Jacques Plante's decision to don a mask changed the game forever. (THN Archives)
Fifty years ago Sunday, Andy Bathgate’s shot was heard around the world. More to the point, it was the rebound that resonated with the game of hockey.
On Nov. 1, 1959 at Madison Square Garden in New York, Bathgate took a backhand shot that hit goalie Jacques Plante in the face at 3:06 of the first period. He returned 21 minutes later wearing a mask, led his team to a 3-1 victory and changed the goaltending face of the game forever.
Here’s the question and answer exchange between reporters and Plante immediately after the game. These passages are gleaned from The Hockey News in the Nov. 14, 1959 issue. Legendary writer Stan Fischler was at the monumental event and wrote about it for THN.
Andy’s Blast Puts New Face On Plante
Q: “For a while it looked like you were hurt bad.”
A: “That’s why I made this mask. Here, feel it, that’s hard fiberglass. We tested it, hit the thing with a hammer and couldn’t break it. It’s molded to fit my face perfectly, see.”
Q: “Jake, doesn’t it bother you at all?”
A: “It doesn’t bother me…well, naturally, sometimes it gets a little uncomfortable, I was a little nauseous tonight. I think it can be improved, but I don’t know how.”
Q: “Do you think other goalies should wear masks?”
A: “I do. You have to realize that the game has improved so much, it’s become much tougher on goalies. They’re starting to realize it. Take (Terry) Sawchuk. He never used to wear a mask, now he uses it in practice. He says he could practise all day in a mask, that’s how much he likes it.”
Q: “Why didn’t you wear one sooner?”
A: “I asked the coach (Toe Blake) and he said the people wouldn’t go for it. I guess he figured if I wore the mask and played a bad game, the fans would say ‘That’s what did it.’ I think it’s just in the people’s mind.”
Q: “Would you have returned to the game if you didn’t have a mask?”
A: “I would have to, but I think I would have been nervous.”
Q: “You’re lucky Bathgate didn’t hit you with a forehand.”
A: “If he had, I’d be six feet under. The face of the goalie gets the worst beating of all in hockey.”
Q: “Did you play better after you put on the mask?”
A: “My stops were about average, some hard, some easy. I didn’t have a chance on the goal they scored. I split to stop Bathgate and (Camille) Henry hit the open net.”
Here’s how Fischler ended his news-making story:
His teammates were already in their street clothes, but Jacques still had his underwear on. He pushed back his wet, black hair, touched the large bloody bandages on his face with his index finger and headed for the shower. He must have congratulated himself on a job well done, for that is what it was. Plante had made history.
The reporters congratulated the class goaltender and departed.
And here was Gump Worsley’s post-game reaction as he watched history unfold from the other end of the ice:
“How the hell can a mask protect you when it’s flush against the face? They say you don’t get cut, just bruised when a puck hits the mask. Well, sometimes it’s better to get cut than bruised.
“My objection to the mask is that it’s not necessary. Why all of a sudden after hockey has been played for 70 years do they decide we should wear masks? Aww, don’t tell me the game has changed. Besides, you don’t see college goalies wearing masks and they’re a careful bunch. Do boxers wear masks?
“Plante may make a pot full ‘o money on that mask idea. He can have it, I don’t want the thing.”
Brian Costello is The Hockey News’s senior special editions editor and a regular contributor to THN.com. You can find his blog each weekend.
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