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Jim Rutherford
Jim Rutherford played goal for the Hamilton Red Wings for two seasons in the late 1960s. Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Spectator

Jim Rutherford

Jim Rutherford
former Hamilton Red Wing goalie played 13 seasons in the NHL

With a determination that made up for his small stature, Jim Rutherford was a goalie in the NHL for 13 seasons.

The Beeton, ON native started his junior career with the Hamilton Red Wings in the 1967-68 season. Red Wing coach Eddie Bush had Rutherford performing goaltending duties by March of 1968, filling in for first-line goalie Gerry Gray.

“Freshman netminder Jim Rutherford performed capably while sharing the puck-stopping duties with veteran Gerry Gray in Oshawa Saturday night and in Montreal the following evening,” wrote Spectator sports writer Joe Watkins.

Coach Bush was pleased with the rookie’s work as well.

“Rutherford played well,” commented Bush. “I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to put him in the net at any time. What’s more, I may start him in one of the London games.”

Jim Rutherford
Rutherford retired from playing in 1983 after 13 seasons in the NHL. Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Spectator

Later that year, the 5’9, 150-pound 20-year old was still looking for his first shutout.
“You’re keyed up when you’re working on a shutout,” said Rutherford in an October 1968 interview. “But there’s nothing you can do once you lose it except try to hold them to one goal.”

He was selected as first choice by the Detroit Red Wings for the 1969 Entry Draft, a team he would revisit several times during his career. He first went to play with the Detroit affiliate Fort Worth, and then had 29 games with Detroit before he went back to Texas until he went to play with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the 1971-72 season through an intra-league draft. He then returned to the Red Wings in a 1974 trade.

He played second string to Eddie Giacomin at the start, but his play was sporadic, so the pair shared goaltending duties. Throughout the 1970s, Rutherford’s role was that of back-up. When the Red Wings got Rogie Vachon from Boston in 1980, Rutherford went to Toronto.

Rutherford said at the time of this trade he was relieved. “It was hard to play sometimes,” he said in December of 1980, “with all those things (trade rumors) floating around.” He added he was hoping to make his mark with the Maple Leafs. “They seem to be a good club that has been having trouble lately. I just hop I can help.”

But he only played 18 games for the Leafs before another trade the same season, this time heading west to Los Angeles. He only played a handful of games with the Kings before returning to the Red Wings. But he played only once in Detroit, and finished his playing career with the Adirondack Red Wings, Detroit’s AHL franchise in the 1982-83 season.

“The time comes when you might as well stop kidding yourself,” Rutherford commented about his retirement in 1983. “I’ve had a good career. I never won a Stanley Cup, which I regret, but there have been lots of satisfying moments.”

Rutherford remained with the game, and does so to this day. He became general manager for the Windsor Spitfires in the late 1980s before heading off to become GM for the Hartford Whalers in 1994. Today he is President and GM of the Carolina Hurricanes, and lives in North Raleigh. His achievements with the NHL franchise have been numerous, and he was named Executive of the Year in 2002 and 2006 by the Hockey News.