Retro Rangers: Emile’s Glove Story

The equipment that goaltenders use has undergone quite a few style and design changes through the years. The pads and gloves are lighter and certainly more colorful than they were just a few decades ago. But the biggest changes occurred in the late 1940′s. Before then goalkeepers wore basically the same type of gloves as forwards and defensemen. But then Emile “The Cat” Francis came up with a better idea.

Emile didn’t like the catching glove that was being used at the time. So since he played a lot of baseball during the off season, he asked his trainer to take a first baseman’s mitt to the shoemaker and have him sew the cuff of a regular hockey glove onto it. And the rest as they say, is history.

I’ll let Emile tell the story:

“I used that glove for about a year and a half and nobody said anything. But we were playing in Detroit and King Clancy was the referee. In those days the game was at 8 o’clock and we were on the ice at 7:45 and you’d warm up for 15 minutes and then they’d start the game. So Jack Adams, the Detroit coach and general manager, and Clancy are pointing down at me. I’m thinking there’s no goal judge. But I look behind me and there’s a goal judge and I wonder what the hell are they pointing at.

So Clancy comes over and says, ‘Let me see that glove you’re wearing. What is this?’ So I said, ‘What do you mean what is this – it’s a glove. Clancy says, ‘You can’t use that’. ‘What do you mean I can’t use it.’ He says, ‘It’s too big.’ I say, ‘It’s a trapper mitt, George McQuinn Model, he played for the Yankees. I put a cuff on it.’ He says ‘Well you can’t use it.’ I said, ‘King, if I can’t use it you don’t have a game. He says ‘What are you talking about.’

I said, ‘That’s the only glove I’ve got. I’m not gonna use a players glove to play goal with. If I can’t use that I don’t play.’ So he asks me ‘Where are you going next?’ I said Montreal. He says ‘Good I’m gonna call Clarence Campbell. He can decide what you’re gonna do with that glove.’

So I had to go see Campbell and he had been a Colonel in the army and on the Nuremberg trials, he was questioning me like I was on trial for killing people. ‘Where did you get that glove, how much did you pay for it, who put that cuff on,’ He questioned me for an hour. He asked me, ‘Why did you want this kind of glove?’

I told him, ‘Look at the goalkeepers gloves, they’re stupid. They’ve got this little web between your thumb and forefinger so you’re catching everything in the palm of your hand, I won’t last two seasons playing goal with those kind of gloves. I need something to protect my hand.’

But what I didn’t tell him was that when I got that puck in that trapper mitt, it didn’t get out. I played baseball as a shortstop, but I knew that the trapper would hold the puck. Goalkeepers used to knock the puck down. Not me. With that first baseman’s mitt it stayed in there. The mistake I made was that two days after my meeting with Campbell, word got out and within 30 days CCM and Rawlings came out with trapper mitts designed after what I had done, I should have put a patent on it, but I never thought about it. I was just trying to prove my point because I was small and my glove hand was the biggest part of my game. I probably didn’t know what a patent was in those days.”

But Emile didn’t stop there. His next innovation was an early prototype of the blocker glove.

“Well here’s what happened. I went to the Chicago Black Hawks and we had a trainer by the name of Eddie Froelich and he’d been the trainer for the New York Yankees for 20 years all through the days of Joe McCarthy. When baseball season was over he’d come and work for the Black Hawks. So I got hit on my right wrist, which was the blocker side and they thought it was broken, but it wasn’t. I said to Eddie, ‘We have to get some protection on that right side.’ And so he came up with these pads that were like a sponge, three-quarters of an inch thick and he’d tape it on my glove.

“But I got hit a couple of more times and I told Eddie that the sponge won’t work. So we sat down and talked about it to see what we could come up with. We started with a half inch thick piece of felt the width of the glove and made inserts in it so we could strap it to the glove. So Eddie says that the best protection you could have would be to get the knee cap off a shin guard. So we got a knee cap off and he got a guy to sew it on the back of that felt. That’s what we came up with and I used that all the years that I played. Now it wasn’t nearly as good as what they have now but it was still better than what we had before. And the league didn’t give me any problems. I guess they figured after the first go around they better leave me alone.”

So there you have it. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but Emile Francis is indeed the father of the modern goaltender’s gloves.

I’ll have more from my interview with Emile Francis in future installments. Stay tuned.

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