Jacques Plante played 398 games in the NHL over seven long bare-faced years before he donned his famous mask after a wicked shot from Andy Bathgate cut him on the Sunday night of November 1, 1959. Born in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, on a Thursday of today’s date in 1929, Montreal’s goaltending great had suffered head traumas before that, along with nearly every other goaltender who braved the ice in the NHL’s agonizing early decades. Masks would have made sense throughout that time, of course, but the prevailing wisdom among the hockey cognoscenti (including Plante’s coach, Toe Blake) was that masks interfered with a goaltender’s view of things, showed weakness, not worth the trouble.
A maskless Plante was felled, above, for instance, in Boston in a Stanley Cup final game in April of 1957, when Vic Stasiuk crashed into him, or clipped him with his stick, or shot the puck in his face (contemporary accounts vary). He recovered that night, and finished the game.
In November of 1954, Plante didn’t start the game he was supposed to, which was at the Forum, against the Chicago Black Hawks. The image below shows the aftermath of a nasty friendly-fire incident in the pre-game warm-up when teammate Bert Olmstead caught him with a high shot. “Plante went down like a log,” Baz O’Meara reported in the Montreal Star, “with a scream strangling in his throat. His outcries could be heard as high as the standing room section, before they were stilled by a surge of unconsciousness.”
Called in as Plante’s emergency replacement was Andre Binette, 20 years old, a practice goaltender for the Canadiens and the QHL Montreal Royals. In his one-and-only NHL game, Binette helped Montreal down the Black Hawks by a score of 7-4.
At Montreal’s Western Hospital, Plante was found to have a fractured right cheekbone. In his absence, Binette would cede the net to Claude Evans and Charlie Hodge. He was back in the Montreal net in a matter of weeks, unmasked, stopping 29 shots in his mid-December return to help his team beat Gump Worsley and the New York Rangers 5-1.
“Plante came back brilliantly, had to make some nomadic rushes out of the net to save goal,” O’Meara reported, “did so with the fancy flourishes which have been his hallmark all through his career. … Plante showed no ill effects from his recent accident, gave a distinguished display.”