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Iconic goalie Hall still outstanding in his field

NHL.com visits legend's farm near Edmonton

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

STONY PLAIN, Alberta -- Glenn Hall has a battle on his hands.

It's with crows and magpies, birds with attitude that are disturbing the Canada geese and the others migrating north, returning home, that are touching down on the goaltending icon's 155-acre farm.

"I'm not winning it," Hall said Monday afternoon with a sigh over pizza and a beer at his dining-room table. "It's like the deer. I feed them in the wintertime but we have gardens in the spring and they look over the fence to see where the lettuce is being planted and where the carrots are going in. As much as I like them in the wintertime, they're kind of a nuisance with the garden."

To see Hall on this land, a wonderful, tranquil spread roughly 25 miles west of Edmonton, is to see a man absolutely at peace with himself.

Hall, now 84, and his wife, Pauline, bought these acres in 1965, 10 years into his illustrious Hockey Hall of Fame-bound NHL career.

It was here they raised two sons and two daughters, escaping the madness of professional hockey to find their balance in nature's embrace.

It was beneath a tree near the farmhouse, a tree that Hall planted in 2010 with his family, that he buried the ashes of Pauline, whom he had lost the year before.

"My great-grandson, he was about 6 at the time, told his teacher that we had planted this tree and that we had put Grandma's eyelashes in there," Hall said with a gentle laugh. "This is a nice, quiet place. I enjoy it here."

He lives alone here, but with three of his children and many of their offspring within a short drive. It's a toss-up about who spoils whom the most, the patriarch now counting nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

"I'm a lot smarter when I'm alone, eh? I really am," Hall said with another laugh, poking fun at himself, which he does constantly. "And when you're alone, you're also the best looking."

I had gotten to know this marvelous gentleman during many calls, phoning him to discuss one of his milestone games, or later to talk for a spell about quite nothing at all.

Hall extended the invitation a half-dozen years ago: "If you're ever out this way…"

And so I was, in March 2011. I dropped in on him for an hour's visit. I returned in October 2014, joining Hall and a houseful of his family for a leisurely afternoon and dinner. Each was a delightful visit, every story better than the one before it.

In Edmonton again, this time for the final game at Rexall Place on Wednesday, I spent a few hours in Hall's company again Monday, picked up at the airport by his son, Pat, and run out to the farm once more.

Hall's pedigree needs no introduction for anyone who knows NHL history.

He broke into the League full-time in 1955-56 with the Detroit Red Wings, but traded in 1957, with forward Ted Lindsay, to the Chicago Black Hawks in a six-player deal. He spent 10 seasons in Chicago, until he was claimed by the St. Louis Blues in the 1967 expansion draft.

He played four seasons for the Blues, retiring at age 39 with a 2.49 goals-against average and 84 shutouts in 906 games.

Hall anchored Chicago to its 1961 Stanley Cup triumph. He also won or shared the Vezina Trophy in 1963, 1967 and 1969.

Before the 1981-82 season the Vezina was awarded to the goalkeeper or goalkeepers from the team allowing the fewest number of goals during the regular season. Since then it has been voted on by the League's general managers.

Had the Vezina been a vote in his day, Hall might have won it 10 times. And if he views his three Vezinas with a bold asterisk, he is fiercely proud of the 1956 Calder Trophy he won in Detroit as the top rookie in the NHL, and the 1968 Conn Smythe Trophy earned with St. Louis as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Six times from 1955-56 to 1968-69 Hall had the most shutouts in the NHL, including a dozen in his rookie season. Five times he had the best save percentage; the most wins four times.

Hall won't argue when you tell him that his most stunning record is one that almost certainly never will be broken: the streak of 502 consecutive games from 1955 to 1962, a run that goes to 552 if the Stanley Cup Playoff games are included.

The streak, according to Hall, was 1,024 straight games, counting games played in junior and minor pro from 1948 to 1955.

"If I dressed," he said, "I played."

Hall no longer is the tightly wound spring he was through 16 full NHL seasons, 13 of which were played without a mask in an era that saw the slap shot and curved stick blade flourish. In those days, bare-faced dives into goal-crease scrambles often spilled the blood of a goaltender.

"When you got knocked down, you got back up," he said with a shrug. "That's what I was most proud of. I wasn't healthy all those games. I had bad cuts … the injuries in those days were facial, puck-related injuries. But I only lost one tooth in my career. I had a bunch of cuts around my mouth but I never had great, beautiful teeth and that's what attracts pucks."

During my 2014 visit to his farm, Hall swallowed that day by an armchair near a crackling fire, his family all around him, he uttered the best quote I have heard in 40 years of harvesting words in dressing rooms and on playing fields.

"I do nothing better than anybody you ever knew," he said, a can of beer in his paw. "I can go out and do nothing all day. And it takes me a long time to do it."

That hasn't changed, he says today.

"I enjoy doing what I'm doing, which is nothing. And I do it very well," Hall said. "Well, I putter a little bit. The kids are close by and they help me out with everything."

On the driveway is the golf cart he uses to navigate his land; part of the property leased to a nearby farmer, the other acres simply a sprawling feast for the eyes.

His iconic barn, a red structure passed on the journey up the driveway, looks terrific, in no need of a coat of paint.

That barn, too, is part of hockey lore.

"It's not a big, beautiful barn," Hall said. "It's just a place that's used for storage. It used to house cattle before I got here. It was a farming barn."

I mention its dimensions of 40 feet tall by 60 feet wide, leaving unspoken the fact that this is precisely 10 times the size of a goal net.

"The 4-by-6 is what you're getting at," he said, reading between the lines, and then he laughed again. "A goal net often felt to me like it was 40-by-60."

One of several buildings on the land, the barn is not far from a vintage wagon that stands alone in the middle of a huge field.

"That wagon is like me," Hall said. "It's old and it's broke.

"The true story about the barn is, I had retired," he said, relating how he had decided to call it quits in the fall of 1966. "I told [general manager] Tommy Ivan that I wouldn't be back that year. I got the [retirement] form and returned it.

"But Pauline kept getting calls: 'Why isn't Glenn at training camp?' Well, I had retired. She just kept telling everyone I was outside painting the barn. Which I was, because I sure wasn't going to pay someone to do it. So I couldn't come to the phone.

"But I didn't know the Black Hawks would have to leave a goalkeeper unprotected for expansion [the next year]. All of a sudden Chicago decided that they'd pay me for playing. I thought, 'Holy crow, this is different.' They gave me a big, big raise. So I did go back to them. It was already 15, 20 games into the season while I was out painting the barn."

A lost sponsorship opportunity, he thinks today.

"I should have got a deal with a paint company: 'I'll be at training camp this year because your paint is so good,'" Hall said. "But that never happened."

We went for a stroll on his property and he posed for a photo by an old, rusted threshing machine, placing a beer can over a wheel and asking playfully, "Think anyone will see it?"

Which is exactly why he put it there.

He pointed to a small row of pine saplings nearby and said he'll be gone long before they're grown, and he waved his hand at the cones, thousands of them, that blanketed the ground.

"Last time I was here I took a pine cone from your lawn for a souvenir," I said, feeling the need to confess.

Hall studied me for a moment, pursed his lips and said, as sternly as he could manage, "So that's where it went."

Then he grinned as wide and as grand as the glorious spread that has been the center of this legend's universe for more than 50 years.

It was now that you realize how Glenn Hall wears this land, and his life, like the most comfortable sweater in his drawer.

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