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As it says in Stan Fischler’s 1975 Hockey Encyclopedia, Harold “Hal” Lang’s problem was that he was born simply too soon. If born a few years earlier, he may have had a Hall-of-Fame career. Unfortunately, he was born on March 20, 1894 in Gretna, Manitoba, and his career would be all too brief.
During the 1910s, he would spend his time playing the Manitoba Senior League, beginning with the Winnipeg Winnipegs in 1913-14. He would continue to play for various Winnipeg teams until 1918-19 when he joined the Brandon Elks. In 1919-20, he played for the Moose Jaw Maple Leafs of the SSHL, followed by the Saskatoon Crescents. During those years, he would play in the Allan Cup twice, in 1918 and 1920.
Throughout the 1920s, he had a distinguished career as a goaltender in the minor leagues beginning with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Western Hockey League in 1922. In 1923, he would be a WCHL All-Star thanks to his 18 wins and 10 losses.
One interesting thing about Winkler was that even as a young man, he was completely bald and while playing in places like Winnipeg, his bald head would gleam off the overhead lights. The children would often make fun of him, so during his third visit to Regina in his final season with the Eskimos, he came out with a woolen toque on his head.
His contract was purchased by the Calgary Tigers for the 1924-25 season. He would replace their previous goaltender Charles Reid. During his first season he would pick up 17 wins and 11 losses, followed by another season with the team, earning 10 wins and 17 losses. The following season he made his jump to the NHL just as it was expanding into American cities like New York and Boston. He would enter the 1926-27 season with the New York Rangers and pick up a shutout in his first season. In the Nov. 10, 1926 issue of the Calgary Daily Herald, it was reported that only three shots beat him in net so far during the season. The newspaper reported, “The Rangers have shown great defensive ability and in four games only three goals have been scored against star goalkeeper Hal Winkler, formerly of the Calgary Tigers. This is the best record of any goalie in the league.”
He would record three wins and four losses before he was traded to the Bruins on Jan. 17, 1927. For his first season in the NHL, he would play in 31 games, recording six shutouts and a 1.72 GAA, good for fifth in the NHL behind future Hall-of-Famers Clint Benedict, Lorne Chabot, George Hainsworth and Alec Connell.
By this time, he was in his mid-30s, but he still played 44 games for the Bruins the following year, earning a 1.51 average, and a staggering 15 shutouts. While the NHL regular season has doubled in length since then, no goalie has broken that record. In the playoffs, he would record two more shutouts for the team, with the Bruins unfortunately losing in the Final to Ottawa. His 1.51 GAA was good for third I the league, and better than that of several future Hall-of-Famers.
In the June 10, 1927 edition of the Calgary Herald, it was reported that Winkler was back in the city working for an insurance agency during the summer. It was stated that “Hal never looked better and says he had a fine season in the east. He claims the first game in the Stanley Cup series with Ottawa on Boston ice was the tough break of the championship.”
Winkler said in the article that the hockey in the NHL was more strenuous than the minors, but it was the sort of hockey that brought out the best in the western Canada players.
His career may have continued with the Bruins after that point, but he was getting too old for the league and Tiny Thompson was a joining the team on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career.
In 1928-29, he joined the Minneapolis Millers of the AHA, followed by the Seattle Eskimos of the PCHL. He closed out his career with the Boston Tigers in 1930-31.
His entire NHL career consisted of 75 games, with 35 wins and 26 losses and 14 ties, along with 21 shutouts.
On May 29, 1956, Winkler would pass away at the age of 62. Only a few years later after the 1957-58 season, the Stanley Cup was redone and Winkler’s name was added to the Stanley Cup as a member of the 1929 Bruins, even though he only played in the minors that season.
Following the end of his career, he would work as a mink rancher in Charleswood, Manitoba.
If Hal had of been born a decade or two later, he would most likely be one of the greatest goalies in NHL history. Unfortunately, his NHL time was all too brief.
Information for this piece comes from the Gretna history book, Legends of Hockey, Wikipedia, HockeyDB, Findagrave.com, The Calgary Daily Herald, the National Hockey League 1917-1967 A Year-By-Year Statistical History and the Winnipeg Tribune.