There is a debate about exactly when Bruce Gamble suffered a heart attack during the game on February 8, 1972. Did it happen on the ice? Between periods? After the game?
We'll probably never know. Gamble didn't complain about chest pain until after the game. That's not surprising, according to former teammate Johnny Bower. "I saw him take shots from guys like Bobby Hull that would've knocked out any other goalie. He would keep playing, then after the game I'd see all these black and blue marks on his arms. I could've never stood for that."
According to Bruce's son Mark, his dad thought the pain was from blocking a shot or getting whacked with a stick. A man who prided himself on his fitness and hard work, he was stunned to learn it was a heart attack.
In any event, on February 9th, Bruce's career was over. And he became a man adrift.
The Flyers offered him a job as a scout. He accepted, thinking it could be the next best thing to playing. Instead, it depressed him to watch others play, knowing he could never play in the NHL again. Between the 1973 and 1974 seasons, he separated from his wife, Virginia, and moved out of the family home.
The Flyers convinced him to return for the 1974 season, but he never showed up. The Flyers couldn't find him. "I tried to reach him for a long time, but he was nowhere to be found. I didn't hear a thing from him or about him until I read in the paper that he died," said Flyers GM Keith Allen.
Bruce became more and more reclusive. He moved to Niagara Falls with his new girlfriend Terri Olsson.
No matter how many applications he put in, no one really wanted to hire Bruce. Like so many other aspiring hockey players, he'd quit high school, and had no real resume other than "goalie." Eventually he got a job driving a coffee truck for about two years, and occasionally worked as a roofer. In the two years before his death, he hadn't worked at all.
"He had lost interest in everything except hockey," Olsson said. "And since he couldn't play hockey, he had no interest at all. He couldn't take the rejection of not playing hockey."
Bruce had another heart attack in 1979, but managed a near-complete recovery. Friends convinced him to join an over-35 league.
For the first time in a long time, Bruce had something to look forward to. He was so eager to play, he'd be sitting on his porch waiting for his friends to pick him up for games.
Bruce was supposed to get the ok from his doctor first, but he didn't care. He hadn't been to the doctor in two years. He had hockey back and that's all that mattered.
"If I can't play hockey, I don't know what else to do," Bruce told Terri.
And on December 10, 1982, Bruce's life ended the way his NHL career did. This time, there was no mystery about when the heart attack occurred. He collapsed at home, after winning a game. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
If Bruce had to die early (age 44), his friends all agreed, then it happened just the way he'd want.