Joseph Jacques Omer "Jake the Snake" Plante - Born January 17, 1929 in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec – Died February 27, 1986 in Geneva, Switzerland was a Canadian ice Hockey goaltender and coach.
Plante began to play Hockey, skateless and with a tennis ball, using a goaltender's Hockey stick his father had carved from a tree root. When he was five years old, Plante fell off a ladder and broke his hand. The fracture failed to heal properly and affected his playing style during his early Hockey career; he underwent successful corrective surgery as an adult.
As his playing progressed, Jacques received his first regulation goaltender's stick for Christmas of 1936. His father made Plante's first pads by stuffing potato sacks and reinforcing them with wooden panels. As a child, Plante played Hockey outdoors in the bitterly cold Quebec winters. His mother taught him how to knit his own tuques to protect him from the cold. Plante continued knitting and embroidering throughout his life and wore his hand-knitted tuques while playing and practicing until entering the National Hockey League / NHL.
Plante's first foray into organized Hockey came at age 12. He was watching his school's team practice, when the coach ordered the goaltender off the ice after a heated argument over his play, and Plante asked to replace him. The coach permitted him to play since there was no other available goaltender; it was quickly apparent that Plante could hold his own, despite the other players being many years older than he was. He impressed the coach and stayed on as the team's number one goaltender.
Two years later, Plante was playing for five different teams - the local factory team, and teams in the midget, juvenile, junior and intermediate categories. Plante decided to demand a salary from the factory team's coach after his father told him that the other players were being paid because they were company employees. The coach paid Plante 50 cents per game to retain him and maintain the team's popularity. Afterwards, Plante began to receive various offers from other teams; he was offered $80 per week—a considerable sum in those days—to play for a team in England, and a similar offer to play for the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League. Plante passed them up because his parents wanted him to finish high school. He graduated with top honours in 1947. Upon graduation, he took a job as a clerk in a Shawinigan factory. A few weeks later, the Quebec Citadelles offered Plante $85 per week to play for them; he accepted, marking the beginning of his professional career.
Jacques joined the Quebec Citadelles in 1947. It was while playing for the Citadelles that Plante started to play the puck outside his crease. He developed this technique when he recognized that the team's defense was performing poorly. Fans found Plante's unconventional playing style to be exciting, but it angered his managers. They believed that a goaltender should stay in net and let his players recover the puck Plante had come to the conclusion that as long as he was in control of the puck, the opponents could not shoot it at him - this is now standard practice for goaltenders. The same season, the Citadelles beat the Montreal Junior Canadiens in the league finals, with Plante being named most valuable player on his team. The Montreal Canadiens' general manager, Frank J. Selke, became interested in acquiring Plante as a member of the team. In 1948, Plante received an invitation to the Canadiens' training camp. On August 17, 1949, Selke offered Plante a contract with the Canadiens' organization. Plante played for Montreal's affiliate Royal Montreal Hockey Club / Montreal Royals, earning $4,500 for the season, and an extra $500 for practicing with the Canadiens.
A four-year apprenticeship with the Montreal Royals in Quebec Senior Hockey League and two years with the Buffalo Bisons of the American Hockey League, Plante quickly emerged as Montreal's goalie of the future.
In October 1952, Plante was called up to play for the Canadiens. Bill Durnan, the goaltender who played for Montreal when Plante first began, had retired, and Gerry McNeil, their top goaltender had fractured his jaw. Plante made his NHL debut on November 1, 1952 vs the New York Rangers at the Montreal Forum in a 4-1 victory. He played for three games, but in that short time, he generated controversy. Coach Dick Irvin, Sr. did not wish his players to stand out by any addition to their regular uniforms. Plante always wore one of his tuques while playing Hockey, and after an argument with Irvin, all of Plante's tuques had vanished from the Montreal locker room. Even without his good luck charm, Plante gave up only four goals in the three games he played, 2 wins and a tie.
Plante returned to play for the Montreal Royals and the American Hockey League / AHL Buffalo Bisons for the remainder of the regular season, but returned to play for the Canadiens in the 1953 playoffs against the Chicago Black Hawks. He won his first playoff game on April 4th with a shutout (3-0) at Chicago Stadium. He was back in net on Aril 7th for another victory, and Montreal's regular goalie Gerry McNeil was in net for the other 2 victories, as Montreal won the series.
Plante started in net for Montreal vs the Boston Bruins in the final, winning the first game (4-2) on April 9th at Montreal Forum, losing game two 4-1. McNeil then played the next three games, winning all three, including a 1-0 OT victory for the 1953 Stanley Cup championship. Plante's name was engraved on the Stanley Cup for the first time.
By the end of the 1953–54 NHL season, Plante was well-entrenched within the NHL. In the spring of 1954, he underwent surgery to correct his left hand, which he had broken in his childhood. He could not move the hand well enough to catch high shots and compensated by using the rest of his body. The operation was successful.
On February 12, 1954, Plante was called up to the Canadiens and established himself as their starting goaltender - he did not return to the minor leagues for many years. Plante was the Canadiens' number one goaltender at the beginning of the 1954–55 NHL season.
For the 1955–56 season, Plante was the unchallenged starting goaltender of the Canadiens; Gerry McNeil had not played the previous season and was sent to the Montreal Royals. Charlie Hodge, Plante's backup the previous season, was sent to a Canadiens' farm team in Seattle. Later that season, Montreal won the Stanley Cup—the first of what would be five consecutive Stanley Cup championship seasons, and five consecutive Vezina Trophy wins, records that have yet to be equaled.
The next season, Plante missed most of November because of chronic bronchitis, a consequence of the asthma that had affected him since childhood. During the 1957–58 NHL season, the Canadiens won their third straight Stanley Cup despite injuries to Plante and other members of the team. Plante's asthma was getting worse. He sustained a concussion with just a few weeks left in the season and missed three games of the playoffs. In the sixth game of the Stanley Cup finals, Plante's asthma was making him dizzy, and he was having difficulty concentrating; he collapsed at the end of the game after teammate Doug Harvey scored the series-winning goal. The Canadiens went on to win the Stanley Cup again at the close of the 1958–59 season.
During the 1959–60 NHL season, Plante wore a goaltender mask for the first time in a regular season game. Although Plante had used his mask in practice since 1956 after missing 13 games because of sinusitis, head coach Toe Blake did not permit him to wear it during regulation play. However, on November 1, 1959, Plante's nose was broken when he was hit by a shot fired by Andy Bathgate three minutes into a game against the New York Rangers, and he was taken to the dressing room for stitches. When he returned, he was wearing the crude home-made goaltender mask that he had been using in practices. Blake was livid, but he had no other goaltender to call upon and Plante refused to return to the goal unless he wore the mask. Blake agreed on the condition that Plante discard the mask when the cut healed. The Canadiens won the game 3–1. During the following days Plante refused to discard the mask, and as the Canadiens continued to win, Blake was less vocal about it. The unbeaten streak stretched to 18 games. Plante did not wear the mask, at Blake's request, against Detroit on March 8, 1960; the Canadiens lost 3–0, and the mask returned for good the next night. That year the Canadiens won their fifth straight Stanley Cup, which was Plante's last.
Plante subsequently designed his own and other goaltenders' masks. He was not the first NHL goaltender known to wear a face mask. Montreal Maroons' Clint Benedict wore a crude leather version in 1929 to protect a broken nose, but Plante introduced the mask as everyday equipment, and it is now mandatory equipment for goaltenders.
Plante and Toe Blake never really saw eye to eye. That was probably because Blake, like many of the media, fans and Hockey people of the day, was a traditionalist, and Jacques was revolutionizing the game. Many of today's goaltending techniques are attributable directly to Plante.
Plante was a pioneer of the style of play for goaltenders as well. While there had been other goalies before him who periodically came out of their crease to play the puck, he was the first to skate in behind the net to stop the puck for his defensemen. He also was the first to raise his arm on an icing call to let his defensemen know what was happening on the ice, and he perfected a stand-up style of goaltending that emphasized positional play, cutting down the angles and staying square to the shooter. He also kept extensive notes on opposing players and teams throughout his career.
Plante's book, On Goaltending, was the first of its kind and solidified his place in the game as not just a great stopper but a man who truly understood Hockey and wanted to have an influence on how the game would be played in the future. The book was published in 1972 in English, with the French edition (entitled Devant le filet) published in 1973. In his book, Plante outlined a program of goaltender development that included off-ice exercises, choice of equipment, styles of play, and game-day preparation. He also advised on best coaching methods for both young and advanced goaltenders. His book remained popular with coaches and players and was reprinted in both French and English in 1997, 25 years after it was first published.
Hampered by terrible pain in his left knee during the 1960–61 NHL season, Plante was sent down to the minor league Montreal Royals. Torn cartilage was found in his knee, and the knee was surgically repaired during the summer of 1961. The next season Plante became only the fourth goaltender to win the Hart Memorial Trophy - he also won the Vezina Trophy for the sixth time. The 1962–63 season was unsettling for Plante. His asthma had worsened, and he missed most of the early season. His relationship with his coach, Toe Blake, continued to deteriorate because of Plante's persistent health problems. Later, Plante was at the center of a major controversy when he claimed that net sizes in the NHL were not uniform, thus giving a statistical advantage to goaltenders playing for the Chicago Black Hawks, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers. His claim was later confirmed as the result of a manufacturing error.
After the Canadiens were eliminated for the third straight year in the first playoff round during the spring of 1963, there was mounting pressure for change from their fans and media. Growing tension between Plante and Blake because of Plante's inconsistent work ethic and demeanor caused Blake to declare that for the 1963–64 season either he or Plante must go. On June 4, 1963, Plante was traded to the New York Rangers, with Phil Goyette and Don Marshall in exchange for Gump Worsley, Dave Balon, Leon Rochefort, and Len Ronson. Plante played for the Rangers for one full season and part of a second. He retired in 1965 while playing for the minor-league Baltimore Clippers of the American Hockey League. His wife was ill at the time, and he required surgery on his right knee.
Upon retirement, Plante took a job with Molson as a sales representative but remained active in the NHL. In 1965, Scotty Bowman asked Plante to play for the Montreal Jr. Canadiens in a game against the Soviet National Team on December 15, 1965. Honoured to represent his country, Plante agreed, and after receiving permission from both the Rangers (who owned his rights) and Molson, he began practicing. The Canadiens won 2–1 with 2 goals in the 3rd period, and Plante was named first star of the game.
According to most statistical sources, Plante was inactive from competitive Hockey in his three year retirement, but Jean Beliveau stated otherwise in his autobiography My Life In Hockey. He claims Plante played for the Quebec Aces during that time, which obviously would have kept his skills sharp.
At the beginning of the 1967–68 NHL season, Plante received a call from his ex-teammate Bert Olmstead seeking some help coaching the expansion Oakland Seals. Plante coached mainly by example, and after the three-week training camp, he also played an exhibition game with the Seals, but he was ordered to leave training camp once it was decided that the Rangers still owned his NHL rights.
Rumours swirled that Plante was planning a comeback.
In June 1968, Plante was drafted by the St. Louis Blues and signed for $35,000 for the 1968–69 season. In his first season with the Blues, Plante split the goaltending duties with Glenn Hall. He won the Vezina Trophy that season for the seventh time, surpassing Bill Durnan's record. While playing for the Blues in the 1969–70 playoffs against the Boston Bruins, a shot fired by Fred Stanfield and redirected by Phil Esposito hit Plante in the forehead, knocking him out and breaking his fibreglass mask. The first thing Plante said after he regained consciousness at the hospital was that the mask saved his life. That game proved to be his last for the Blues, and he was traded in the summer of 1970 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Plante led the NHL with the lowest goals against average (GAA) during his first season with the Maple Leafs. At season's end, he was named to the NHL's second All-Star team, his seventh such honour. He continued to play for the Maple Leafs until he was traded to the Boston Bruins late in the 1972–73 season, recording a shutout against the Chicago Black Hawks in his debut for the Bruins. He played eight regular season and two playoff games for the Bruins to finish that season, his last in the NHL.
Plante once was asked if goaltending was a stressful job.
"Stressful?" he replied. "Do you know a lot of jobs where every time you make a mistake, a red light goes off over your head and 15,000 people start booing?"
Plante accepted a $10 million, 10-year contract to become coach and general manager of the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association in 1973. He was highly dissatisfied with his and the team's performance and resigned at the end of the 1973–74 season. Coming out of retirement once more, Plante played 31 games for the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in the 1974–75 season. Plante retired during the Oilers' training camp in 1975–76 after receiving news that his youngest son had died.
Plante made his debut in the broadcasting booth during his first retirement in the 1960s as a colour commentator for broadcasts of Quebec Junior League games alongside Danny Gallivan of Hockey Night in Canada fame. Radio Canada, the French language branch of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, brought Plante aboard as on-air analyst for its television broadcasts of the 1972 Summit Series between the national team of the Soviet Union and a Canadian team made up of professional players from the NHL. Plante was one of the few North American analysts who dissented from the widely held belief in the superiority of the Canadian team.
- Stanley Cup Champion 1953, 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 with Montreal Canadiens
- Vezina Trophy Winner 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1969.
- Hart Memorial Trophy 1962.
- NHL First All-Star Team 1956, 1959, 1962.
Played in NHL All-Star Games 1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1969, 1970.
Jacques Plante's jersey, #1, was retired in 1995 by the Montreal Canadiens.
Jacques Plante was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978.
Jacques Plante was inducted into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.
Jacques Plante was inducted into the Quebec Sports Pantheon in 1994
Jacques Plante was inducted into the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Jacques Plante Memorial Trophy was established in his honor as an award to the top goaltender in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The Jacques Plante Trophy was established in Switzerland after Plante's death; it is given out annually to the top Swiss goaltender.
The main arena in Shawinigan, the town he grew up in, was renamed to Aréna Jacques Plante.