Story of the Week
Jacques Plante was one of the NHL’s all-time great goalies. Winner of the Vezina Trophy an incredible seven times during his career, this colorful goaltender was a fixture for the Montreal Canadiens for years, and then for other NHL teams as well. His record of 434 wins is second in NHL history.
By the midpoint of his career, however, one glance at his scar-marked face made it clear that he was paying dearly for those Vezinas. By the late 1950’s, he had accumulated 200 stitches across his face, four broken noses, two broken cheekbones, and a fractured skull. Why? Because goalies of that era did not wear masks.
Plante was understandably interested when he heard that a contoured mask had been developed that could fit snugly against a person’s face, and offer protection against rocketing pucks.
Before the 1958-59 season, he approached Montreal coach Toe Blake about wearing the mask. But Blake argued that the mask would be an affront to the game’s tradition, and he refused to let Plante wear it.
Plante continued to do his usual excellent job in net for the Canadiens. On November 1, 1959, Montreal was playing the Rangers in New York. Minutes into the game, a blast off the stick of Andy Bathgate ripped into Plante’s face. In the team dressing room, seven more stitches were added to the road map of scars.
As the time approached to return to the ice, Plante told Blake he was not going to play without the mask. Blake knew that this was no idle threat.
In those days, if you can imagine this, NHL teams did not carry a spare goalie.
Instead, the home team was responsible for making sure that a replacement was on hand if either goalie was seriously injured. The role of replacement that night was filled by an amateur named Joe Schaefer. Blake knew that if he put Schaefer into the net, the game would be a Montreal loss. He had no choice but to capitulate to his star goalie. Thus, hockey history was made.
Plante’s stature made it much easier for other goalies in the NHL to lobby for the right to wear a protective mask. The mask has become a basic piece of hockey equipment for goaltenders, thanks to Jacques Plante. Today, it seems incredible that goalies ever played without it.
Plante and Glenn Hall are my two favorite goalies of all-time.
Last Week’s Trivia
Who is the only player to make the last out of a World Series while attempting to steal a base? Babe Ruth was thrown out at second base, thus ending the 1926 World Series, as the Cardinals defeated the Yankees.
Trivia Question of the Week
What NFL quarterback holds the record for passing attempts without an interception? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.