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Coaching 'Mr. Goalie'

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

Glenn Hall’s goaltending genius not only contributed to the Blackhawks before and after they won the Stanley Cup in 1961—he also put the St. Louis Blues on the map. And that’s the gospel truth from Scotty Bowman, who began his Hall of Fame coaching career there when the NHL expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967-68. “We got very lucky,” said Bowman, now a senior advisor with the Blackhawks. “We were drafting third when the new teams picked goalies from the Original Six. When our turn came, Hall was still available. Chicago left him unprotected, thinking he was about to retire. They protected Denis DeJordy. We grabbed Hall, but he was still talking about quitting. If he had, we would have been up the creek.”

Bowman and members of the Blues ownership visited Hall at his summer residence outside Edmonton, the place he always talked about leaving hockey for to paint his barn.

“Well, he didn’t have a barn on his farm,” Bowman recalls. “When we went to see him, he was sitting in a rocking chair, having a beer. His last contract with Chicago was for $35,000. He wanted more from St. Louis.”

The Blues paid him $47,500, exactly one-tenth of their first payroll. Hall became the highest paid goalie in NHL history and the third-highest paid player at the time behind Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull.

“But Glenn was worth it,” says Bowman. “He was the franchise. A terrific guy for the team and unbelievable in goal. He was great on his skates. I never saw a goalie who could do a pirouette, a complete 360, and bounce up and down like him.”

In the post-expansion format, one team from the West qualified for the Stanley Cup finals against the Original Six representative.

“He got us to the finals three straight years,” Bowman says. “In 1968 we got swept by the Montreal Canadiens, but Glenn won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs. That doesn’t happen very often, but he started all 18 playoff games for us, a record, and was fabulous.”

The next season, St. Louis lured another legend, Jacques Plante, out of retirement. He teamed with Hall to post 13 shutouts for the Blues, who yielded a remarkable total of only 157 goals in 76 games — by far the stingiest mark in the league. The Blackhawks surrendered 246, prompting them to acquire Tony Esposito.

“Glenn was only 35 when we drafted him,” Bowman says. “The Los Angeles Kings picked No. 1 and took Terry Sawchuk. He had just won a Cup in Toronto. We felt Glenn had a lot left, and he did, right down to the 1970 final when Bobby Orr scored that famous goal to win it for the Bruins. Glenn played one more year after that and was still good, still throwing up before games, still making great saves. He was like a dancer on skates.

"He told me, ‘Scotty, I wish I could have played for you when I was younger, in my prime.’ But I don’t know how he could have been much better than he was for us in St. Louis.”
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