Jacques Plante was a professional ice hockey goaltender from Canada. He was regarded as one of the most prominent innovators in hockey during his career, which lasted from 1947 to 1975.
During the 1950s, he dominated the Vezina Trophy, winning five in a row and two more later in his career. Plante was at the center of one of the most powerful teams in NHL history, Montreal Canadians, winning five straight Stanley Cups in the same decade.
Plante retired in 1965 but was convinced to return to the NHL in 1968 to play for the expansion St. Louis Blues. In 1970, he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, then in 1973, he was traded to the Boston Bruins. In 1973–74, he joined the World Hockey Association as a coach and general manager of the Quebec Nordiques. In 1974–75, he played goal with the Edmonton Oilers, where he finished his professional career.
He was one of the first goaltenders to come out and support his defensemen by playing the puck. Plante, a student of the game, would take his own notes on the opponents he faced and would yell orders to his teammates during games. Such was his brilliance.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame three years after his retirement, and he was named one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players of All Time” in 2017.
Now, you don’t enter the list of 100 greatest NHL players of all time, if you were not ridiculously good. Plante was one of the best goaltenders to ever exist in the game, but his contribution to ice hockey stretches more than just that.
On November 1, 1959, Montreal Canadians were up against New York Rangers. Just 3 min in, Plante was injured when a puck off the stick of Andy Bathgate shot up and hit him in the face, breaking his nose.
He was escorted to the dressing room and he argued that he would not come onto the arena without wearing his homemade mask.
Now the coach at that time, Toe Blake allowed Plante to wear the mask during practice but he was hesitant to let Plante wear it during games. But the problem was there was no backup goalie in that game so he had to adhere to Plante’s request.
And that was the first time a goaltender in NFL wore anything protective on their face. Thus, the first protection gear in ice hockey came into existence.
Montreal Canadians won that game 3-1 and Plante would continue to wear the mask in the games ahead.
At first, Plante was laughed at when he wore the mask. He was pointed out to be a coward who lacked bravery, but in a season or two, the rest of the league followed. Almost every goaltender in the NFL had a protective gear on just like the one Plante wore.
The masks, in the beginning, started out compiled mostly of fiberglass – much the way Plante had created his – but quickly evolved as popularity grew.
A helmet and cage combination became popular in the 1970s. Because it was made completely of fiberglass and provided enough facial protection, that style quickly became the league standard.
Plante died in 1986 at age 57. After his retirement, he was lucky to see the evolution of his invention on some levels. But he would have been mesmerized to see how far his invention has come in the 21st century.
With the technologically sophisticated helmets that are in use today, Plante would have been a very proud man, to see his invention evolve to such a high.
Jacques Plante, not just the greatest NHL player of all time, but also a part-time inventor that every goaltender thereafter him, should be thankful for!