ICE HOCKEY PLAYER, GOALTENDER
Joseph Jacques Plante, who was more commonly called Jacques Plante, or by his nickname of "Jake the Snake," was a professional ice hockey goaltender from 1947–1975. A solid journeyman goaltender, Plante is best remembered for his influence on the style of goaltending and most especially for his use of the facemask and protective gear to reduce facial and head injuries.
Like many of his generation who were born in the Canadian province of Quebec, Jacques Plante grew up playing hockey. Before he left high school his talent as a goaltender was considered of professional caliber, and after his graduation in 1947 he joined the Quebec Citadels of the Quebec Junior A League. He played for the Citadels and the Montreal Junior Canadians for two years. In 1949, he joined the Montreal Royals of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. He played for the Royals into the 1952–1953 season, when he joined the Montreal Canadians of the National Hockey League (NHL). With the exceptions of a few brief stints playing for the Buffalo Bisons in the American Hockey League, Plante remained with the Montreal NHL squad through the 1962–1963 season.
Prior to the 1963–1964 season, Plante was traded from Montreal to the New York Rangers. Then 34, he was judged by the Montreal coaching staff to be too old to be a reliable starting goalie. As well, his hockey skills had seemingly begun to diminish.
Indeed, the next two seasons with the Rangers proved to be difficult and his play was substandard. This prompted his retirement in 1965. The retirement proved to be short-lived, as the following year he was convinced to return to the NHL. He reported to the preseason training camp of the newly formed California Golden Seals. However, he left training camp early and retired once again.
Plante's second retirement was also short-lived. Two seasons later, he accepted an offer to join the St. Louis Blues. In the 1968–1969 NHL season, he shared goaltending duties with another veteran, Glenn Hall. Plante's play was splendid, and he and Hall led the Blues to the league finals. The goaltenders jointly received the Vezina Trophy that season, an award recognizing the best goaltending in the league.
After another solid season with the Blues, Plante was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, with whom he enjoyed two good seasons. In particular, during his first year with the team, he led the league in allowing an average of less than two goals per game.
Late in the 1972–1973 season, Plante was traded to the Boston Bruins. At the conclusion of the playoffs, he officially retired from the NHL, though not yet from professional hockey.
In 1974, Plante played one final season of competitive hockey, this time for the Edmonton Oilers of the newly formed World Hockey Association. At the season's conclusion, at the age of 45, he retired for the last time.
Plante's accomplishments as a goaltender were significant. For five consecutive seasons beginning in 1955, he won the Vezina Trophy. He was named to NHL All-Star teams in seven seasons, three of these as the starting All-Star goalie. These and other accomplishments as a player led to his admission to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.
As impressive as his play was, Plante's greatest impact on hockey came during the 1959–1960 season when, after being hit in the face by a shot, he donned a goalie mask. While he had been wearing the mask during team practices, the attitude of players and coaches at that time was that such protection had no part in a real game. By continuing to wear the mask in subsequent games, even despite the early disapproval of his coach, he convinced other goal-tenders to try out the protective face gear (which Plante designed for them).
Plante's continued use of the face mask changed the nature of hockey. Before then, wearing a protective mask was unheard of, and was considered to be unmanly. Players and coaches began to realize that protective gear could enhance the game, rather than detract from it after watching Plante in action. This change in attitude led to the acceptance of helmets as required playing gear.
Other goaltending innovations that Plante introduced included skating behind the net to retrieve the puck and initiate another play, and a stand-up style of hockey in which he would move out of the net as an opposing puck-carrier neared, making it more difficult for the player to shoot the puck into the net ("cutting down the angle"). Prior to Plante's career, goalies tended to stay within the zone of the goal and would sprawl on the ice to make a save.
Plante's innovations, which gave his teammates an offensive advantage, are now a standard part of hockey.
Jacques Plante died of stomach cancer at the age of 57. Posthumously, his Montreal Canadians jersey number was retired. As well, the award for the leading goaltender in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was renamed the Jacques Plante Trophy.