Guest article by Rob Levin.
Jacques Plante: the man who changed the face of hockey is author Todd Denault’s first book. As a goalie and as an avid reader, I can recommend this excellent biography of one of the game’s greats. Certainly it is a must have for anyone who wants to find out more about a man who is described by Ken Dryden:
“There are a lot of very good goalies, there are even a fair number of great goalies. But there aren’t many important goalies. And Jacques Plante was an important goalie.”
I became interested in Plante after the NHL Network’s recent celebration of the night Plante first donned the mask in an NHL game. I remember hearing many times that Plante had contributed a tremendous amount to the goaltending profession; however, I had no idea what those contributions were. I have always known that Plante was one of the best ever but didn’t really know why. The book gives you a clear understanding of how Plante revolutionized the game. The word revolutionize may be thrown around a bit carelessly at times, but in Plante’s case it is certainly apropos. Plante wasn’t simply the first NHL goaltender to wear a mask regularly (he wasn’t the first; that honor goes to Clint Benedict who wore it for the last 5 games of his career). Plante was the first goalie head off dump ins by leaving the net to stop the puck. He was the first to pass it up to teammates. He was also the first to talk to his defensemen about oncoming attackers and to tell them where to pass the puck. Denault not only explains what Plante did to change the game but also includes reactions from teammates, coaches, and others.
These interviews make it quite obvious that Denault spent a great deal of time and care researching Plante’s life – you’ll see quite a bit of detail in the book from interviews with Plante, Canadiens coach Toe Blake, and many others. I found that the depth of research and level of detail was exceptional, but not overwhelming. If there’s one area that left me wanting more it was in Plante’s personal life; though, Denault does gives a deep understanding of Plante as far as hockey is concerned. For example, I did not know that Plante was known for being extraordinarily cheap. He also spent quite a bit of time knitting while his teammates were drinking or playing cards together. We also learn that as a child he was incredibly poor, and for a large portion of his childhood he didn’t even have shoes. Where I would have appreciated more detail was his family life. Only about two sentences are devoted to his divorce, and only about 5 sentences tell us of his son’s suicide.
It’s a minor weakness in what is otherwise a very strong book. I also appreciate the insight into what hockey was like in Plante’s time. Being in my 30′s, I don’t have a clear picture of what the game was like in the 40′s, 50′s, or 60′s. I knew the Canadiens were good, but didn’t realize just how dominant they were. I also didn’t realize that Plante was traded several times and played in the WHA as well. Denault gives a clear understanding of what the league was like during that time and how players and coaches interacted with each other. You also see how the media treated Plante in the various cities he played, including his time before the NHL.
Overall, I enjoyed this book a great deal, and highly recommend it. Any hockey fan, and especially any goalie, will truly appreciate it.
Rob Levin wears a tuxedo jersey and is the Hockey Goalie Coach - hockeygoaliecoach.com
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
ISBN: 978-1-55199-334-8 (1-55199-334-1)
Pub Date: October 27, 2009