When one ponders all the possibilities that could be chosen as the pinnacle of Jacques Plante's brilliant career, it seems almost incredible that this Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame wouldn't choose one of the benchmarks of his sensational NHL career. An innovator, Plante is recognized for introducing the mask into regular use in professional hockey. Jacques was a member of the Montreal Canadiens' dynasty that won five consecutive Stanley Cup championships through the last half of the 1950's. A seven-time All-Star, Plante was also a seven-time Vezina Trophy winner and was 1962's most valuable player in the NHL. Yet, when Plante was asked to cite his career highlight, he chose an exhibition game.
|The Montreal Juniors, supplemented by Jacques Plante, faced the Soviets on December 15, 1975 as a precursor to an 8-game series the Russians would play against NHL competition. That night, the Juniors eked out a 2-1 victory. The legendary Vladislav Tretiak was in goal for the Russians at the opposite end of the ice from Plante.
On December 15, 1975, at the age of forty-seven and out of hockey for a year, Jacques Plante was chosen to play for the Montreal Juniors of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in an exhibition contest against the Soviet Union.
The Montreal Juniors had evolved from a team known as the Montreal Red, White and Blue the previous season and ended up having a decent campaign in 1975-76, winning 36, losing 29 and tying 7 for a third-place finish in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's West Division. Sparked by sniper Normand Dupont, who would score 69 goals that season, the team's most celebrated alumnus was Robert Picard, who went on to become a journeyman defenseman in the National Hockey League.
"I was never so nervous before a game in all my life," stated Plante, recalling that contest. "I've never had a feeling like I did before that game. There was a different atmosphere throughout the whole Forum. Everyone was edgy."
No junior team had ever beaten the Soviets. "I was shivering and shaking in the dressing room and didn't think I would make it to the goal," laughed Plante some years later. "I kept telling myself that I had no business being there; that I was out of hockey for a year and I had nothing to gain and everything to lose."
The well-played contest appeared as though it was going to end in a draw. "The game was tied 1-1 and we scored with twenty-nine seconds remaining," Plante remembered. "The Forum went wild and fans threw everything on the ice. After they cleared it all up, the Soviets fired three more good shots at me in the last twenty-nine seconds." Playing with the skill and confidence that earned him six Stanley Cup championships, seven Vezina Trophies and seven All-Star selections through his seventeen National Hockey League seasons, Jacques shut the door on the Soviets and earned his exuberant junior team a 2-1 win against a clearly frustrated Soviet squad.
To Jacques Plante, this single game was the highlight of his career telling for a man who refreshingly marched to the beat of his own drummer.
Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services.