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Bathgate: Shot to Plante's face was payback

by John McGourty
Former New York Rangers' great and Hockey Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate is chuckling this week about stories commemorating Jacques Plante's 50th anniversary of re-introducing the goalie mask in the NHL on Nov. 1, 1959.

A Bathgate shot on Nov. 1, 1959 at Madison Square Garden, sent Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante to the dressing room for seven stitches. The goaltender returned wearing a mask, but not without a fight. Canadiens coach Toe Blake, who didn't want his goaltender using the newfangled contraption, protested Plante's plan. The goalie insisted, won out, won the game and the Canadiens went on to win 17 more consecutive games, so the mask was on board for good.

"When he came out with the mask on, we were surprised that he'd gone that far," Bathgate remembered. "He was very innovative when it came to goaltending, so it wasn't surprising he'd be the one to try it. We had heard he had one, but we were surprised it covered his whole face."

Hockey fan Bill Burchmore, a sales and marketing representative for Fiberglass Canada Ltd., had contacted Plante after seeing him injured in a 1958 game. He made a Plaster of Paris mold of Plante's face and covered it with fiberglass cloth, resin and gypsum. It was one-eighth of an inch thick. Plante wore it in practices, but never in a game until the Bathgate shot.

Bathgate had a major impact on the adoption of goalie masks. He had badly injured two other NHL goalies with his slap shot. Famed for that slap shot, Bathgate that night hurt Plante with a backhander, firing the shot from close range into the goalie's face, badly splitting his upper lip. Plante went to get stitches and returned wearing the mask nearly 25 minutes later.

"Boy, it's 50 years ago and a lot of people have been phoning me and talking about it," Bathgate said. "These things happen and you have to live with it."

Bathgate was angry at the time, having taken a high stick from Plante earlier in the game.

"When we played, we had to take things into our own hands in some situations. You couldn't run a goalie because his whole team would come after you. But I thought Jacques had tried to injure me, very deliberately and not necessary. I was fortunate not to break my neck and I was very upset with what he did."

Bathgate said he could never beat Plante with his best shot from an angle, so he would take the puck around the net and try to tuck it in. Plante was usually waiting for him and this night, the goalie brought his stick up fast and intentionally caught Bathgate in the face.

"He cut my ear and my face. He could have broken my neck," Bathgate said. "Next shift, I went down the left wing and I was trying to score around the net. I used the backhand and gave him a 'little bowtie' on the face.

"How do you get back at a goalie? They're a brick short anyway. I thought he looked better with the mask, to tell the truth. He comes out with these bars all over his face and we were all wondering, 'What on Earth?'

"He was out (getting stitched) so long, I had a lot of time to think about what I'd done. I had been thinking I needed to go out there and straighten something out. It I had wanted to hurt him, I could have really let one go. It was a shot with passion, to let him know that if he keeps doing that, other players are going to start to take runs at him.

"The rule was always you didn't try to hit a goalie who was handling the puck behind his net. If you wanted to, it wouldn't be hard, send a guy in from each side and he'd be a sitting duck."

Bathgate said there was a lot of needling and trash talk between players, but Plante's actions that night were out of bounds.

"Jacques and I had a long-running (on-ice) conversation. I had scored on a couple of long shots against him, from outside the blue line, so when he'd catch one, he'd casually toss the puck in the corner and then say to me, 'like picking cherries!' We had our little set-tos, but no one would notice."

In the first years after goalies starting wearing masks, Bathgate said players tried flipping pucks high in the air, hoping goalies would lose sight of the puck through the eye bars of the mask.

"I remember Camille Henry flipping one up and goalie Harry Lumley was searching around his feet for the puck when it came down and went in off his back," Bathgate said.
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