COLUMN

Of pincushions and the No. 5 hole

Today's goalies reflect upon Glenn Hall's name as actors do Olivier's

Trent Frayne February 23 1981
COLUMN

Of pincushions and the No. 5 hole

Today's goalies reflect upon Glenn Hall's name as actors do Olivier's

Trent Frayne February 23 1981

Of pincushions and the No. 5 hole

Today's goalies reflect upon Glenn Hall's name as actors do Olivier's

COLUMN

Trent Frayne

No survey has been taken of the 66 hostages disguised as National Hockey League goaltenders this season, but chances are the poor wretches reflect upon Glenn Hall’s name as actors do Olivier’s.

The ice rinks are shooting galleries. Everybody is scoring goals. Portuguese fishermen should have nets so full. One night Edmonton—Edmonton\—beat the lords of Montreal 9-1. Another night the L.A. Kings lashed Detroit 11-4. Tony Esposito, the gallant Chicago defender, was carved 10-3 by some heartless foe. There has never been such scoring. At the rate they’re going, last season’s record total of 5,902 will be buried under an avalanche of 6,300. Next to extinct is the goalie who plays as many as 10 games without being dispatched from his padded cell for a little R and R. Indeed, they’re falling so fast that the league decided last week to allow three goaltenders to be available for the nightly shelling—thereby recalling the incomparable Glenn Hall.

Glenn played this game for 20 pro seasons, the last 16 of ’em in the NHL. A rest after 10 games? This guy played 502 consecutive and uninterrupted games in an unmatched feat of endurance that clouds the minds of today’s tottering corps. He started the season one autumn evening in 1955 in Detroit and nobody could get him out from between the pipes until a November night eight seasons later in Chicago when a back injury forced him to leave his cage. It was such a terrible injury that old Glenn played in only 66 of his team’s 70 games that winter and won the Vezina Trophy. Nine years ago he finally said the hell with it after 1,021 NHL games including 115 in the playoffs. By then he was 40 and had a gleaming record of 84 shutouts and six more in the playoffs.

But the nine years since Hall’s retirement have produced great changes, and perhaps nothing illustrates the point more quickly than the fact that the four goaltenders picked for last week’s allstar action in Los Angeles have career totals of 10 shutouts. Neither Mike Liut nor Don Beaupre, the starters, owned a shutout this season (Mike got two last year), and their replacements in L.A., Pete Peeters and Mario Lessard, own lifetime shutout figures of three and six.

Blanks have come hard anywhere you look just now. By the time play resumed

after the all-star business, there had been a mere 25 shutouts in 578 games (representing 1,156 opportunities since there’s a goaltender at each end) and only four NHL goalers had more than one since the endless season began way back last Oct. 9.

Several factors have turned the goalers into pincushions. For one thing, there are 21 teams, far too many for the number of seasoned players, and, accordingly, many games are shooting

...AND THREE HAIL MARYS TO THE MEMORY OF

MICHAEL

STRIMPS.

INVENTOR

drills. And with so many teams there’s small familiarity with one another’s style. Tiger Williams, Vancouver’s top scorer, summed it up: “When we practise, everybody plays east-west games, right? I mean, guys born in the East play guys born in the West, and we horse around, not creaming anybody, just tearing up and down having fun. Look, we didn’t play Calgary until Feb. 1, four months into the season. Who are those guys? We don’t know them, so there’s nobody to be mad at. So we go in there and it’s an east-west game, right?”

Chico Resch, nonstop talker and New York Islander goalie, has watched the game change from his cage. “It was much easier then than now because,

then, guys hit the top of the circle with their heads down and blasted away with the slap shot. Most forwards’ idea of being creative was to dump the puck in the instant they hit the red line. It was really a boring game.”

But teams learned; oh, how they learned. Teaching them by terrifying example were the stoics from beyond Siberia, the red-shirted Soviets who, beginning in 1972, demonstrated how the game could be played. Instead of shooting the puck in and scurrying hopefully after it in the NHL water bug fashion, the Russians attacked in threeand four-man waves, circling and coming on again. They didn’t shoot for the sake of shooting; they fired the puck when they had an opening, and only the player with the best vantage point whistled it.

Slowly, after years of scoffing, NHL coaches recognized there were virtues in the Soviet style. And now NHL teams, especially the Stanley Cup Islanders and the still wondrous Canadiens, are innovative attackers. And the slapper is becoming a memory, the big slapper, anyway. It is being succeeded by a snapper, the sort of quick, wristy sweep Mike Bossy has come along with to drive wild men wilder.

“Do you know about the five hole?” Chico Resch asks.

“The five hole?”

“Yes, the one between the ice and the goaltender’s knees.”

“No, that’s a new one.”

“When a shooter faces a goaler there are four obvious holes, the two upper corners and the two lower ones. A goaltender tries to be ready for a shot at one of these, but it’s impossible to stand with your legs together and still be able to kick at a shot to either low corner. So you sort of stand on the inside of your skates, your knees pressed, ready to kick either way. Are you with me?”

“I think so.”

“If your knees are pressed, if you’re ready to go either way, then there’s a slight opening developing between your ankles. That’s the fifth hole, and it’s the one Mike Bossy hit for his 50th goal against Ron Grahame of Quebec and his 54th against young Beaupre in Minnesota. I taught it to him, and the next time you hear somebody laugh, ‘Hey, the puck went right between the bum’s legs,’ you’ll know it’s the fifth hole and he’s not a bum so much as a victim of progress.” Hall escaped just in time.