Today marks 48th anniversary of facemask debut
At approximately 7:10 p.m. on Nov. 1, 1959, 'just another game' turned into one of the landmark moments in NHL history.The streaking, first-place Montreal Canadiens (8-2-3) were playing the struggling New York Rangers (2-7-2) at Madison Square Garden.
All-Star Jacques Plante, in goal for the Canadiens, was struck in the face with a shot by Rangers forward Andy Bathgate at 3:06 of the first period.
Stan Fischler, who was covering the contest for The Hockey News and The New York Journal-American vividly remembers the play:
"A Montreal attack was blunted and the Rangers counter-attacked. Andy Bathgate, the Rangers’ hardest-shooting forward, got the puck in the Canadiens' zone. Andy had been notorious among NHL goalies for his slapshot, but this time Bathgate went to his backhand, using a screen. Like Rocket Richard, who was playing for the Habs, Bathgate had a menacing backhander and this one caught Plante square in the mug. Since the old MSG press box hung from the mezzanine, my seat was practically on top of the ice.
"I watched Plante crumble to the ice in a pool of blood. It was obvious that this was serious stuff and the Canadiens’ trainer skidded out to the crease,” Fischler added. “With a trail of blood behind him, the goalie was escorted to the Montreal dressing room.”
Red Fisher of the Montreal Gazette, who has covered the NHL for more than 50 years, describes the scene after Plante was struck.
“He had been struck in the face and it opened up a cut from the corner of his mouth all the way up through his nostril,” the dean of NHL writers said. “Try and imagine that – the pain that he was going through.
“I rushed down to the dressing room and there was Plante, looking in the mirror and separating the cut and looking at it. ‘Pretty ugly,’ he said to me. I said ‘Yeah, well you had a good start Jacques.’
“Then he laid down on the table and was stitched by the doctor.”
After a 21-minute delay, Plante returned to the Canadiens’ bench. Hall of Fame center Jean Beliveau recalled the players’ reaction when Plante spoke to Coach Toe Blake.
"Jacques came back to the bench and told Toe, 'I'm ready to go back in but I have to wear my mask,' " Beliveau said. "He (Plante) had worn it in practice but Toe never liked the mask until this incident in New York."
“When he came out with the mask, you could feel and hear the buzz of the crowd,” Fisher recalled.
The Canadiens went on to win, 3-1.
“Before the next game,” Fisher said, “Toe Blake said to me ‘he’s not going to wear the mask’ and Plante said to me, ‘If I don’t wear the mask, I’m not playing.’ That was Jacques Plante.”