History of the National Hockey League/1942–1967/Rules and innovations/Goaltending

Goaltending edit

Jacques Plante's original fibreglass mask

Clint Benedict was the first goaltender to wear facial protection, donning it in 1930 to protect a broken nose. He quickly abandoned his mask as its design interfered with his vision. Twenty-nine years later, Jacques Plante made the goalie mask a permanent fixture in hockey. Plante began wearing a mask in practice in 1956 after twice suffering broken cheekbones on shots from his teammates during workouts. Montreal coach Toe Blake refused to allow Plante to wear his mask in games. That changed on November 1, 1959 when Plante was struck in the face early in a game at Madison Square Garden. As teams did not dress backup goaltenders during this time, the game was delayed 20 minutes while doctors frantically stitched Plante up. When Blake asked Plante if he was ready to return to play, Plante refused to return to the ice unless he was allowed to wear his mask. Blake was livid, but agreed only if Plante removed the mask when his face was healed. Wearing the mask, Plante led the Canadiens on an 18-game unbeaten streak. He finally removed the mask at Blake's urging and promptly lost the first game. Defeated, Blake relented. Plante's mask became a permanent fixture as he led the Canadiens to their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup. Other goalies followed Plante's lead soon after.

Despite not wearing a mask for most of his career, Terry Sawchuk played goal crouched down so low that his shoulders nearly touched his knees, a technique which became known as the "gorilla crouch". Sawchuk relied on his ability to see the puck under the players' bodies, his increased mobility and his own reflexes to win four Vezina Trophies during his career. By 1955, he was regarded as the greatest goaltender to ever play the game. Sawchuk's career was cut short when he died in 1970 from injuries suffered in a drunken incident with teammate Ron Stewart. The Hall of Fame waived its waiting period, immediately inducting Sawchuk, who died as the NHL's all-time record holder in wins (447) and shutouts (103). Sawchuk's style of play was a precursor to the modern butterfly style of goaltending.

The butterfly style, which is used by almost all modern goaltenders, was invented by Glenn Hall: considered both unique and foolish, Hall's style of dropping to his knees and kicking his pads out in a V formation forced shooters to aim for the top half of the net. Hall adopted the technique as a youth when he lacked the arm strength to stop shots with his stick. Hall, an eight-time All-Star, became an NHL regular at the start of the 1955–1956 season and began a sequence of 502 consecutive games as a goaltender for Detroit and Chicago, a record that has been hailed as one of the NHL's most unbreakable.