Some would state, and quite accurately, that Jacques Plante was the best goalie to ever play the game of hockey. Regardless, Plante received virtually every major trophy available to a goaltender, an innovator that revolutionized the position and will forever be a Hockey Hall of Fame legend.
Jacques Plante – Behind the Mask was penned by Raymond Plante in 2001 and is a comprehensive, detailed and exciting account of the life and hockey career of Jacques Plante. Behind the Mask, originally written in French is translated to 226 pages of English by Darcy Dunton.
Jacques Plante played professional hockey from 1952 to 1974. He is known amongst hockey fans as the goalie who led the Montreal Canadiens to five consecutive Stanley Cup victories in the 1950’s and the man who was the first goaltender to wear a facemask. During his NHL career, Jacques also played for the New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. Plante also played a season with the Edmonton Oilers of the World Hockey Association.
Behind the Mask tells how Plante desired from a young age to be not just an NHL goaltender but the keeper for the larger than life Montreal Canadiens. His boyhood hero was the Georges Vezina. As told in Behind the Mask, goalie was the only position Jacques could play:
(From page 14) When ice time was taken up by the school hockey team, Jacques would stand against the boards, his tuque pulled well down on his forehead and his goaltending equipment slung over his shoulder. Jacques Plante was never able to play any other position in hockey because his asthma prevented him from skating for any length of time.
The book not only brings to life Plante’s on-ice heroics but his fascinating life away from the rink. Jacques fought throughout his life with asthma, several times pushing his health dangerously close to the edge. It spells out to the hockey world his struggle with loneliness after being traded to the Rangers that eventually led to an early exit from the game. On a lighter note, it brings to the forefront his love of knitting, reading and writing as well as participating in alternate sporting activities like baseball and lacrosse.
Emphasized throughout the book was Plante’s role as an innovator in the game of hockey. Jacques was the first goaltender to roam from the goal in pursuit of the puck and, of course, he was the first to wear the mask. For most of his adult life, he was also the driving force behind the evolution of the goalie mask as it developed into what is found in rinks around the world today.
Jacques died of stomach cancer early in 1986 after a short battle at his retirement home in Switzerland. Anatoly Tarasov, coach of a Russian squad that travelled to Canada to play the Montreal Junior Canadiens in 1965, says it all about Jacques (Plante was obviously not a junior in 1965 but was allowed to play in the game):
(From page 150) “You want me to talk about Jacques Plante? We only knew him by name. Tonight, not only did we meet him, we felt his presence. I’d like to ask you to thank him – to say thank you to Jacques Plante on behalf of all of us. I am speechless when I see him play. I hope I can say that the Russian team deserved to meet such a goaltender. It was a great honour for us to play against him.”
Jacques Plante – Behind the Mask is the ultimate book not only for Jacques Plante and Montreal Canadiens fans but for all hockey fans. The book tells in vivid detail the story of one of the greatest players to play the game of hockey.