Sunday, 20 May 2012

TBC: Jacques Plante

While I've been traveling through the American midwest, I have found some time per day to squeeze in a little reading! And you thought I was just crashing after being a tourist all day! I love historical hockey pieces, and I must say that getting my hands on this book proved to be well-worth the opportunity. Teebz's Book Club is proud to present Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, written by Todd Denault and published by McClelland & Stewart Ltd. The story of Jacques Plante's life is one that seemingly didn't get a lot of coverage due to how closely Plante guarded his privacy, but Mr. Denault did a superb job in documenting Plante's exceptional life in this book.

From his bio on the McClelland and Stewart site, "A member of the Society for International Hockey Research, Todd Denault is a freelance writer who has had his work featured in numerous online and print publications. A graduate of Carleton University and Lakehead University, Todd resides in Cobourg, Ontario. This is his first book."

It is emphasized over and over in Mr. Denault's writing that Jacques Plante was a man who treasured his privacy, so the resulting book that detailed Mr. Plante's life is, itself, a treasure as well. Mr. Denault went above and beyond in digging up a lot of information on Mr. Plante's life, and Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey truly takes you along for the ride as we learn about the struggles and successes that Mr. Plante endured before he appeared in the NHL, during his 17-year NHL career, and after his career had ended. In short, Mr. Denault is exhaustive in his research on the man known as "Jake the snake", and the result is a fantastic read for any hockey fan.

We learn that Jacques Plante grew up listening to Montreal Canadiens games on the radio, and trying to emulate his idol, Canadiens goaltender Bill Durnan. Little did anyone know that Jacques Plante from Shawiningan Falls, Quebec would one day star in the same blue paint as his idol. Plante was so taken with the idea of emulating his idol that he won the starting goaltending position for the high school team... at age 12!

With his ability growing and word of his ability spreading, it wasn't long before he was playing for much better teams in Quebec. With this notoriety, the Leafs placed Jacques Plante on their negotiation list, entrenching Plante behind a number of talented goalies. Plante was approached by the Rangers in an effort to secure his rights, but Plante found himself on the Canadiens' negotiation list soon after. With the Leafs having a multitude of goaltenders ahead of Plante on their depth chart, they decided to abandon the claim on Plante, allowing the Canadiens to obtain his rights. With that, Jacques Plante found himself promoted to playing for the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League.

It wasn't long until Jacques Plante was called up to the Canadiens in place of the injured Bill Durnan and Gerry McNeil. Both men were succumbing to an injury that one doesn't normally see in goaltenders, but I'm not about to ruin Mr. Denault's work here. The injuries, however, would cause Durnan and McNeil to miss more and more time, and Plante's workload began to grow with the Canadiens. Perhaps more importantly, Plante showed that he wasn't about to miss the opportunity as he backstopped the Canadiens through the series against the Blackhawks in 1953. McNeil would return to the nets to help Montreal capture the Stanley Cup, but Jacques Plante showed that he was capable of standing in the Montreal net against any team.

Some of the more interesting things that we learn about Jacques Plante in Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey are that he loved to knit toques that he would wear on the ice in junior, he was notoriously frugal amongst his teammates, he was the first goaltending coach in NHL history, and that he was entirely devoted to goaltending. He was also a very independent man who wouldn't hold back when it came to defending what he believed in even if it meant bristling against management. Jacques Plante was, of course, the man who began wearing a mask despite Toe Blake's and Frank Selke's insistence that he should go bare-faced. His belief in the fiberglass mask were so strong that he bought and developed Fibrosport, a company that specialized in making goalie masks. While Terry Sawchuk was the second goaltender to adopt the mask full-time, do you know who was he second player in NHL history to wear a mask in a game? The answer is below.

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey also delves into his professional life after his days with the Canadiens. Plante was traded to the New York Rangers, but the team in New York was far inferior to what he had experienced with the Canadiens. After leaving the Rangers for retirement, Plante surfaced in St. Louis after Scotty Bowman had talked him into playing against the Russians in 1965. Bowman needed a goaltender with experience to play alongside Glenn Hall, and the two goaltending legends led St. Louis to two Stanley Cup Final appearances.

Plante's quirks led to him being made expendable again, and he was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1970. Plante worked with Bruce Gamble and, later, Bernie Parent to help the Leafs immensely. But he again changed addresses when the Boston Bruins acquired him in a trade in 1971 to help them for the playoffs. The acquisition of Plante didn't help as the Bruins were eliminated in the first round, but the Bruins had visions for Plante for the following season. Plante, however, decided to accept a head coaching job with the WHA's Quebec Nordiques, and his relationship with the Bruins' Harry Sinden went ice-cold in so much that his equipment that he used in Boston went missing when he asked for it back.

The experience with the Nordiques also went horribly as Quebec missed the playoffs again. While it was thought that Plante would be fired, he actually resigned his position with the Nordiques in order to become the goaltender with the Edmonton Oilers! Plante started out strong, but a freak injury while practicing with the Edmonton Oil Kings threw his season into disarray, and it all but ended his playing career.

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey is an excellent look at Jacques Plante and his incredible life. Mr. Denault has really done a superb job in collecting all sorts of data and information, and he presents this information in easy-to-read chapters. The book itself is 294 pages, but this book is essentially the only book one may ever need when searching for information on Jacques Plante. I can't stress how good this book is when it comes to chronicling Mr. Plante's life, and, because of this fact, Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey absolutely deserves the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

And if you're looking for the answer for the question above, the second man to wear a mask in an NHL game was the Boston Bruins' Don Simmons!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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