Fifty years ago Sunday night, Nov. 1, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante wore the first full-face goalie mask in a NHL game. To fete the occasion, NHL Network is airing a one-hour special, "50 Years Behind the Mask," Sunday at 7 ET (it will also be streamed live here at NHL.com). NHL.com will join in celebrating the 50th anniversary with a week-long series of stories about Plante and the evolution of the goalie mask. In today's installment, Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher recalls being on hand for a Canadiens-New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden on that historic night 50 years ago. Red is in his 55th season covering the Canadiens.
Everybody knows Jacques Plante
is the man that brought the goalie mask to professional hockey. But the Hockey Hall of Fame goalie should also be remembered for so much more as we approach the 50th anniversary of the goalie mask.
"He wrote the book on goaltending," former NHL goaltender and current Atlanta Thrashers
color analyst Darren Eliot
Plante literally did write the book about goaltending.
"On Goaltending," published in the 1970s, laid out in intricate detail Plante's philosophies about his profession. As a result, he shaped the way several generations of goalies played -- and, perhaps, more importantly, thought about -- the game.
According to Eliot, Plante paved the way for goaltending to become the teachable and specialized position it is today. In Plante's day, nobody really coached goaltending and with only one goalie per NHL team during that era, goalies were pretty much left alone to find their own way.
Eliot saw Plante at the tail end of the Hall of Famer's career when Plante was with the Toronto Maple Leafs
and only played home games. Eliot wasn't even a teenager yet, but now, more than 35 years later, he still remembers every detail of that night.
"I counted how many times he went down (in a game)," Eliot said. "Five times in the entire game he went down on the ice and three of them were to cover the puck."
New York Rangers
great Mike Richter
never saw Plante play, but he did read "On Goaltending" as a kid and he admitted it had a profound impact on his own career.
"He was such a student of the game," Richter told NHL.com. "I read his book when I was younger. He looked at the game from a different perspective and thought about it out of the box and came up with answers that must guys didn't and applied them.
"He was always working on his equipment, thinking about angles, making guys shoot for the long side, (playing) psychological games with the opponent. The guy was sort of endless in his interest of the game. If he had never come close to developing the facemask, he would still be a Hall of Fame part of hockey."
Glen "Chico" Resch, another retired goalie, says that many of Plante's goalie philosophies came about from the need for Plante to protect his mask-less face for the majority of his career.
Plante didn't want players firing pucks at his head in attempts to score, so he would play the short-side angle and allow shooters to gun for the more open wide-side. Then, he would move into the puck to make the save, leaving his head out of harm's way.
Today, no goalie worth his glove hand would think of adopting that particular philosophy. But in Plante's circumstances, it made perfect sense.
"Priority 1 was survival; Priority 2 was stopping the puck," Resch told NHL.com. "That's why the strategy of goaltending was so different. Survival was Priority No. 1. That's why you see a lot of photos of goalies pulling up or with their eyes closed, praying that they didn't get hit in the face."
Current New Jersey goalie Marty Brodeur has seen all those pictures of the bare-faced goalies. In fact, Brodeur's father, Denis Brodeur Sr., took a good portion of them as the Montreal Canadiens
But Denis Brodeur also played in the same era as Plante and got his first mask from the same man who fashioned Plante's historic mask. So, Brodeur has heard plenty of stories about the man who changed the goaltending profession. Brodeur's long-time goalie coach with the Devils, Jacques Caron
, also played with Plante and has added even more to the folklore.
"He was a pioneer," Brodeur told NHL.com. "I was too young to realize it. My father and Jacques Caron
talk about him like we now talk about Dominik Hasek
and Patrick Roy
. For them, that was these guys -- (Terry Sawchuk
, Glenn Hall
and Jacques Plante
Plante's place in the game was assured on that Nov. 1 evening back in 1959 when he hushed a Madison Square Garden crowd by returning from a facial injury with his now-famous mask. But as Richter said, Plante should be remembered for much more than just his singular contribution to the well-being of goalies everywhere.
But that is not always the case. The mask hangs omnipresent in any conversation about the man; a fact that sometimes frustrates those who were served as well by his teachings as by his introduction of the goalie mask into the hockey equation.
"Now you are down to that one moment -- the mask," Eliot said. "What a moment it was, but now you forget about all the other things he did. He was an innovator, always looking for an angle or an edge. He influenced generations of goalies."