trophy; and he was named to the NHL All-Star Team eight times (twice on the First Team and six times on the Second Team). He was also a member of two Stanley Cup championships (1939 and 1941). When he retired, he still held the records for most wins and shutouts recorded by an American goaltender; those records stood for 54 years and 61 years, respectively.
In 1966, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first American goalie to be inducted; in 1973, he was part of the inaugural class of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1998, Brimsek was ranked number 67 on "The Hockey News" list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, and the highest ranked American goaltender.
Brimsek died on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1998 in Virginia, Minnesota, at the age of 83.