Johnson: Unheralded 50th anniversary of NHL’s most untouchable record passes
Ex-goalie Glenn Hall recalls the night his streak of 502 straight games played ended
The passage of time has undoubtedly dulled reflexes once quick enough to brush aside a Boom Boom Geoffrion powder keg from the high slot. Glenn Hall, after all, did turn 81 not so long ago. But his wit is every bit as deadpan sharp, as deftly agile, as it was back in the early ’60s.
“Fifty years ago?” Mr. Goalie muses. “Does it feel like 50 years ago?
“I guess so. At my age, EVERYTHING feels like 50 years ago.”
Lost in the ongoing acrimony of hockey’s current labour dispute, Nov. 8 came and went, the 50th anniversary of the night Glenn Hall’s never-to-be-broken record of 502 straight complete games in goal was cut short (if that’s the proper term) by a twinge in his back.
The anniversary of such a monumental feat should not be allowed to pass so quietly.
This is a mark that soars beyond the cubbyhole realm of hockey. It ranks up there with the anywhere, any-game, any-era all-timers. With DiMag’s 56-game hitting streak, Cal Ripken’s 2,638 without a rest, Wilt’s 100-point game, the Splendid Splinter hitting .400.
One for the gods.
From the start of the 1955 season, when he was tending goal for the Detroit Red Wings, through the opening minutes of that early November start against Boston a half century ago, Glenn Hall played every minute of every game. During that span, he won a Calder Trophy and backstopped the Blackhawks to the ’61 Stanley Cup. Over those seasons, he was named a first- or second-team all-star six times. Yeah, yeah, there were only half a dozen No. 1 goaltenders back then. But what goaltenders ...
Jacques Plante. Johnny Bower. Terry Sawchuk. Gump Worsley. A Hall of Fame Who’s Who.
“I was hurt in practice the day before,” says Hall, from the famous homestead up north in Stony Plain. “But I figured once the adrenalin got going, I’d be fine. And I’d played around little injuries before. But I knew shortly after the first five minutes, after a little stab in my back, that I couldn’t continue, so I went over and told Billy Reay.
“I’d felt my back kind of ‘Ping!’ when I was tying up the toe straps the day before the game. And, unfortunately, it didn’t get better.
“Was I mad? Was I disappointed? Can’t remember, to be honest with you. I was hurt. I couldn’t play.”
Standing behind the Chicago bench that night, only recently called up from Buffalo and in his civvies (backup goaltenders didn’t dress in those bygone days), 24-year-old Denis DeJordy was pressed into emergency action.
Ryan Minor, the guy who filled in for Ironman Ripken at third for the Orioles on September 20, 1998, knows the feeling.
“Surprised?” laughs DeJordy, now 74 and living his hometown of Saint-Hyacinthe, Que. “Oh, yes. I remember it was the middle of the first period they told me to go get dressed, that Glenn couldn’t continue.
“You know, I didn’t really want to go in. Because the next game was in Montreal. I wasn’t worried about the (Boston) game. But Montreal ...” He laughs.
“Yeah, if his back hadn’t bothered him I could’ve been waiting a long time. A LONG time. But in those years you were satisfied with where you were. I was having a good year in Buffalo. Remember, there were only six goaltenders in the National Hockey League at the time. So you had to live with that.”
Hall had come close to missing games before. Once, Toronto’s Jim Pappin corked him with a shot that split his face open for a 30-stitch gash across both lips and knocked out a tooth.
”The dentist told me how lucky I was,” Hall famously reminisced. “I said through my swollen lips, ‘Ah don’ feew wucky.”
Another trip to the dentist resulted in a bad reaction to a penicillin shot that very nearly ended the streak.
But he soldiered on. Through pain, frustration, the occasional bad stretch, fatigue, illness.
“The game,” says Denis DeJordy, “hasn’t changed that much. But goaltenders playing without a mask ... You were the goalie. You played. You played if you were sick — a lot of times you played your best when you were sick — and when you were hurt. I remember my first year pro getting hit in the head by shots from the same guy twice on the same shift. The first one went off my nose, I think, from in front. Then he got the puck in the corner again, came out and Wham!, he hits me in the face again.
“So when you think about 502 in a row ... you would’ve had to duck a few times to get to that number.”
Hall argues that the number should actually 552, counting playoffs, which the NHL has decided to ignore.
“The league has done some funny things over the years,” he muses. “I mean, this is now a $3 billion business and they can’t figure how to split it up.”
One of the overriding factors in the invincibility of his games-played mark, according to the man himself, is the intractable manner in which the goalkeeping fraternity is, and has always been, treated.
“For some reason, they don’t want you to miss practice,” scoffs Hall. “They’ll sit you out games so you’re fresh for practice. That type of logic baffles me. It’s just a punishment deal. Plywood in those days was $20 a sheet. Being cheap, they cared about the plywood, not about the goalkeepers.
“After 20, you don’t learn anything in practice. You learn everything in a game.”
And no one, ever, has played more games in a row in net in the National Hockey League. Half a century later, 502 seems, if anything, even more unassailable, more mind- boggling, than ever.
“I don’t have a bad back now,” teases Glenn Hall, “but I had one 50 years ago. So maybe I’m doing better than I think.
“The record is something I’m proud of, sure.
“Like you say, it has been 50 years. So I guess it’ll stand.”
For all eternity.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
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