While more than SO other goaltenders have come and gone, Chicago's Mr. Goalie has played almost 500 consecutive NHL games. At the start of nearly all of them he was sick with nervous tension; at the end of one of them he had two black eyes and 23 fresh stitches in his upper lip. Here is what Hall's got that the others haven't
ONCE, THE GOALKEEPER'S job was (he old folks' home of hockey, a peaceful, gainful retreat where men like Tiny Thompson, Davie Kerr and Lorne Chabot played on and on and on. They collected a bruise here and a lump there, but in an era of close-checking forwards and bone-displacing defensemen, theirs was an occupation of infrequent, tranquil turnover.
Then came the rules changes that turned the rinks into the shooting galleries they are today, and the goalkeeper soon became the most vulnerable man in the game, an emotional as well as a physical victim of the speed-up. In these days of seething rush-hour traffic in the goalmouth, of screened shots and five-man power plays and seventy-game schedules, it’s the rare bird who holds up even for a single season without a vacation to rest an aching back, a gaping cut or a tortured mind. Three years ago, sixteen goalies paraded into the padded cells of the six NHL teams. In the six seasons-plus since the autumn of 1955, thirtyfive have been employed, and the number would be greater by at least a half-dozen were it not for the presence of a frantic and fraillooking acrobat named Glenn Hall, known fondly in Chicago, where he tends goal for the world champion Black Hawks, as Mr. Goalie.
Unless Hall was hauled to the infirmary as the ink dried on these pages, he has played his 485th consecutive game in what must be regarded as one of the most precarious of earth-bound endeavors. Nobody has been killed fending off pucks, but the record speaks for its hazards. Of the thirty-five goalkeepers who’ve served since Hall came to stay in the NHL in that autumn of 1955, only four other men have endured even one full season. Gump Worsley did it for New York in 1955-56; AÍ Rollins for Chicago in 1956-57; Terry Sawchuk for Detroit in 1957-58; and Ed Chadwick for Toronto in 1956-57 and again in 1957-58. Chadwick apparently found the ordeal so enervating he subsequently lost his job
to Johnny Bower and others, and slipped off to the minors.
It’s one of the oddities of this curious trade, however, that while its physical and mental rigors appear to make it a young man’s game, the evidence indicates that the early years are the most difficult. The survivors of the formidable turnover of the last half-dozen years all are in their thirties, and Johnny Bower, Toronto’s current Vezina Trophy holder, often is described as thirty-seven going on fortyseven.
16,000 FANATICS AND ONE SICK GOALIE
Terry Sawchuk, Gump Worsley and Jacques Plante, all of whom are thirty-two, have each missed as much as half a season through injury or jumping nerves, but no one has been able to replace them permanently.
No one has had a chance to replace Hall, even temporarily, a point made more remarkable by the fact he appears far less robust than any of his contemporaries. He has added weight since he stopped smoking three years ago but in his early years in the NHL, with Detroit, he was rail lean at 153 pounds on a lanky frame. Even now, at a mature thirty, and twenty pounds heavier, he still appears drawn, with a sallow complexion and thinning hair. His expression is usually one of anguish, reflecting both the external tension of his occupation and the inner turmoil that makes it a rare game when he isn’t sick to his stomach in the dressing room. The trainer keeps a pot of tea there to help calm this ironic, iron man.
And Hall is the game’s iron man. No other current player is even close to his consecutivegames record. If he makes it to the night of Jan. 17 next, when the Montreal Canadiens visit the Chicago Stadium, he’ll have become the third player in hockey history to play 500 big-league games, including playoffs, without a break, and the first ever to spend them all on the ice. His predecessors both were left-
wingers who rested during line changes. One, Murray Murdoch, the game’s original iron man, played 563 games in a row for the New York Rangers between 1926 and 1937. The other, Johnny Wilson, toiled in relative obscurity for Detroit, Chicago and Toronto from 1952 to I960 in running up 580 league games and fifty-one playoff games for a 631-game total without interruption.
Among goalkeepers, there’s nothing approaching this kind of endurance, and no one close to Hall, either. Even Jacques Plante, a five-time Vezina Trophy winner, has never played a full season, although he missed by only one game two years ago.
But, while others have cracked or have been cracked, Hall has survived through a combination of determination, luck and, perhaps the most important ingredient, downright devotion to his trade. “You hear a lot of talk about playing your game for nothing,” Hall says, “and I honestly think it’s true. I make my living doing this, so the money’s important, both as a matter of pride and necessity. But if 1 happened to be in some other line of work I’d be out playing on the neighborhood rinks every week end. A lot of guys do that, you know, who never became pros. They just love to play hockey.”
Rudy Pilous, the big black-browed volatile coach of the Hawks, explains Hall’s dedication another way: “Hell, Glenn knows his value to this club, but he’s not the type to go around talking about it. He worries about the team. And he is great for us. He never blames anybody when things go badly for him. We got stoned a couple of times in Toronto, something like fifteen goals in two games, and the Canadiens walloped us once, seven to one, and you know that in games like that the goalkeeper isn’t getting much help. But he didn’t beef, and players’ reaction was to go out and work harder for him the next time.”
Tension gets to Hall more in some games
than others, usually depending on their importance to the Hawks. Pilous recalls a night last season when the Canadiens came into the Chicago Stadium on a Sunday night, attracting more than 16,000 fanatics, screaming from the galleries, and occasionally littering the ice. The dressing rooms at the Stadium are down a flight of stairs behind one of the goals. After a play stoppage for the litter-clearing detail, Pilous recalls scanning the ice just as the game was about to resume.
"1 happened to glance over my shoulder towards our goal,” he says, “and it was empty! 1 didn’t know what in thunder . . . and then Glenn came clomping up the stairs behind our net, and calmly took up his position.” Hall, feeling an attack of nausea, had taken advantage of the stoppage to go below decks.
In the late stages of most games, when fatigue begins to set in, Hall talks to himself, endeavoring to convince himself that he’s not tired.
THE IRON MAN’S DISTINCTIVE STYLE
Even his style, a sapping discord of violent leaps and flops, seems unsuited for endurance. He works from a crouch, with his legs spread wide in an inverted V, and he has developed a unique technique of closing the gap between them. He presses his knees tightly together as he goes down until his skates are almost touching the two goalposts and his knees are jammed to the ice. He does this when he can’t find the puck, as on screened shots or in pile-ups, reasoning that his padded legs can guard against
unseen shots skimming the ice, while his left hand is ready to catch a rising shot and his stick-hand to deflect one. He can spring himself quickly to his feet by pressing the edges of his skates into the ice, and when the action grows hectic he leaps up and down as though in the hands of a tipsy puppeteer.
“1 developed the V through trial and error.” says Hall. "Too many shots were going through my legs. When 1 can't see the puck. 1 figure 1 can cover more of the net this way."
Of course, unseen shots have been the downfall of many a goalkeeper, inflicting injury sufficiently serious to interrupt anybody’s employment. In this respect, Hall has been exceedingly lucky and while he admits being proud of the iron-man label he knows that one shot could end his string.
“Eve a lot of respect for that puck,” he says. “Ed rather it missed me than hit me.”
He’s been hit often enough. His right cheek carries an inch-long scar, another scar curls past a nostril, and his upper lip bears a permanent memento of the closest he ever came to missing a game. He acquired it in the semifinal of a Stanley Cup playoff in 1957 between Boston and Detroit. It was his second season with the Red Wings (he’d been named rookieof-the-year one season earlier) and he had been picked on the All Star team as the league’s top goalkeeper (he’s been named twice since, and was second to Toronto’s Johnny Bower last year). But in the opening game against Boston in 1957 he was dealt an awful blow by Vic Stasiuk. Stasiuk, cutting towards
the goal, let go a powerful, rising shot. Hall braced to stop it just as a player whirled in front of him, blocking his view for a split second. The puck crashed against his mouth and Hall went down, unconscious.
He was carried to the infirmary and stretched on a table as a doctor bent to examine his swelling, bleeding mouth. When he came to. his eyes were blackening. Touching his lip tenderly, he scowled at the doctor.
"How many'll it take, doc?" he groaned.
"It'll take a few. Em afraid." said the doctor “You really caught one.”
"Well, let's get it over with."
They were talking about stitches.
It was almost half an hour before Hall could climb to his feet. He had twenty-three stitches in his mouth, which was frightfully swollen and bruised, but he put on his big mitts, picked up his stick, and clomped unsteadily to the door. The huge crowd in the Detroit Olympia roared its astonished approval as he took a few long lobbed shots from teammates to adjust himself, and then he finished the game.
Hall says he’d like to buy a cattle farm for his retirement. But that may take a while, since the record clearly shows that modern goalkeeping is a job for mature men only. Two years younger than the beleaguered but persistent regulars, Jacques Plante. Terry Sawchuk and Gump Worsley. and uncounted years removed from the Toronto Methuselah, John Bower. Hall, at 500 games, may just be getting under way. ★
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