Mr. Goalie

Mr. Goalie, Glenn Hall, circa 1961 and the Chicago Blackhawks' last Stanley Cup win

Here's a timely one for you trivia buffs: What Hockey Hall of Famer won Cups for both the Flyers and the Blackhawks? Answer below.

Come to think of it, the answer to my admittedly trick question is above, in the title. "Mr. Goalie", Glenn Hall, led the Edmonton Flyers to two President's Cups (Western Hockey League champions) in the mid-50s, before graduating to the NHL where he won the Stanley Cup with the 1960-61 Chicago Blackhawks. His is a great story well worth telling.

Let's start right here in Edmonton, where Hall starred for three years. Those Flyers were the top farm club of the reigning NHL dynasty Detroit Red Wings, and were quite a powerhouse in their own right. Glenn Hall was a prime example of a talented player choked in the pipeline, held down by the presence of Terry Sawchuk on the parent club. In those days of the six-team league and the one-goalie system, getting a starting gig in the bigs was hella tough.

Glenn Hall played with some pretty famous hockey names in this city, especially on that awesome 1954-55 squad which duplicated the parent Red Wings by winning the Double, copping both regular season and playoff titles in their respective leagues. So a Double Double for the organization, an exceedingly rare feat matched (actually, doubled!) by the 1975-77 Montreal Canadiens/Nova Scotia Voyageurs. If you're old enough to remember how that organization loomed like a colossus over the game, it's not much of a stretch to see the 1955 Red Wings/Flyers in a similar light. The funny part is that the graduates of that Edmonton team probably did more for the Philadelphia Flyers than they did for the Red Wings. And for the Blackhawks, as we shall see.  

By then Glenn Hall was 23, a First Team All-Star, and probably too good for his league. Among his young teammates were fellow Hall of Famers Norm Ullman and John Bucyk. In fact the latter was getting his first go-round on a line with Bronco Horvath and Vic Stasiuk, later renowned as Boston's Uke Line. (Kinda figures they're all from around here.) It appeared that the Wings were locked and loaded for several more years of dominance. But the winds of change were blowing that year of my birth, 1955.

Philadelphia Flyers fans of a certain age will recognize up to five of the names on the, ahem, original Flyers, especially player-coach Bud Poile, whose own story is fascinating. In a sentence, Poile was a high-level hockey vagabond for six decades, played for five of the Original Six, spent several years as a player coach in various minor leagues including both the Oilers (Tulsa) and Edmonton (the Flyers, where he enjoyed his greatest success), morphed to full-time coach, became the first GM of the PFlyers, later oversaw the expansionist Vancouver Canucks before winding up his career in the upper echelons of the league offices of the World Hockey Association, the Central League, and finally the International League, ultimately getting elected to the HHoF as a builder. [deep breath]. Oh yeah, along the way he found time to father and presumably mentor David Poile, the current GM of the Nashville Predators that gave Chicago the most trouble of any 2010 playoff opponent to date.

Among the defencemen on the team was Keith Allen, who in 1967 would be Poile's first choice as PFlyers coach, and who would later succeed Poile as the team's GM, a post he would hold for a decade and a half. Allen would be the mastermind of the Broad Street Bullies and win two Stanley Cups in Philadelphia. Allen too is a member of the HHoF in the builder's category. Stasiuk would also serve a term as Philly coach, before being replaced by Fred Shero. Defender Larry Zeidel was an original Philly Flyer a dozen years later who became notorious for his stick fight with Eddie Shack, an incident that started the Flyers on the road to perdition. Young forward Gerry Melnyk never played in Philly but became perhaps the highest-regarded scout in the game, as the former Flyer scoured western Canadian bushes for future Flyers, famously Bobby Clarke who plays a major role in the Philly organization to this day.  

There are Edmonton-Edmonton connections as well. The club also included the first ever coach of the EdmontonAlberta Oilers, Ray Kinasewich, as well as the Oilers' own future superscout in Lorne Davis. Norm Ullman would bookend his own Hall of Fame career as a member of the WHA Oilers, devoid of speed but a masterful thinker of the game. Yet a sixth member of the 1955 Flyers who is in the Hall, Al Arbour would go on to win three Stanley Cups as a player and four more as a coach, the last of them against Edmonton. This was a minor league team in name only, stacked to the gills as it was with talent, experience, and smarts. 

"If there ever was a good reason for NHL expansion, that Edmonton team was it." 

-- Max McNab, 1954-55 WHL MVP with the New Westminster Royals, from The Fabulous Flyers by James Vantour

Unbelievably, "Trader" Jack Adams wound up squandering nearly all of that talent, much to the delight of his many mortal enemies as well as hockey fans in Chicago and Boston.

Who did Jack have but Harry Lumley,
no slouch in anyone's eyes, and then that other kid
they'd signed on a whim, what's-his-name Hall
he'd have to dump the pond hockey stance
but he was quick and called you sir.
Another pussycat, you'd have to think.

* * *

I don't need her clock to know the time.
I shift the arm again, but can't shake something
someone said last night -- "Hey that kid out there
in Edmonton, that gaping hole between his legs,
but man, he's got the corners covered.
Ukey Ukey watch your ass."

-- excerpts from Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems by Randall Maggs

Adams' first move was to make room for Hall,  who had impressed during two cups of coffee (8 GP, 6-1-1, 1.50) when he had been called up from the Flyers to fill in for an injured Terry Sawchuk. Adams decided he was ready, so traded off his perennial All-Star Sawchuk to the Bruins in a multi-player deal that also saw the departure of Stasiuk and Davis and returned little of note. Stasiuk scored 120 goals over the next five seasons, seventh in the NHL over that period and more than any Red Wing other than Gordie Howe; Adams essentially admitted his mistake(s) years later when he made separate, costly deals to retrieve Sawchuk (for Bucyk) and Stasiuk for the Red Wings. Meanwhile, in an unrelated bad trade that dreadful summer of '55, Adams was gifting Horvath to the New York Rangers, and he too would score over 100 goals the next five years ... none of them for Detroit.

Hall  was ensconced as Detroit's new #1 in that fall of '55, charged with replacing the man widely considered by observers of the day the greatest of his time if not all time. Glenn answered the bell in a big way, playing all 70 games, leading the league in shutouts with 12, winning the Calder Trophy, and being named to the second All-Star team. Still, the season ended in failure as Detroit fell out of first place for the first time in eight years, then lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the same Montreal Canadiens squad that Sawchuk had bested in Game Seven in the two previous years. I honestly don't think Hall or Sawchuk or Hasek for that matter could have made the difference -- this was The Changing Of The Guard -- but Hall's timing was lousy.

Glenn didn't dump the "pond hockey stance" but used it to great effect. His innovative inverted-V (or simply "V") style with his legs splayed to either post made him an early pioneer of the butterfly style of goaltending that dominates modern hockey. Shooters didn't know quite what to make of it when he broke in, and never seemed to solve the problem thereafter. Hall was as good as he was unorthodox.

One thing Hall wasn't, though, was a pussycat. After his great rookie season, he had to fight tooth and nail to get a measly $500 raise from his NHL-minimum $7500 rookie contract. Told by Adams not to tell anybody about the raise, Hall reportedly shot back with a classic rejoinder: "Don't worry, Mr. Adams, I won't. I'm ashamed of it too." Adams, a negotiating bully accustomed to having his way on contractual matters, had already alienated yet another of his star players, and the relationship proceeded south from there.

Hall had a strong sophomore year with the Wings, leading them back to first place while being promoted to the first All-Star team. But the Wings crashed and burned in a 5-game first round upset by Stasiuk and the Bruins, and just like that Adams had, I suspect, seen enough of Glenn Hall's five-hole, not to mention Glenn Hall's pie-hole. An impatient man even when winning, Adams pulled the plug on two extremely bad trades that cost the Red Wings two former Edmonton Flyers and future Hall of Famers. First he retrieved Sawchuk from Boston at the very high cost of Johnny Bucyk, which triggered the swap of Glenn Hall to Chicago along with Ted Lindsay for not very much. This was a vindictive trade to punish Lindsay for his involvement in the first players' association. Adams could have punished him a lot worse by not including an all-star goalie in the package, especially one that extracted a return that could charitably be described as minimal. An awful, awful trade. Two awful trades. Bucyk, Hall, both gone.

"I can suggest a couple reasons why I was traded. Number one is they didn't think I could play well enough to be good over the long haul. The other is that you should never tell your general manager to go fuck himself."

-- Hall, from Glenn Hall: The Man They Call Mr. Goalie by Tom Adrahtas

It wasn't an awful trade from Chicago's standpoint, that's for sure. The Hawks were perennial cellar dwellers when Hall arrived, having finished in last place 4 seasons in a row and 7 out of 8. In Hall's first year in Chicago, the Blackhawks shaved their GA by a third of a goal a game, went from 16 wins to 24, and stepped up to 5th place. Traded from a powerhouse to a doormat, Hall never missed a beat on his new team and was once again named to the first All-Star team.

Of course Chicago had other good things happening, as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote were also blossoming into stars. By the next year the Hawks were in the playoffs where they became a fixture for the next decade, most of which featured Glenn Hall between the pipes.

Indeed, Hall was a fixture in his own right, setting one of the most remarkable endurance records in the history of team sports. For more than seven seasons from the start of his career, Hall never missed a single minute of action (besides goalie pulls I suppose, which aren't recorded). He passed Georges Vezina's old record of 328 straight games midway in his 5th season and just carried on to 500 and beyond. The streak finally came to an end early in game # 503, ironically because he tweaked his back putting his gear on before the game rather than through anything that happened on the ice. The guy was bare-faced the whole time, but never once got knocked out of a game, let alone the next game.  

By this time Hall was popularly known in Chicago as "Mr. Goalie", in fact the Chicago Stadium public address announcer introduced him as such every game. At one point Clarence Campbell decided to crack down on that practice, and the standing joke of the day was that the PA dude didn't actually know Hall's real name and would wind up guessing wrong in front of 16,666 increasingly rabid fans.

Mr. Goalie was (and remains) famous for one other quirk, his practice of puking before every single game. He attributed it to a fear of bad performance and considered it a strength that he was able to bring himself to such an edge before each and every performance. Somehow it focused him for the task at hand. Did I mention that Hall was a goalie?

Hall celebrates his cup with Chicago.

Hall's greatest moments in Chicago would come in the spring of 1961. This was his sixth year in the league, and in his time no team but the Montreal Canadiens had won the Cup. After ruining his rookie season in Detroit, Jacques Plante and the Habs knocked Hall's Hawks out in the semis in both 1959 and 1960. When they again met in 1961 the team had matured while the Montreal dynasty was showing signs of age. The Hawks prevailed over the first place Habs in six hard-fought games, with Hall recording back-to-back shutouts in Games Five and Six to finally smite the dragon. After five consecutive Cup wins and ten (10!) straight trips to the Finals, the mighty Canadiens had finally been toppled.

Detroit had pulled a similar upset over Toronto in the other series, so like this year's Flyers in the conference finals, the Hawks found themselves as one of two surprise survivors, starting at home against a weaker opponent that they might have expected. With both Canadian teams out of the running for the first time in over a decade, it was a rare opportunity for an American-based squad to finish the job. If Hall needed any further incentive, the chance to beat Jack Adams surely did the trick. The Hawks won the series in six games, with Hall allowing just 12 goals in the process. The last game, a 5-1 blowout of the Wings right in the Detroit Olympia, had to be a sweet, sweet moment. Four seasons after he was sent to the NHL's dumping grounds, Glenn Hall had led the Blackhawks from the proverbial outhouse to penthouse. Jack Adams, meanwhile, was still on the outside looking in.

The next season the Hawks repeated their semi-final upset of the Canadiens, with Hall pitching another shutout in the clinching sixth game. This time, however, the rising power that was the Toronto Maple Leafs awaited, and the Leafs were able to defeat the defending champs in a spirited six-game series. The Stanley Cup headed back north of the border where it would remain for the next eight seasons. Chicago, it turned out, was one and done.

I started following hockey the next season, and the Hawks were always an exciting group to watch with their cast of All-Stars and their somewhat suspect team play. As a young wannabe netminder I was particularly fascinated by their charismatic goaltender with his unique V style, his capacity for making spectacular emergency saves, and by the sheer concentration that marked his unmasked features in times of high tension. Hall's face was (with exceptions) not directly involved in making the stop, but was every bit as fascinating to watch as that of a great musician focusing on his craft. It's an aspect that the modern game sorely misses, even as the concept of bare-faced goaltenders and bare-headed players seems both quaint and absurd. Some of the humanity of the game is almost beyond reach.

The Hawks were a perennial contender that somehow fired blanks in the playoffs, winning just one series in the five pre-expansion postseasons from 1963-67, making it to the Finals in '65 before losing in seven games to the Habs. In the 1966-67 season they finally broke through and won the Prince of Wales Trophy for finishing first overall, in the process breaking the 40-year-old Curse of Muldoon. But the playoffs brought more disappointment and failure, with a six-game first-round ouster at the hands of Terry Sawchuk and the Maple Leafs.

And with that Hall's career in Chicago was done. While he and Denis DeJordy had shared the Vezina Trophy (best GAA in those days) in that last season, at the expansion draft Chicago decided to protect the younger man. Hall was immediately snapped up by the St. Louis Blues, perhaps the key move that gave the Blues the edge among the six incoming teams. (Hiring Scotty Bowman as coach early in their first season was another.) Now 36, Mr. Goalie promply showed how much game he had left by carrying the Blues through the Western Division playoffs. Hall kicked off the first series with a 1-0 win in the Philadelphia Spectrum over Bernie Parent and the first-place Flyers, then sealed that series by winning another goaltender's duel on Philly ice in Game Seven. Another tense seven-game series against the Minnesota North Stars followed, with the Blues finally prevailing 2-1 in double overtime to become the first expansion team in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Across the hockey world there was mortal dread that the newcomers would be slaughtered by the old guard, represented (natch!) by the Montreal Canadiens. Instead, Hall's brilliant display of netminding became the story of a series which Montreal ultimately swept but in four one-goal games, two of which needed overtime. It was remarkably compelling hockey with a number of interesting storylines woven through it, but Hall generated the headlines and ultimately the Conn Smythe Trophy, presumably for saving his team and his league from the embarrassment many of us had feared.

"Well we won the Cup in late May [1973] and my son was born on the 28th of June, a month that was an exciting time for our family. First Stanley Cup as a coach ... we kidded around, and we named him Stanley Glenn, actually after Glenn Hall, our goalie in St. Louis, when I was there for the first four years of the Blues. I owe an awful lot of my coaching career to Glenn Hall, he was a fantastic goalie and a fantastic person, in fact he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as people can recall in the '68 playoffs. We never won a game in the Finals but he made it a series for us, he was just a wonderful goalie."

-- Scotty Bowman, on the naming of his son Stan, GM of today's Chicago Blackhawks (TSN interview, May 31)

Aww, isn't that sweet? Scotty Bowman is sentimental, who knew?

Glenn Hall receives the Edmonton Flyers team MVP award, 1955.

In 1968-69, Hall's old adversary Jacques Plante emerged from a three-year retirement to join the Blues. The pair of galtending greats enjoyed a fabulous renaissance season together, sharing a Vezina Trophy and leading the Blues to a Western Division title. Plante led the league in GAA, while Hall, still the apple of the media's eye, was named to the first All-Star team for the seventh time, still a record for a goalie. In all it was his 11th All-Star selection over the then-14 year span of his remarkable career.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, Hall finally donned a mask early in that first season with Plante. Not too happily, judging from his first game wearing the facial protection: beaten on the first shot, Mr. Goalie got ejected 2 minutes into the first period for beaking off the referee. Surely the only game of his career with a .000 Sv%! Somewhat ironically, Plante came in to finish up the game in the same building (MSG) where he himself had pioneered the modern goalie mask nine Novembers earlier, beating the Rangers by the same 3-1 score in both. An interesting detail from the linked summary is that the Blues actually used 3 netminders in this one, a rarely-seen but legal wrinkle back in the day. Gives an idea as to Bowman's advanced thinking on the management of his aging goalies: Plante relaxing in the press box while Robbie Irons caddies on the bench with no expectation of going in, but when the unexpected happens, Plante quickly dresses and takes over. A further sidenote is those 3 NHL minutes were all Robbie Irons ever got in a 14-year professional career - sandwiched between two of the all-time greats of his position.   

Hall and Plante led the Blues back to the SCF in each of 1969 and 1970, but were swept in each case by the Canadiens, then the Bruins. Both series were much less interesting than 1968; the gap between the established and expansionist clubs seemed to be growing if anything. Hall's last moment in the spotlight occurred when he was posterized by Bobby Orr in the high-flying goal that won the 1970 Cup in overtime. This time it would be Hall's old Edmonton Flyers teammate, Johnny Bucyk, receiving the Cup as the Bruins venerated captain. Bucyk would win a second Cup two years later, while Hall only ever got the one despite seven trips to the Finals. Meanwhile, Norm Ullman, the only EFlyer who delivered much of value to the Red Wings, never got a sniff of the chalice. What an opportunity wasted by Jack Adams.

After years of (pick one) threatening to retire / harvesting the crops / negotiating long distance / painting the barn / avoiding training camp, Hall finally did hang up the pads in 1971, the year I moved back to Edmonton. While I never got to see him in a live game, I did meet the man at an Edmonton Minor Hockey Association coaching clinic just a couple years later. Even the experienced coaches seemed in awe of the man with the famous face, and this 16-year-old wannabe assistant coach probably resembled a tongue-tied tot on Christmas Eve. But it took Glenn Hall about 45 seconds to put all of us completely at ease. A real gentleman, but no pussycat. Boy, did he have a couple of good stories.

* * *

Glenn Hall's legacy as one of the greatest ever to don the pads is secure. I hesitate to compare him or anyone across eras, but it's instructive to comp him with two of his contemporaries from the Golden Age of Goaltending, Jacques Plante and Terry Sawchuk.

Hall  Plante Sawchuk
GP 906 837 971
GAA 2.49 2.38 2.51
Pts% 0.545 0.615 0.562
Playoff GP 115 112 106
Playoff GAA 2.78 2.14 2.54
Playoff Win% 0.430 0.664 0.529
Stanley Cup 1 6 4
Conn Smythe 1 0 0
Hart 0 1 0
Vezina 3 7 4
Calder 1 0 1
First All-Star 7 3 3
Second All-Star 4 4 4
THN Top 100 rank 16 13 9

 

You can practically throw a blanket over all three of them. The experts of the day, primarily hockey writers, saw fit to award Hall with 16 individual honours, Plante 15, Sawchuk 12. Hall might have a slight edge in longevity and consistency, although it's close. On the other hand, his performance in the playoffs is the least impressive of the three, with just the one Cup and a significant drop-off in personal stats. All of which is deeply entangled in team effects of course, Hall never got to roll with a dynasty quite like the other two did, and I deeply doubt that is on him personally. The Hawks were missing a key element, and great goaltending wasn't it. Let's jam out and just say all three of them are the greatest goalies of the greatest goaltending era in history, each well worth writing about!

Of them all, Glenn Hall's story has the happiest ending, a full life and a retirement to a place he loves. He kept a foot in the game, and would win one last Stanley Cup while serving as goaltending coach of the Calgary Flames in 1989. Now 78, Hall is rooting for the Hawks to end the 49-year drought. In his own unique way, of course.

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