“Original Six” Goaltenders…Part Two
Why did Wings GM Jack Adams trade Sawchuk away in the first place? It was to bring up Glenn “Mr Goalie” Hall from their farm team in Edmonton. Another Saskatchewan-born Original Six goaltender, Hall was the first of the controversial “Butterfly” netminders.
Glenn Hall had height going for him. He would get down to his knees and wrap a skate around each post to guard the low shots. Meanwhile, his quick hands would take care of the high shots. This position also gave him a great vantage point for seeing through all the legs in front of him. It was a style that many of the “old school” coaches deplored. They wanted the stand-up goalies. I know because I went through it when I played in the early 1970s. Sometimes I flopped. Sometimes I stood up. Like Sawchuk, Hall won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie, which he did in 1956 with 12 shutouts and a 2.10 GAA. He was also voted a Second Team All-Star.
After another season in Detroit (as a First Team All-Star), he and his fellow First Team All-Star teammate Ted Lindsay were dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks for their “mutinous” role in supporting a Players’ Association in 1957. In Chicago, Hall was a First Team All-Star again. The Blackhawks, who used to be the doormat of the league, suddenly improved by leaps and bounds. Players such as Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and Bobby Hull entered the scene and Chicago won the Stanley in 1961, with Hall’s goaltending a major factor in the outcome.
Hall is famous for his record 502 consecutive games played, which he did over a span of 8 seasons, all in his barefaced days of the Original Six. It was a back injury in 1962 that eventually sidelined him. Hall hated training camp and he hated practice. When sharpshooters Mikita and Hull would wind up, he’d just skate away from the net. He wasn’t about to get in the way of any 100 miles per hour missiles. Hall nervousness before games is well documented. All through his career, he would throw up before games and sometimes in between, including stoppages of play. The team staff used to keep a pail on the bench for such a purpose. Can you imagine sitting beside it?
In the first year of expansion, with the St. Louis Blues, he was the Conn Smythe Award winner in the playoffs, although the Canadiens beat the Blues in four straight games to take the Stanley Cup. No one argued the decision. In his last year, 1969-70, he finally threw on a mask. Hall finished his outstanding career with 84 shutouts and 7 First Team All-Star selections, still a record for goaltenders. On The Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, he’s down at #16.
As if you haven’t heard enough about Saskatchewan-born goaltenders, here’s another one…six-foot-2 Al Rollins came from Vanguard, Saskatchewan. Without a doubt, he was the most underrated goaltender of the Original Six era. As Toronto Maple Leaf property, he first appeared in the limelight as one of the goalies ready to take over from Turk Broda, should he not lose the weight that Conn Smythe wanted him to lose in the “Battle of the Bulge” publicity stunt mentioned in Part One.
Nevertheless, Rollins stuck around Toronto and along with Broda helped the Leafs win a Stanley Cup in 1951, compliments of Bill Barilko’s famous OT goal in Game 5 against the Habs. Rollins also won the Vezina that year with a 1.77 GAA in 40 games played. With the job all to himself upon Broda’s retirement, Rollins had one more very decent year, then was dealt to the Blackhawks in the same deal that sent goalie Harry Lumley to the Leafs.
In 1952-53, his first year in the Windy City, Rollins’ outstanding goaltending led the Hawks to their first playoff appearance in 7 seasons. He averaged a shocking 38 shots a night, but still managed to maintain an excellent 2.50 GAA, and finished a close second to Gordie Howe in the Hart Trophy voting. Rollins quickly became a fan favorite for his bravery beyond comprehension. The next year, the Hawks were back to the basement, winning only 12 games, and Rollins’ GAA climbed to 3.23. However, his play was still brilliant that Rollins took the Hart Trophy this time around, despite the fact that he was left off the First and the Second All-Star team! Figure that one out! Who did the voting back then, anyway?
After 5 years defending the Chicago nets and only one playoff appearance, it was plain to see that Rollins could not make the team any better all by his lonesome. So, it was the old story of the team moving in another direction. So, Rollins was sent down to the minors, and returned later to the NHL with the New York Rangers for 10 games in 1959-60. His short, but sweet NHL career was over after 9 seasons. He’s not in the Hall of Fame, but should be.
They called him “Apple Cheeks” for his rosy complexion. As a Red Wing, Lumley played his first NHL game in 1943 at the tender age of 17. In his 2 NHL games that year with Detroit, he rendered a not-so-great 13 goals. At the end of the year, Detroit loaned him to the New York Rangers for one game in December. By 1950, he was a well-established goaltending veteran who helped the Wings win a Stanley Cup, while compiling a 2.35 GAA with 7 shutouts, and 1.85 GAA in the playoffs with 3 shutouts. How was he rewarded? A week after celebrating with his teammates, Wings GM Jack Adams traded him to the pathetic Chicago Blackhawks in a 9-player deal. Why? Adams had Terry Sawchuk waiting in the wings--no pun intended.
Pelted with pucks for 2 seasons in Chicago, he was mercifully traded to Toronto where he spent the next 4 years making the team respectable following their downslide after the 1951 Stanley Cup year. With the rebuilding Leafs, he played even better than he did in Detroit. His best season was 1953-54, where he was a First Team All-Star. He also won the Vezina with a 1.86 GAA and he established a post-war record of 13 shutouts, which Chicago’s Tony Esposito broke in 1969-70 with 15 shutouts.
His fast times in Toronto were short-lived. The problem was the Leafs couldn’t score if their life depended on it. So, with no Stanley Cups, they traded him back to Chicago. However, Lumley wanted no part of another Chicago stint facing at least 40 pucks a night. He refused to report, and instead signed with the minor league AHL Buffalo Bisons where he played parts of 2 seasons. Still Chicago property, though, they eventually sent him to Boston for cash. After 3 seasons in Boston intermingled with some games in the minors, he retired in 1961 at the age of 34 while toiling for the Winnipeg Warriors of the Western Hockey League.
All told, Lumley played for 5 of the 6 Original Six NHL teams. Every team except Montreal. His 78 shutouts in regular season and playoffs combined and 2.75 GAA in regular season play and 2.49 in the playoffs helped to propel him into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980.
Three minutes into the game on the night of 1 November 1959 at Madison Square Garden, New York Rangers forward Andy Bathgate unloaded a backhanded shot that ripped into Plante’s face. Seven stitches later in the trainer’s room, Plante told coach Toe Blake that he would not go back out unless he could wear the same fiberglass mask that he had been using all season in practice. Plante wasn’t kidding. Up to that point in his career, he had sustained 200 stitches, a broken jaw, and 2 broken cheekbones. Frowning, Blake gave in. He had no other choice. Plante was the only goalie dressed.
Montreal won 3-1, the first of an 11-game unbeaten streak with the mask on. Combined with the 7-game unbeaten streak prior to the game against the Rangers, the Habs stayed unbeaten for 18 games. Montreal eventually won the Stanley Cup that season, their last of 5 in a row. Every one of those years, Plante won the Vezina Trophy. He won two more Vezinas after that. One by himself with Montreal 2 years later and his last, which he shared with Glenn Hall in St. Louis, in 1968-69.
Plante was a cocky, confident individual blessed with quick reflexes. He was a stand-up goalie who quite often came out beyond his crease to cut down the angles. He was a superb puck handler and a roamer, the first since Chuck Rayner. He was also an innovator. When the opposition would step over center ice and fire the puck around the boards, Plante would stop it for his defense. He was the first goalie to raise his arm on an icing call to let his defensemen know what was happening. On occasions when the puck was between Plante and an opposition player who was hoping for a clear-cut breakaway, Plante would skate out and merely fall on the puck. No one had seen a goalie who played this way. Like Johnny Bower, he could also pokecheck.
In 1963, Plante found himself traded to the New York Rangers in a deal that sent Gump Worsley to Montreal. With the pitiful Ranger defense in front of him, Plante didn’t fare well. After a stint in the minors, he retired in 1965. Then, in the second year of expansion, he made a stunning comeback with the St Louis Blues where he and Glenn Hall teamed up. Traded to the Maple Leafs after 2 great seasons in St Louis, Plante helped in the development of Bernie Parent, a goalie who had a lot of potential but no real direction. Under Plante’s wing, Parent turned his career around and went on to take 2 Conn Smythe awards in his 2 Stanley Cup winning years with the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers.
Without Plante, Parent would not be the Hall of Famer he is today. One thing that I distinctly remember about Parent in Philly was how he was an exact copy of Plante’s stand-up style. I mean exact, right down to his stance at faceoffs inside his blueline. It was a stance where one leg came out to the side, instead of the pads snug together. Funny, it was a stance that I adopted too in my junior days. It felt comfortable. I wish I would have had Plante as a goalie coach to learn a few more things.
Plante also played with the Boston Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA, before retiring in 1975. He finished his star-studded career with 82 NHL shutouts and a stingy 2.38 GAA in 837 games. In the playoffs, he had an even better 2.14 GAA with 14 shutouts.
There’s 3 other notable Original Six goaltenders to mention. The first is Don Simmons, the southpaw who first came up to the NHL with the Boston Bruins in 1956. Five seasons later, he was traded to Toronto for fellow-goalie Ed Chadwick. With the Leafs, he played rather decently on 3 consecutive Stanley Cup winners as the back-up to Johnny Bower.
Acrobatic Roger Crozier was another southpaw. His 14-year career spanned 3 years prior to expansion, in which he played his best hockey as a Detroit Red Wing. I have to chuckle because he used to make every save look so difficult, even the dribblers. But he was good, despite his stomach ulcers brought on by his stressful vocation. He was the Calder Cup Rookie-of-the-Year in 1965, and the Conn Smythe Award winner a year later for his brilliant play in a 6-game Stanley Cup loss to the Montreal Canadiens. He later went on to some excellent years with the Buffalo Sabres. It’s a wonder he too isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
We can’t forget Hall of Famer Eddie Giacomin, the epitome of roamers. It seemed to me he was out of his net more than he was in it. But he was fast. Like a deer on skates. In his 13 years of NHL play, only 2 were spent prior to expansion, with 1966-67 being his best, a season he shutout the opposition 9 times, his all-time seasonal high, and took the New York Rangers to the playoffs for the first time in 5 years.
There’s the cream of the crop, the best of the best (and some even better) in Original Six goaltenders. A bygone era that many fans still hold dear to their hearts. But, oh, playing without a mask? Yikes!