There have been excellent biographies written on his
contemporaries, Terry Sawchuck and Glen Hall, but until now, no outside look at
the hockey life of Jacques Plante.
Fifty years after he first donned the mask
in NHL play, forever transforming the game of hockey and almost a
quarter-century after his death, Jacques
Plante – The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, author Todd Denault’s first
foray between hard covers, remedies the situation. Long on facts and short on
author opinion, it offers as complete a look as one can hope to get at one of
the most enigmatic and important men in hockey history.
Linking excerpts from some of the best previously
published hockey volumes, archival news copy and interviews with a number of
men who played with and against Plante Denault moves the story forward, from Plante’s days as a schoolboy goaltender in Shawinigan, Quebec, where,
since his family could not afford a radio, young Jacques climbed atop furniture
in his room to make out the sounds of the upstairs neighbour’s set, listening
intently as his hero, Bill Durnan, defended the Canadiens net, through a career
that came to eclipse that of his idol and onto his post-playing days.
Along the way, often excerpting passages from the
goaltenders’ ghost-written 1972 autobiography, Denault reviews the familiar
parts of the Plante legend, how he earned a half-dollar a game as a teenaged
netminder on a Shawinigan industrial league team, knit his own headgear and
undies and lobbied for months to have coach Toe Blake sanction his wearing of
facial protection, barely tolerated during practice, in game action before an
Andy Bathgate wrist shot ended the debate. He also covers the Vezina Trophies,
Hart Trophy, All-Star mentions and Stanley Cup triumphs but beyond simply
looking at the glory years, also establishes the historical context in which
Plante, in many ways more loyal to the position he played than to the colors he
wore while performing his duties, managed to make his way to the top of the
heap and stay there for almost two decades.
Denault also brings back to the surface, a few less
savoury facts, among them that Bathgate’s shot was an intentional one and that
Plante once, after trying out small doses for a couple games, publicly credited
amphetamines with improving his focus and consequently his performances in nets.
Jacques Plante –
The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey covers Plante’s
formative and glory years with Montreal as well as his increasingly nomadic
existence after leaving the Rangers. It shows the latter-day Plante as a man in
many ways increasingly concerned more about personal achievement than team
success, whispers that he picked his spots, playing primarily in games against the weaker opponents
and often subjected his teammates to undesired advice on how to play their
While only Bernie Parent seems to cite the Shawinigan
native as a personal mentor, Plante, endlessly analytical and always willing to
share the fruits of his meditations on the game, did become the NHL’s first
goaltending coach when he joined the Flyers in the 1970s. By then his
oft-stated desire to see NHL teams carry a second goalie had been common
practice for several seasons.
A meticulously researched, richly annotated and clearly
presented biography that can be read in a single sitting, Jacques Plante – The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, would be a
valuable addition to any hockey fan’s bookshelf and a is a volume that stands
alongside such impressive biographies as Douglas Hunter’s examination of Tim
Horton’s life and Bill Brown’s biography of Doug Harvey.
Plante – The Man Who Changed The Face of Hockey
date – October 31, 2009
in the US