Canadian hockey player
Apioneer hockey goaltender on several fronts, Jacques Plante changed the position forever when he became the first wear a goalie mask in games on a regular basis after a serious injury to his face. Though Plante took much grief for wearing the mask, it became standard gear for goaltenders within a decade. He also became the first goalie to regularly leave his crease to play the puck to a teammate, and was a pioneer of the butterfly style of goalie technique. Plante is considered one of the best goalies to ever play the game. He played the majority of his career with the Montreal Canadiens, winning five Vezina Trophies as best goalie in the NHL, and one Hart Trophy as league's most valuable player, an award rarely given to goalies. Though Plante was a recognized winner, he was also known as eccentric, arrogant, and difficult.
Plante was born on January 17, 1929, in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, Canada, the oldest of eleven children born to Xavier and Palma Plante. His father was a machinist, while his mother did knitting piecework. Plante learned to knit from her and would later use the skill to relax him as a player.
Plante began skating at the age of three, and played hockey on outdoor rinks as a youngster. Originally Plante was a defenseman, but asthma prevented him
from being an effective skater. He then concentrated on learning the goalie position.
By the 1944-45 season, Plante was talented enough as a goaltender to play goal for a factory team for money. He also played junior hockey for Quebec City and the Montreal Junior Canadiens until 1949. From 1949-53, Planted was playing in the Quebec Senior League for the Montreal Royals and he was seen as a leading young goaltender. Though this was an amateur league, Plante was paid for his play.
Played Professional Hockey
Plante officially became a professional hockey player in the early 1950s. Signed by the Montreal Canadiens, he began his career in the minor leagues. He first played for the Buffalo Bisons in the American Hockey League, for part of the 1952-53 and much of the 1953-54 season. Plante had a big break during the 1953 playoffs, when he was called up to the Canadiens.
In the 1953 Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Canadiens were losing the best of seven series three games to two. The Canadiens number one goalie, Gerry McNeill, was playing on a broken ankle, and needed to be replaced in the last two games. Using his unconventional technique, Plante won both games. In the finals against the Boston Bruins, McNeill and Plante split up games. The Canadiens won in five games. Plante was later reprimanded for criticizing McNeill's goaltending, breaking an unwritten rule.
It was during his playoff appearances against Chicago that Plante demonstrated his innovative way of playing the puck, alarming his coach Dick Irvin. Because Plante was an excellent skater, he would roam away from the crease to play the puck to a teammate to start the rush. Though Plante was not the first player to do this (New York Ranger Chuck Rayner did in the 1940s), he was the first to do it on a regular basis on a successful team and it rarely backfired on him. Plante also had another uncommon goalie technique that involved coming out of the net to the top of the crease to cut down on the angle of slapshots. This would mean the puck would come at his chest not at his head.
Plante's success in the playoffs led to his being named the number two goaltender for the Canadiens in the 1953-54 season, backing up McNeill. Plante played in 17 games, but when McNeill lost in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup, he lost his number one job. Plante was the number one goalie in the 1954-55 season, and McNeill basically retired from the game.
|1929||Born on January 17, in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec, Canada|
|c. 1931||Begins skating|
|1944||Plays goal on a factory team for money|
|1949-53||Plays goal for the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior League|
|1952-54||Plays minor hockey league hockey with the American Hockey League's Buffalo Bison|
|1953||Called up by the Montreal Canadiens; wins his first Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens|
|1954||Becomes the first-string goalie with the Canadiens|
|1959||Becomes first goalie to regularly wear face mask in games|
|1963||Traded to the New York Rangers|
|1965||Retires from hockey for two years|
|1967||Returns to hockey, playing in goal for the St. Louis Blues, an expansion team|
|1970||Traded from the Blues to the Toronto Maple Leafs|
|1972||Plays for the Boston Bruins|
|1973||Retires from the National Hockey League|
|1974||Plays in a few games for the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association|
|1975-86||Works as part-time goaltending coach|
|1986||Dies on February 26 of stomach cancer in Geneva, Switzerland|
Plante remained Montreal's number one goalie for nearly a decade until he was traded. These were some of the best years for Plante and Montreal. He won five straight Vezina Trophies as the league's best goaltender from 1956 to 1960. His goals against was low, but began going up by 1958. These were same years that Montreal won five straight Stanley Cups. While both Plante and the Canadiens were winning, there was tension between Plante and his coach and former teammate Toe Blake , which was heightened by Plante's use of a goalie mask.
Began Wearing Goalie Mask
In 1959, Plante became the first goalie to wear a mask in games on a regular basis. (Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons had 29 years earlier, but it was short-lived experiment.) Many goalies of the era wore masks in practice, including Plante, but after his nose was broken by a hard shot in a game on November 1 in New York, he refused to come back in without his fiberglass face mask. Since there was no backup goalie with the team, Blake gave in. Plante insisted on wearing it in games from that day forward. While there were many detractors, including his own coach and teammates, Plante played better with it on. In the first 11 games in which he played with the mask, he only gave up 13 goals. Within a decade, the goalie mask became standard equipment in the NHL.
Though Plante had the mask and was still one of the leading goalies in the NHL, Montreal struggled (relatively) in the early 1960s. The team did not win another Stanley Cup with Plante in goal. In 1962, Plante won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player. His record was 42-14-14 with a 2.37 goals against average. In the 1962-63 season, the Canadiens finished only third overall, though Plante played well.
Traded to the Rangers
In 1963, Plante was traded as part of a seven player deal to the New York Rangers, where he spent the next two seasons. Though Plante was still considered a leading goalie, he was traded in part because he of his inflexible attitude. Because the Rangers were a losing team, Plante had a high goals against average and his team never made the playoffs. He retired after the 1964-65 season, during which he was demoted to their minor league team, the Baltimore Clippers.
During his retirement, Plante worked as a salesman for Molson's. He had previously been their goodwill ambassador during his off-seasons. Plante's tenure as a salesman was short-lived. He returned to hockey in 1967, when he was signed by the St. Louis Blues, an expansion team. That year, he and Glenn Hall backstopped the team to the Stanley Cup finals. Together, the pair won the Vezina Trophy in 1969; Plante's goals against average that season was 1.96. His skills and ability to play the angles had not diminished much with age.
|Bisons: Buffalo Bisons (AHL); Blues: St. Louis Blues (NHL); Bruins: Boston Bruins (NHL); Canadiens: Montreal Canadiens (NHL); Clippers: Baltimore Clippers (AHL); Maple Leafs: Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL); Oilers: Edmonton Oilers (WHA); Rangers: New York Rangers (NHL); Royals: Montreal Royals (EPHL).|
In 1970, Plante was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for future considerations. He played for the team through most of the 1972-73 season. Though Plante generally was solid in net, he was accused of only playing the easy games to increase his goals against average to the disfavor of his backup, Bruce Gamble.
Retired from NHL
Plante's final NHL stop was the Boston Bruins. The Leafs traded him to the Bruins in 1972 for a draft choice. Over the course of his career, he had 434 career wins, a 2.38 goals against average, and 82 shutouts. His playoff record, based on 112 games, included a 2.17 goals against average.
Though Plante retired from playing in the NHL, he remained active in the game. In 1973-74, he served as the general manger-coach of the Quebec Nordiques in the World Hockey Association. Though he had a ten-year contract, he only lasted one year because he did not have the skills for the job.
Plante did play in goal again. During the 1974-75 season, he appeared in 31 games for the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association. He had a 3.31 goals against average, which was good for this high scoring league. Plante also intended to play in the 1975-76 season, and went to the team's training camp though he was 45 years old. However the suicide of one of his children contributed to his decision to retire as a player for good.
After his retirement, Plante was connected to the game by serving as a goaltending coach for a number of teams on a part-time basis, including the Philadelphia Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, and the St. Louis Blues. Plante continued to coach goaltenders until his death from stomach cancer on February 26, 1986, in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was receiving treatment for his illness.
Elected to Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, Plante's legacy was not just as a great goaltender but someone who fundamentally changed how the position was played, especially because of the mask. As he told Dave Anderson of the Saturday Evening Post, "For stopping the puck, the mask doesn't help me. But I am a better goalkeeper now because I can laugh at getting hit in the face."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY PLANTE:
(With Andy O'Brien) The Jacques Plante Story, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1972.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1953||Won his first Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens|
|1956||Won Vezina Trophy as best goalie in the NHL; All-Star (First Team); Won Stanley Cup|
|1957-58, 1960||Won Vezina Trophy; All-Star (Second Team); Won Stanley Cup|
|1959||Won Vezina Trophy; All-Star (First Team); Won Stanley Cup|
|1962||Won the Hart Trophy, as NHL MVP; Won Vezina Trophy; All-Star (First Team)|
|1969||Won Vezina Trophy (with Glenn Hall)|
|1971||All-Star (Second Team)|
|1978||Elected to the Hall of Fame|
Plante: Just Who Was That Masked Man?
In his time, Jacques Plante was called a lot of things, not all of them complimentary. Iconoclastic? Yes. Hypochondrical? At times. Idiosyncratic? Yes. Superstitious? Definitely. But, above all, Frere Jacques was a unique individual, a marvelous teacher, ahead of his time, and the man who quite literally changed the very face of hockey.
Source: Halligan, John. New York Times, March 16, 1986, section 5, p. 2.
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Associated Press (February 27, 1986).
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Halligan, John. "Plante: Just Who Was That Masked Man?" New York Times (March 16, 1986): Section 5, p. 2.
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"Jacques Plante Dies; All-Star Goaltender Played 18 Seasons." New York Times (February 28, 1986): A20.
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LeBrun, Pierre. "Plante the best goalie ever: That's the word according to a computer formula used by magazine." Gazette (December 3, 1999): E3.
Neff, Craig, and Robert Sullivan. "Jacques Plante: 1929 01D; Sports Illustrated (March 10, 1986): 10.
Perley, Warren. "Hockey great Plante dies of cancer at age 57." United Press International (February 27, 1986).
Zurkowsky, Herb. "The other man behind the mask; Bathgate shot at Plante and changed the face of hockey forever." Ottawa Citizen (April 25, 1993): C7.
"Joseph Jacques Omer 'Jake the Snake' Plante." http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~norrisdt/bio/plante.html (November 2, 2002).
"The Legends: Players: Jacques Plante: Biography." Legends of Hockey. http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/Legen … (November 2, 2002).
"The Legends: Players: Jacques Plante: Career Statistics." Legends of Hockey. http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/Legen … (November 2, 2002).
Sketch by A. Petruso