On today’s date in 1959, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante became the first National Hockey League (NHL) netminder to wear a protective face mask.
After missing 13 games in 1956 because of sinusitis, Plante began using a crude home-made fibreglass mask in practice. Canadiens head coach Toe Blake disapproved of the mark during games, but on Nov. 1, 1959, an Andy Bathgate shot broke his nose three minutes into a game against the New York Rangers.
Plante needed seven stitches to close the gash between his upper lip and left nostril.
“He had been struck in the face and it opened up a cut from the corner of his mouth all the way up through his nostril,” Red Fisher, a long-time NHL reporter for the Montreal Gazette, told NHL.com in 2012. “Try and imagine that – the pain that he was going through. I rushed down to the dressing room and there was Plante, looking in the mirror and separating the cut and looking at it. ‘Pretty ugly,’ he said to me.”
After a 21-minute delay, he returned to the ice wearing the practice mask, and while Blake was angry, the legendary goaltender refused to return to his net without the mask.
“When he came out with the mask, you could feel and hear the buzz of the crowd,” said Fisher, who reported on the game of hockey for nearly six decades before his death earlier this year.
The Canadiens eventually won the game 3-1.
Plante refused to discard the mask for future games, and Blake eventually relented as the team’s unbeaten streak stretched to 18 games.
When Plante took off the mask at Blake’s request in a game against Detroit on March 8, 1960, his team lost 3-0.
Plante went back to his mask the following night, and the Canadiens won their fifth straight Stanley Cup that year.
Beginning in 1955-56, Plante won the Vezina Trophy—and led the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup—for five consecutive years. He made eight all-star appearances altogether.
To mark the 50th NHL All-Star Game held in 2000 in Toronto, host city of the first official all-star game in 1947, Canada Post issued a six-stamp set celebrating former all-stars, including Plante.
Available as a six-stamp souvenir sheet with a souvenir folder, the same six-stamp souvenir sheet without a folder and on an official first-day cover, this domestic-rate release paid tribute to a tradition that reaches back to hockey’s early days.
In addition to Plante, the souvenir sheet featured an all-star lineup of Canadian hockey greats, including Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Doug Harvey and Bobby Orr.