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The Glenn Hall influence

Things in sports often seemed better in “the old days”, though athletes now are, as the media always says, bigger, stronger and faster than ever before.  Our memories tend to embellish the good stuff, I suppose, and that’s natural.  I certainly do it.  It’s part of that feeling of warmth and security that most of us enjoyed when we lived in our parents’ home and enjoyed simpler, often less stressful,  times.

One of the things, though, that I remember (and that I don’t think I am exaggerating…)  as a child following hockey is just how good the goalies were in the “Original Six” days.

How good were they, as Johnny Carson (or was it his sidekick, Ed McMahon?) might have said?

Remarkably,  Jacques Plante (primarily with Montreal), Gump Worsley (New York then Montreal), Glenn Hall (mostly Chicago), Terry Sawchuk (brilliant in Detroit, though he also played in Boston, Toronto, New York and LA) and Johnny Bower in Toronto all made it to the Hall-of-Fame.

Was the goaltending really that superb, or were the HOF selectors just picking guys because they had lasted a long time?  Would those guys still be considered great if they were playing today?

My sense is yes, they’d all be tremendous goalies today.  Times have changed, of course, and goaltending styles have changed, for sure.  Players skate faster and almost everyone can shoot hard- and quickly.  It’s tougher being a goalie now, in that sense, no question. The game is so fast-paced. When you watch games from 40 and 50 years ago, which I do, it’s obvious the game was much slower, and most players did not have booming shots.

But like all the other great players of those earlier generations, the olden day goaltenders would have benefited (if they were playing nowadays) from the improved equipment, protection and conditioning that is part of today’s game.

Each of the five goalies I mentioned above were tremendous competitors.  Given that, they would have adjusted and been great today, too.  The one guy that was a personal favorite, for a lot of reasons, though he played on a team I didn’t like, was Glenn Hall.

Hall was different than the other goalies of his time, as I recall. He was fairly tall, but not huge at 5-11.  But his acrobatic style, his athletic agility, made him stand out.

I remember Johnny Bower as the classic angles and stand-up goalie, a guy who rarely left his feet (though he certainly did when he would make his famous trademark "poke check" with his big goalie stick.  Plante was a stand-up goalie, too, especially in his later years, though I have memories of him being a guy who would get down low to peek through the traffic in front of him to see where the shots were coming from.  For example, check out the great old 1950s photo of Plante, at right.   That could almost be Felix Potvin.  (When he made his comeback and played in Toronto in the early 1970s, after a couple of seasons in St. Louis, Plante had a huge influence on Bernie Parent, who, as a classic stand-up goalie became a Hall-of-Famer with the Flyers.)  Plante was colorful and acrobatic, too.

I always thought of Worlsey as a bit of a flopper, a reflex guy.  He used to routinely get 40 shots a night when he was with the Rangers in the 1950s and early ‘60s.  (He came up with the famous quote, when asked one time by reporters which team in the NHL gave him the most trouble—he said, “ the Rangers” meaning, his own team….)

Sawchuk to me was a bit of everything.  Classic style, with great reflexes who also had some flair.  (Leaf fans of the era remember him as the guy who was the difference-maker when the Leafs won their last Cup in 1967.)

At their best, they were all fantastic.  But for me, Hall was the finest goalie I’ve ever seen, to this day, and that includes Roy, Brodeur, etc.

When you watch the old games now, to me, he looks like a lot of modern-day goalies with that drop-to-your knees style that everyone seems to be taught these days.  The theory over the past 15 or so years seems to be, cover the low part of the net, make the shooters beat you over the shoulders, up high—if they can.

But Hall was so quick.  He would back up, hit the ice in that inverted “v-shape” style.  Unique and unorthodox for his time, but again, I think he played a lot like goalies do today, with some subtle differences, of course.

Hall made one of best saves I’ve ever seen in the 1965 finals against the Canadiens in Montreal.  The puck was passed cross-ice across the crease to Dickie Duff, the ex-Leaf.  Hall was out of position because of the quick cross-crease pass.  Duff one-timed it pretty hard, right along the ice.  Hall actually caught the puck, trapped it really, as it flew along the ice, before it went over the goal line.

I had never seen that kind of save before, and  I’m not sure I’ve seen something exactly like it since.  My description doesn’t really do the save justice.

Hall of course is the only goalie in history to play 500 consecutive games, a record that will never be broken.

He won the Cup in 1961 with that really good young Black Hawk team with Hull, Mikita, Vasko, Nesterenko, Balfour, Pilote, Litzenberger, Wharram, Dollard St. Laurent, Bill Hay- all names that just fly off the top of my head.  They probably should have won more over the years.

Hall was just as outstanding in the early expansion years with St. Louis, backstopping the Blues to 3 consecutive appearances in the Cup finals.  Hall won the Vezina a few times (it was awarded in those days to the goalie with the best goals-against average, which I think is the Jennings Trophy now...), but I remember him mostly because he was different:  so quick, so stylish, so athletic. 

And a guy about 40 or 50 years ahead of his time, style-wise.

1 comment:

  1. To say nothing of the fact he used to barf in the dressing room before games to get ready. Now that's old school!