Hall's legendary career began at the Montreal Forum 55 years ago - in borrowed equipment


There is a Montreal Canadiens thread that stitches Glenn Hall's glorious goalkeeping career from beginning to end.


MONTREAL - There is a Montreal Canadiens thread that stitches Glenn Hall's glorious goalkeeping career from beginning to end.

His link to Montreal features dozens of memorable moments, including these six en route to his 1975 Hall of Fame induction:

- With the Detroit Red Wings at age 21, the native of Humboldt, Sask., made his NHL debut against Montreal on Dec. 27, 1952 - in borrowed equipment;

- With the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 19, 1957, Hall surrendered the 500th career goal of Maurice (Rocket) Richard;

- On Jan. 24, 1960, he equalled Canadiens icon Georges Vezina's record for major pro-league consecutive regular-season games played, at 328;

- Hall blanked Montreal in Game 5 and 6 of the 1961 Stanley Cup semifinals, ending the Canadiens' Stanley Cup streak at five in a huge upset and sending Chicago toward its most recent championship;

- He shut out Montreal again in Game 6 of the semis the following season, once more eliminating them from the playoffs;

- And on Nov. 10, 1962, Hall sat on Chicago's Montreal Forum bench with a strained back and watched fellow goalie Denis DeJordy beat the Canadiens 3-1. It ended Hall's remarkable, untouchable consecutive-games streak at 502 - 31,195 minutes and 33 seconds played. Including the post-season, his record is 552 games. It was deja vu for Hall when he heard of Canadiens farmhand Corey Locke's recent equipment misadventures, Locke's gear not making the Dec. 30 flight from Toronto to New York for what was supposed to be his first NHL game.

Locke sat out that night with nothing to wear and was shipped back to the American Hockey League's Hamilton Bulldogs; he was recalled last Tuesday for a stint lasting 5:59, and now is back in the minors.

Hall was at home in rural Humboldt, on a break from the Western Hockey League's Edmonton Flyers over Christmas 1952, when the telegram arrived from Flyers playing-coach Bud Poile.

Hall's name already was on the Stanley Cup, even though he'd not played a single NHL game; he'd been called up from Indianapolis of the American League the previous March to practise with Detroit during the playoffs.

"Tried to phone," Poile's wire began. "You are to catch Flight No. 10 out of Saskatoon 3:45 a.m. 26th of December for Montreal. Sawchuk is hurt and Detroit are bringing you up. I will have your equipment on the plane. ..."

Red Wings netminder Terry Sawchuk had taken a shot in the foot in practice, breaking a bone in his instep, and the frantic call went to the club's primary affiliate to get his replacement in the one-goaler NHL. Hall stuffed the telegram in his bag and was driven 110 kilometres from Humboldt to Saskatoon.

"Naturally, I was nervous and excited," he recalls from his farm in Stony Plain, Alta., his home for the past 42 years. "I'd been around, so I knew what a great team the Canadiens had. I knew who their shooters were because I'd watched them from my days in junior."

Hall arrived at the Forum a few hours before the 8:15 p.m. faceoff and searched in vain for his duffelbag.

"I have no idea when it showed up. I don't know if it's there yet, but don't tell that to the airline," he jokes. "Maybe that's why Trans-Canada changed their name to Air Canada."

Red Wings trainer Ross (Lefty) Wilson played goal in practice for Detroit. Three times during the 1950s - against the Canadiens and Toronto, and once for Boston against his own club - Wilson would be pressed into emergency fill-in duty for injured NHL goalies.

So it was to Wilson whom Hall turned that night in Montreal.

"We had the worst equipment you can possibly imagine," Hall says. "It didn't matter whose it was, it was no good. The only thing I really missed that night were my skates. I liked mine medium-sharp, and Lefty's were the worst in the world.

"But teams didn't travel with sharpeners, and the home team never went out of its way to help anybody. So I played on these damn terrible skates." If Hall never found his flimsy equipment, he knew a fresh pair of pads was no more than a year away.

"We got one pair a year, around playoff time, so we'd look good in the team picture," he says. "Then you'd go out on what passed for ice at training camp in the fall, swim around in them until they took on water, then play in them until you got the next pair near spring - for the team picture." Hall played brilliantly in his debut, a 2-2 tie refereed by Red Storey. He made two saves for every one by Gerry McNeil at the other end of the rink - the Canadiens outshot Detroit 34-17.

He still recalls defenceman Doug Harvey scoring for the Canadiens, the first of the 2,222 NHL goals Hall would yield in 906 games. Bernie Geoffrion had the second, three minutes later in the third period, before Reggie Sinclair's power-play goal tied the game with 4:28 to play. Glen Skov also scored for Detroit.

Hall won four games during his call-up, including a shutout of Boston, his first of 84 during his 16-year NHL career, and lost 2-0 to the Canadiens after the tie in Montreal. He was returned to Edmonton, then elevated to Detroit upon the June 1955 trade of Sawchuk to Boston, his 502-game streak beginning with the Red Wings and continuing with Chicago.

He retired in 1971 from St. Louis, where with Jacques Plante in 1968-69 he won his third Vezina Trophy, and to this day cherishes wonderful memories of Montreal and many of those who made their names there. Hall sings the praises of at least two Canadiens alumni - former Blues GM and coach Scotty Bowman and Dickie Moore, a latter-day Blue whom he calls the greatest competitor he ever saw. "Jean Beliveau was such a great player," says Hall, 76. "And later, Henri Richard was so good, so quietly. They were two guys who would score without the puck being on their stick very long.

"You knew with Jean or Henri it would be a trouble deal. I respected them because they were the type of player who would force a goalkeeper to improve. If you figured out how to stop the good ones, they'd figure out something new. And that was always part of my education."

Nostalgia of Montreal will sustain Hall comfortably. He says he has little desire to return to the old Montreal Forum in search of his historic equipment that went missing more than half a century ago, on the night he would play his first NHL game.

"Because," he says, laughing, "I just might find it."

Montreal Gazette

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