Rabid Habs

Habs History: Vol. 3 – The Man Behind The Mask

Jacques Plante Photo - canadiens.nhl.com

It’s hard to imagine a goalie suiting up in the NHL, facing 100 mph slapshots without any head or face protection at all, but as we all know there once was a time where that was indeed the case.

However, as in every aspect of life, things change. November 1, 1959 was the night that saw that change take place, and the face of hockey would get a permanent makeover, literally. On that night in Madison Square Garden Habs goalie Jacques Plante took a booming slapshot to the face from Rangers forward Andy Bathgate, shattering his nose.

After receiving stitches in his face that made him look like something directly out of a horror film, Plante agreed to finish the game, but on one condition – he be allowed to wear the cream coloured mask which he had been wearing in practice since 1955.

Looking like Jason Voorhees (who by the way was 21 years away from making his debut on the big screen), Plante backstopped the Habs to a 4-1 victory against the New York Rangers. As a matter of fact, after debuting the mask, Plante went on to lead the Habs on an 11-game winning streak, and eventually to a Stanley Cup title.

Although Plante’s mask drew mixed criticism and was the inspiration for many a wisecrack, it soon became the norm, and eventually mandatory.

As the oldest of 11 children growing up in Shawinigan during The Depression, Plante was no stranger to being innovative, because in those days you had to be in order to survive. Even if people knew it or not, Plante debuting a mask in a game really shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. Simply put, that was Plante in a nutshell.

In the following years, Plante, who created all of his own masks, would make several models not only for himself, but for fellow players as well, constantly improving the quality. Even though Plante will always be remembered mostly for the mask, it’s far from the only thing that defined his career.

Just look at the goaltending style he displayed in the net.  A free ranging style that became even more so after he started wearing a bullet proof vest on his face, so to speak. Look at his stats and Stanley Cup titles. It’s safe to say that Jacques Plante will be forever immortalized not only for changing the standard of hockey equipment and safety, but also for his numerous accomplishments where the action took place. On the ice. And rightfully so.

Follow me on Twitter @HabsGuru82.