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Sunday Coffee: Donning A Mask

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Jacques Plante

"I can’t imagine playing without one. I realize back then there weren’t any curved sticks and the game was a little slower, but still, you’re diving around and the puck is going to get deflected. You couldn’t play that way today, the way they shoot the puck." - Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen on playing with a mask.

Scott Clemmensen is a student of the game.
 
He’s read ‘The Game,’ by Ken Dryden, recently picked up a biography on former Flyers goalie Pelle Lindbergh, and enjoys reading stories about Terry Sawchuk. But it’s Hall of Fame goaltender Jacques Plante who Clemmensen and every other goalie in the NHL owe a special debt to this month.
 
            It was 50 years ago this evening that Plante wore a full-face goalie mask for the first time in an NHL game. To say he changed the face of hockey would be an understatement.
 
            “If goalies didn’t wear masks, I sure as hell wouldn’t be a goalie,” Clemmensen said.
 
            “Thank God for (Plante),” added Tomas Vokoun.
 
            Plante donned the mask in the first period of a game at Madison Square Garden after getting sliced by a shot from Andy Bathgate. Although Plante had worn the fiberglass mask during practices, Canadiens coach Toe Blake objected to Plante wearing the mask in games. But when Plante said he wouldn’t return to the game if he wasn’t allowed to wear the mask, Blake acquiesced. The Canadiens not only won the game but reeled off 18 consecutive victories.
 
            The fact Plante and others played without masks is unthinkable to today’s players.
 
            “I can’t imagine playing without one,” Clemmensen said. “I realize back then there weren’t any curved sticks and the game was a little slower, but still, you’re diving around and the puck is going to get deflected. You couldn’t play that way today, the way they shoot the puck. I’m sure those guys look at us and think we have it pretty good and say, ‘It’s so easy to play goal today. It doesn’t hurt when you get hit with the puck.’ ”
 
            Getting hit without a mask in today’s game, Clemmensen said, “would really mess you up.”
 
            “You’d need serious reconstructive surgery to get by.”
 
            Vokoun echoed the sentiments of Clemmensen and others.
 
            “When you look at the velocity of the shot…no, you couldn’t do it,” he said. “You’d be killed or seriously hurt. And it’s not just the shot. There are a lot of scrambles in front of the net. I couldn’t imagine it. The pucks are frozen, they’re going 100 mph and you would be dead on the spot.”
 
            Although Plante is recognized most often for being the first to wear a mask regularly in the league, he was also an innovator in that he was the first goalie to stop, stickhandle and headman the puck from behind the net. Plante, who won five consecutive Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, died at the age of 57 in Switzerland. His incredible life is the subject of a new book, ‘The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey.’
 
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
 
            “I read Pat Riley’s book. And he talks about thunderbolts, things you don’t expect to happen. He said the worst thing about it is accepting sympathy. As soon as you think it’s OK to lose, then you’ve lost that game. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to pick ourselves up and say, ‘You know what, we are going to be better.’ And that’s what I expect from our team. Not just say, ‘OK, now we have an excuse,’ because that is BS.” Thrashers coach John Anderson to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on playing without injured sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.
 
            “It’s a piece of felt that is on your shoulder. Is it important? Absolutely, it’s important or else we wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it. But, his affect on himself and his teammates now might even be stronger without it.” Sharks coach Todd McLellan to NHL.com on Patrick Marleau’s play without the captaincy.
 
(AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
NOT LIKE HOME
 
            The Blues went into Saturday’s game against the Panthers having won only one of their first five games at home. It led coach Andy Murray to an interesting conclusion.
 
            “The bottom line is we just haven’t been very good at home,” he said. “All the arenas are all new and all generic. You don’t have a lot of differences. So, to me, there isn’t a real home advantage for a lot of the teams.”
 
            Panthers defenseman Jordan Leopold believes there has to be an advantage to playing on home ice.
 
            “I think you’re more comfortable at home,” he said. “Your family is there, you have more of a routine. You go on the road and the long road trips get tiresome. I mean, you play in your home building 41 times a year there’s got to be an advantage as far as familiarity with bounces, the boards, and the ice. I think you can use that to your advantage.”
 
THE ANSWER IS…
 
            The Hockey News asked three players from every NHL team the following three questions: 1: Who will win the Stanley Cup? 2: Who will be this year’s breakout team? 3: Who will finish last overall? The answers: 1: Pittsburgh; 2: Blues; 3: Islanders.
 
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jimmy Jeong)
SECOND LIFE FOR ORESKOVICH
 
            Victor Oreskovich, called up Saturday by the Panthers from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, is writing quite a story for himself.
 
            Drafted in the second-round (55th overall) by the Avalanche in 2004, Oreskovich tore up his entry-level contract in 2007 and walked away from the game. “I was burnt out and I wasn’t going to waste anyone’s time,” the 23-year-old told the Democrat and Chronicle.
 
           After sitting out two seasons while finishing up his education at Notre Dame, Oreskovich got the bug to play again, earned a tryout with the Panthers, and signed a two-year deal. The 6-2, 225-pound got called up after setting up two goals and playing a strong, physical game Friday in the Amerks 4-2 win over Binghamton
 
           That was eight victories in a row for the Amerks.
 
NOTES
 
            Dustin Penner, who ended last season with 17 goals, 20 assists and was criticized by Oiler fans and former coach Craig MacTavish, went into the weekend fourth in scoring (19 points) and fifth in goals (9)…Petr Sykora, benched Wednesday against Nashville by Wild coach Todd Richards, returned to the lineup Friday against the Rangers and had a goal and assist in the Wild’s 3-2 win. “I think Petr had something to prove,” Richards said…The Stars are now 0-4 in shootouts after Friday’s loss to the Panthers…Ten of Anze Kopitar’s 21 points going into the weekend had come on the power play for the Kings…Panthers defenseman Dennis Seidenberg went into Saturday’s game ranked sixth in the league in blocked shots with 35…Senators GM Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Citizen last week that the increase in speed has led to an increase in severe injuries. “Without the red line (allowing two-line passes), with the stretch passes, it’s a faster pace. Some guys are getting blindsided, guys are looking back for passes and other guys are coming at them from the side. We’ve built so much speed into the game, but as a result, there’s now more contact at different spots on the ice.”…Mark Jan. 16 on your calendar: It will be Shane Doan bobblehead night in Phoenix…Phil Kessel could make his Maple Leafs debut after off-season shoulder surgery Tuesday against Tampa…

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