Jimmy Foster, one of the world’s finest goaltenders in the 1930s, backstopped Great Britain to their momentous Olympic, World and European gold medals in the 1936 Winter Games.
Throughout the rest of the decade, the imperturbable keeper was a mainstay between the pipes for GB and Harringay Greyhounds, earning a reputation on both teams as a shutout king. In his five seasons in British club hockey, he recorded 24 whitewashes, including three in his first campaign.
Jimmy and his family emigrated from Glasgow to Canada when he was six and he grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a hockey hotbed. After playing for the University of Manitoba, he made his name with Moncton (New Brunswick) Hawks in the Maritime Senior League.
The fair-haired, five-foot, five-inch netminder led Moncton to successive Allan Cups in 1932-33 and 1933-34, years when the trophy was the most sought-after prize outside the NHL. In the 1932 cup finals, he posted the first ever back-to-back clean sheets in the competition and lasted 417 minutes (a shade under seven games) without conceding a goal. In 173 league and playoff games during his four seasons at Moncton, he racked up 42 shutouts.
After he had an NHL trial with Montreal Maroons, his Moncton coach Percy Nicklin grabbed him for his new English National League side at Richmond on the banks of the Thames. In season 1935-36 he helped Richmond Hawks to the league runners-up spot, tying on points with champions Wembley Lions, and earned himself an All-Star ‘A’ team selection.
The next winter he and Nicklin moved to the impressive, 8,200-seat Harringay Arena and the Greyhounds. They stayed for four seasons, twice capturing the English National League title in 1938-39 and 1939-40 and winning a London Cup and a National Tournament. Jimmy was voted onto the All Star ‘B’ team in 1938-39.
Foster’s skill in goal was the rock upon which GB coach Nicklin built his 1936 team. Shrugging off a controversy over his eligibility to play, he was supreme, blanking Sweden, Japan, Czechoslovakia and the USA, and conceding only three goals in seven games.
When the Championships came to London a year later, he was a brick wall, earning shutouts in eight of the nine games, helping to make GB’s retention of their European crown look easy.
In 1938 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, he whitewashed Germany and Norway on the first two days. His third clean sheet came in the vital contest to determine the destiny of the European title. Against the odds – Nicklin dressed only his best eight men and 14,000 fans were screaming for the opposition – Jimmy kept the home nation at bay.
The last of his 16 shutouts in 29 World Championship games came in 1939 in Zurich when GB beat Hungary 1-0.
While he was holidaying back in Canada that summer, he received an offer to play for Brighton Tigers, but with war breaking out in Europe he had to decline. Instead, he played three seasons back in the senior leagues with Quebec Aces and Glace Bay (Nova Scotia) Miners.
James John Foster was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 13 September 1905 and died in Winnipeg, Manitoba on 4 January 1969. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1950.