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Plante legacy with Canadiens revisited as Price passes him on wins list

Hall of Famer's son meets Montreal goalie at Bell Centre celebration

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Michel Plante almost met Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price at the 2017 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles, hoping then to have his Canadiens jersey signed. With both men moving in opposite directions in a busy Staples Center, that didn't happen.

On Saturday at Bell Centre, almost 26 months later, it did.

Plante met Price on Montreal ice before the Canadiens' 2-0 loss to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks in a ceremony to commemorate the latter's 315th regular-season victory. That win, a 3-1 victory on March 12 against the Detroit Red Wings at Bell Centre, pushed Price one win past Jacques Plante, Michel's late father, for the all-time Canadiens lead.

Following a scoreboard video tribute and a thunderous ovation from the crowd, Price was joined at center ice by his wife, Angela, their two young daughters, Liv and Millie, his parents, Jerry and Lynda, and sister Kayla. Canadiens captain Shea Weber and alternates Brendan Gallagher and Paul Byron presented the goalie with a jersey bearing the number 315, signed by the team.

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson then was joined by Michel Plante and his daughter, Audrey, and granddaughter, Zoe - three generations of Plante, with the patriarch's No. 1 banner overhead -- for the presentation of a gold stick engraved with 315 and the names of a handful of goalies Price had passed en route to the record.

Video: CHI@MTL: Price honored after reaching 315 wins

After passing Jacques Plante for most wins in franchise history, the Canadiens recognize Carey Price and his family in a special ceremony

Later, 40 minutes after the final siren, Price and Plante were standing alone in the Canadiens dressing room, almost directly beneath a Hall of Fame portrait of Jacques Plante, a giant CH logo on the red carpet at their feet.

"It's obviously a special moment in my life," Price said, holding a small action figure of Plante. "I'm very happy that my family was able to come tonight and that Michel was able to meet everybody. During the ovation, I was kind of standing out there by myself. It was a funny feeling - you're very appreciative of the ovation but you don't want to egg it on and have it go on for five minutes."

For Plante, the son of Montreal goaltending royalty, the tumbling of his father's record couldn't have come at the hands of a better person.

"I'm very proud that Carey is the one who's been able to break it," he said, cradling a replica of his father's historic 1959 mask. "Of what I know of this man, he has good values and he's a nice family guy. I'm proud that he's been able to withstand the pressure over all these years in Montreal to beat my father's record."

We had begun hearing Jacques Plante's name mentioned with that of Price a year ago, when the latter caught and then passed the former's record of 556 regular-season games played for most in Canadiens history.

Jacques Plante in action against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 1960s. Courtesy of Hockey Hall of Fame, Turofsky collection

Then, with his 315th victory, Price passed Plante, who had been No. 1 on the franchise list since his 209th win on Jan. 2, 1960 moved him past his idol, Bill Durnan.

Yet despite the names of Price and Plante now linked, the current generation of Canadiens fans knows the late icon more as a name, a masked face and perhaps as the banner among many suspended in Bell Centre rafters than a legend for the ages in Montreal, a pioneer who walked his own path in this city to Hall of Fame induction in 1978.

Of all the Canadiens statistics attached to Plante's name -- 314 wins, 133 losses, 107 ties, 58 shutouts, six Stanley Cup championships, a Hart Trophy and six Vezina Trophy wins -- his most impressive number might be two inches, his greatest game not even one played in the NHL.

With bonuses often tied to the Vezina Trophy, until the 1980-81 season awarded to the goalie(s) whose team allowed the fewest regular-season goals, Plante grumbled in the early 1960s about the crossbars of nets in Chicago, Boston and New York being two inches lower than in Montreal, Toronto and Detroit. He knew this, he said, because when he backed into the smaller nets, the crossbar touched his back two inches lower.

Plante makes an acrobatic save during an early 1960s game. Courtesy of Hockey Hall of Fame, Turofsky collection

This gave an advantage, Plante charged, to Glenn Hall, a chief Vezina rival whose Chicago Stadium net for 35 Black Hawks home games was smaller, the crossbar not four feet off the ice, but three feet, 10 inches.

Nonsense, opponents and the NHL sniffed, until measurements were taken and net frames in Chicago, Boston and New York were found to have had their crossbars welded inside the top of the goalposts and not atop them as in the other three rinks, something Plante knew without a tape measure.

This revelation came a decade after Canadiens management had grown to expect the unexpected from Plante, who drove his bosses and sometimes his teammates nearly mad with his idiosyncrasies and strong ego, generally right up until the time they climbed into cars for the Stanley Cup parade.

Of his 556 games played in a Canadiens sweater, Plante's finest likely came at the Forum on Dec. 16, 1965, eight months into his three-year retirement following two seasons with the New York Rangers.

Plante was talked back into his pads by Montreal Junior Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman as one of several reinforcements for the amateurs against the touring Russian national team. He practiced for a week, counselled his unseasoned defensemen, then typically rose to the occasion, never having seen the powerhouse Russians play even on TV.

Plante stares down a Russian forward during the Dec. 16, 1965 exhibition game at the Montreal Forum, arguably the greatest game in Plante's career.

The Junior Canadiens' Norm Dennis scored with 29 seconds left to play to defeat the Russians 2-1, but it was Plante who brought down the sold-out Montreal Forum. In the building where he had starred for the Canadiens for a decade, he made 25 saves, stopping five breakaways, three in the third period with the score tied.

That game was 13 years after Plante had made his NHL debut, a 4-1 Forum win against the Rangers on Nov. 1, 1952. Management's biggest concern that night was whether Plante would wear into the net a wool tuque he had knitted himself, thus subjecting himself to "a lot of stupid and unnecessary lampooning," coach Dick Irvin said. He didn't.

Price laughed about that story when told about it, saying, "I just had Sid and Geno to worry about in my first game," his NHL debut a 3-1 road win on Oct. 10, 2007 against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Plante wears a tuque he knitted himself during an early 1950s game with the Quebec Senior League's Montreal Royals.

If Plante was viewed by some as an eccentric, by others as more than a little off his axis, there can be no denying that the goalie saw the sport of his era through very different eyes. He was unique in the way the way he prepared himself for a game, developed a style that would become a template for many, scouted and charted shooting tendencies of the opposition decades before film and video study, and played as a third defenseman in many ways, directing traffic and freely handling the puck to clear the zone.

By most accounts, Plante's large personality wore out his welcome with Canadiens management, especially coach Toe Blake, and on June 4, 1963, he was packaged in a seven-player blockbuster trade with the Rangers. Plante, stunned, heard the news on his car radio driving to an NHL pension meeting in Montreal.

He picked up the pieces to play two seasons in New York before retiring, returning later for that memorable game against the Russians. But Molson Brewery promotional work on behalf of the Canadiens didn't satisfy his thirst for competition and the spotlight, and he returned for another 173 NHL games with the St. Louis Blues (sharing the 1968-69 Vezina with Hall), Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins from 1968-73. 

A Catholic priest examines Plante's first mask during late 1959 visit to the Canadiens' dressing room.

It will always be Plante's years in Montreal for which he'll be most famous, his wins record standing more than 59 years on the oldest team in professional hockey. 

In the dressing room Saturday, Michel Plante had time with Price to share a few stories about his father. He gave the new record-holder a young reader's book on hockey, which Price said he'd be eager to read to his elder daughter, Liv. 

As the two men walked toward the door, Plante absently set one foot on the Canadiens logo; he was unaware this was a violation of dressing-room rules, one which drew a short gasp from team photographer Florence Labelle, who had carefully walked around it.

"Don't worry, Michel," Price said to Plante with a laugh. "I won't fine you."

And with that they would sit for Price to autograph Plante's jersey, above dozens of other signatures, below and left of the Plante nameplate. 

A half-hour later, as Price was meeting with his family outside the family lounge, a heavy gold stick in his hands, Plante and his family headed for home, his jersey finally signed, Nos. 1 and 2 on the Canadiens' all-time wins list joined at last.

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