Plante’s 50th sparks memories

jacques_plante

The courageous innovator-Jacques Plante

Stu Hackel has a great piece on Jacques Plante and the evolution of the goalie mask in his ‘Morning Skate” blog on NYTimes.com. This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of Plante becoming the first National Hockey League goalie to wear a full face mask.

Plante was still playing when I was growing up, and he was one of my earliest heroes. His wandering style, combined with his courage to don the mask when the establishment was telling him not to, made him a larger than life character.

After reading this G4S entry, post a comment about your favorite Jacques Plante memory and how he’s changed the game of hockey.

04-Jacques-Plante-Mask

The Mask that changed the game of hockey

He was an original in so many ways, including his practice of knitting toques while sitting in the dressing room.

It was such a different era. So I think this is the perfect occasion to offer up a special Guest Post from someone who experienced that era from a unique perspective.

The image of Plante knitting is recalled by Heather Shaw (nee Adair) who, in response to the G4S recent post on How Small is your World,  writes this piece about how her late husband Len Shaw played an integral part in the Montreal sports scene of the early 50’s.

(My note: the late Len Shaw is the only player to be named captain of both the McGill University football and hockey teams. He attended McGill after playing a season with the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League when he was just 18 – at the time the youngest player ever to be in the league)

Guest Post – by Heather Shaw

Watching Len play hockey when he was at McGill was scary to me. He was a powerful, aggressive defenceman, just as he had been when playing Junior hockey with the Quebec Citadelles. At that time he roomed with Jacques Plante (and found out that he really did knit)! And he was traded for the rising star Jean Beliveau. (Neither I, nor our five children, believed him when he used to tell us that story. Fortunately, when we read about Len in Jean Beliveau’s  “My Life in Hockey”, we were finally convinced!)

There was a great rivalry with the University of Montreal Carabins at the time. They and McGill really hated each other. They especially hated Len, and through all the games their fans yelled “Shoo Shaw, Shoo Shaw.” It drove me crazy so at one game I punched the guy beside me on the back. When he turned around to retaliate he pulled back because I was female! But honestly – usually I was very polite! I still have trouble believing that I did that!!

Len was an extremely talented athlete and had spent virtually all of his time from the age 15 playing any sport that he could find. He was a qualified lifeguard, a Golden Glove boxer, and played hockey, football, and lacrosse.

He also worked in his spare time at the Eddy Match Company in Hull. Academics were very much in second place in his life, although he attended well-known St. Pat’s school in Ottawa. Len’s two brothers were also talented athletes and the three Shaw boys’ athletic reputations preceded them.

So it was not easy for Len to leave the Ottawa life behind, as he worried about whether he could handle the academics and was concerned about parting from his brothers.

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Len Shaw (right of photo) with coach Vic Obeck

It was football coach Vic Obeck who recruited Len to enroll at McGIll. I believe that Vic had considerable trouble convincing Len to make the move. Had it not been for the convincing arguments made by his good friend Rocky Robillard, who was an outstanding member of both the Redmen hockey and football teams, Len probably would not have made it. He was stunned by the amount of publicity generated by his arrival at McGill, as it was certainly not what he expected.

Things were very different at McGill in those days – more than half a century ago. It’s hard for some to believe, but 20-thousand people would attend football games at Moslon Stadium. Hockey games were played at the Forum, and I can remember a game with 10,000 people there (though that was definitely not the norm)!  And the media, especially The Montreal Star and The Gazette, covered every game in detail.

So things proceeded far better than Len ever thought they would. He even discovered that he was a good student, winning the Dr. Lamb scholarship in his 3rd. year, which led to him entering medical school (in Ottawa)  after he graduated from Phys Ed.

Len was a success on the football field, on the ice, and on the track. He had relatively few injuries, but one in his 2nd year was catastrophic. On the first play of the first exhibition game against Sarnia, he suffered a separated shoulder and was taken to the hospital. Doctors said he would probably lose the whole year (though he did get back before it was done). But worse than the injury was a severe allergy to penicillin he developed, which kept him in the hospital for a few weeks. Would you believe the coincidence that I was already having knee surgery  in the hospital across the street from where he was admitted. In those days, it was a weeklong stay for knees, and then you were on crutches for weeks! And I was sure I was going to lose him to one of the many girls visiting him!

As fate would have it, I didn’t lose him, but I did lose my year. That bumped me back into Len’s year, which I guess paid off for me! Also, when I went back to school, I was asked to be Co-Director of the first ever Water Show at McGill, an event that spawned a fine reputation and tradition. I was and still am a swimming advocate. Now, after having had a stroke and a broken hip, I swim every day – it’s the only thing I can do well. You can be sure that every one of our five children and seven grandchildren are good swimmers – thanks to Gramma.

In 4th year, Len was elected Captain of both the hockey and football teams. It was a great honour. Neither team had been especially good, nor particularly bad. With Vic as Coach of the football team, the players had a strong rapport with each other. So did the hockey players under coach Rocky Robillard.

One of my fondest memories is of a visit Len and I had with Vic’s family. Our baby, Lyn, was just a few weeks old and Vic’s son was about 4 years old. We had a lovely dinner but Vic’s son upset his parents by insisting that his very dirty and ragged Teddy Bear participate in the meal. Apparently they had been trying to get rid of Bear with no luck. After dinner Lyn started to cry and when the little guy found out that it was because she was hungry, he felt sorry for her and presented her with Bear!  It was so cute that we kept it for a long time and the Obecks were very happy that the Teddy Bear was gone.

After he graduated with a high average, Len was drafted by the Ottawa Rough Riders, the team he had played for before going to McGill. That created an interesting dilemma. He was still playing hockey with the Citadelles and on some weekends he played a hockey game on Friday night in Quebec, took a train overnight to Ottawa, and played a football game on Saturday afternoon!  (Not many planes available in the 50’s!)  Because he was to play football in Ottawa, Len registered in Premed at Ottawa University. We both knew how badly we would miss McGill but there was little choice.

Len eventually graduated from medicine, did some study in orthopedics and combined his interest in Phys Ed. with his medical knowledge, mostly at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

He died in 2007 of Alzheimer’s. His doctors believe his condition  was worsened by obvious signs of brain of injuries sustained  playing helmetless hockey, and football with rudimentary headgear. He had also suffered a great deal over the last forty years of his life with severe knee injuries, which stopped him from doing any sport except a little golf. When his son was asked by a family friend why he didn’t play football or hockey like his Dad, he summed it up by saying, “because when I get to be forty, I still want to be able to do any sport I want.” And when one of our daughters, an elite gymnast, got married, the news came out that when she was young she thought you had to have scars on your knees to be a good athlete!

In the Shaw family, the saying was “Life was sports and sports was life”.

-Heather Shaw

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4 responses to “Plante’s 50th sparks memories

  1. Marvin, thanks for sharing that memory. The somersault is an acrobatic trick which comes with ease to the toddler, but not so easily when we grow older and the mind starts to get in the way.

  2. I have a childhood memory 1954? and I am five. Len and Heather Shaw were our next door neighbours on Chapel Street in Ottawa. Len was the nice man who spent time with me on the front lawn teaching me how to do a somersault and trying to work past my fear of a front flip. Thanks for sharing your memories.

  3. I posted a comment but forgot to ask to be notified of follow-up comments via e-mail. I would like to add this. Thank you.

  4. That is awsome. I had a few dates with Jacques Plante way back when. My parents entertained many of the Montreal Canadian players at that time. He gave me a knitted undershirt which he had personally knitted. I was always a great fan, but I lost track of him. Please bring me up to date. Thank you

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