Best of the Books: Consecutive games played by a goalie

Brian Costello
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)
(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Bruce Bennett)

Maybe he’s being humble, maybe he’s tired of the same question for half a century. Glenn Hall is just so matter-of-fact when it comes to talking about hockey’s most untouchable record.

“You had to be lucky,” Hall understated. “You had to stay healthy.”

Make no mistake, Hall’s record of 502 consecutive games between the pipes for Detroit and Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s is an ironclad standard enveloped in kryptonite. Even Superman won’t come close to touching this mark.

It’s unusual for a skater to play that many consecutive games. For a goalie, it will never happen again. It would be a cover story in The Hockey News if any stopper made it to 10 percent of Hall’s record.

“Impossible,” said noted hockey historian Ernie Fitzsimmons, from the Society of International Hockey Research. “With all the travel and the improved shooting skills by even the weakest players, and the goalie interference,…that makes it impossible to go every game.”

Prior to NHL expansion in 1967, it was common for teams to rely on just one goalie. In more than a handful of cases, one goalie played the entire season without relief. But Hall did it for seven consecutive years until the morning of Nov. 7, 1962 when a pulled muscle in his back had him struggling to get out of bed.

“My back started bothering me a few days before,” recalled Hall, a retired rancher living in Stony Plain, Alta. “I started a (Nov. 4) game and figured the adrenaline would carry me through as it had in the past. This time, it would not.”

Chicago carried a 1-0 lead into the third period of that game against Detroit, but all was not right with Hall. He gave up three goals on seven shots and the Red Wings won 3-1. It was painful for Hall to bend over to untie his skates.

The Hawks recalled Denis DeJordy in case Hall wasn’t ready for the Nov. 7 game. The streak ended at 502 games and 49 years later that number is synonymous with the Hall of Fame stopper, even if it doesn’t register with Hall.

“It’s just a number,” said Hall, now 82. “It doesn’t mean that much. Just something that happened. Playing in the NHL was the most important thing that happened to me. That was my highlight.”

At one point during Hall’s run, he almost walked away from the streak and the game itself.

“The GM at the time (Chicago’s Tommy Ivan) issued an edict that we would get a $100 fine for, what did he call it, indifferent play,” Hall said. “I got it once for not playing to my full extent. The GM said, ‘If you don’t like the fine, quit.’ So I contemplated that. I really, really did. I went back to my wife and we talked about it. The problem was, I didn’t know how to do anything else. The only thing I knew how to do is play goalie. So I paid the ransom and continued to play. That was the closest I came to stopping the streak.”

There was another close call during the incredible run when Hall had a reaction to a penicillin shot. He said his eyes swelled up to the point he could barely see through two thin slits, but he played anyway.

Hall calls the streak “lucky,” but perhaps it had something to do with his notorious pre-game ritual of vomiting prior to leaving the dressing room. It was his way of psyching himself up for a difficult task at hand. Hugging the porcelain just seemed to work.

“It was a case of playing well – I played well when I threw up before games,” Hall said. “If I was just whistling relaxed, I was horseshit, so I forced myself and said this is everything, you’ve got to play well, you’ve got to play well.”

So what was the ritual, Glenn? Spoon or fingers down your throat?

“No, no, no, you can do it mentally and I’d have a glass of water and go and do it,” he said. “I could do it right now if you wanted.”

Take a break, Glenn. You’ve earned it.

This is an excerpt from THN’s 2011 book, Hockey’s Most Amazing Records.