November 7, 2009

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed The Face Of Hockey by Todd Denault

Folks, I've finally found a true contender for the 2009 Hockey Book of the Year award.

Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey by Todd Denault is worthy of mention in the sentence as Theo Fleury's autobiography Playing With Fire. Stephen Brunt's Gretzky's Tears and Bob McKenzie's Hockey Dad will also get consideration.

Read An Jacques Plante Exclusive Excerpt
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Todd Denault has penned an amazing biography of Jacques Plante, the man I have long considered to be the greatest goalie in hockey history. Moreover, I would easily rank him as the most important and influential goalie, perhaps player of any kind, in the game's long history.

Plante is obviously one of the greatest goalies of all time. The seven time all star won six Stanley Cups, seven Vezina trophies as top goalie and one Hart trophy, a true rarity for a goalie, as league MVP. He still ranks as the 6th winningest goalie in NHL history.

More importantly he was also incredibly influential. Of course you know he popularized the use of the mask. Did you know he also greatly influenced it's evolution. He was also the first goalie to wander the ice to play the puck. He developed communication symbols with his defensemen. Many of the duties goalies do nowadays that we take for granted were started by Plante. Simply put, he is one of the most innovating figures in the history of hockey.

But he was also a great misunderstood character. He was mysterious and complex, and often kept to himself. He was outspoken and defiant, often clashing with a dismissive and narrow-minded hockey establishment.

Denault does an amazing job with this biography, redefining the term exhaustive research in the process. With Plante dead for over 20 years of stomach cancer, Denault was forced to thoroughly investigate newspaper and other printed archives to piece together this jigsaw puzzle. Denault was every bit as meticulous with his craft as Plante was with his.

The result is an amazing biography, although it has a bit of an academic text book feel to it. Denault offers us his years of research, but does not quite take the next step and draws the reader in emotionally from cover to cover, a la Jack Falla.

That's alright, because in between the many facts there are some great stories in here, thanks to interviews with the likes of Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Dickie Moore and Scotty Bowman.

My favorite story comes in the book's prologue. Plante insisted that for quite some time the nets in three of NHL's six cities were 2 inches lower than the other three. When the NHL measured the nets, they were shocked to find out the nets in New York, Boston and Chicago were all smaller!

Then there was the many examples of Plante's eccentricities, from his frugalness to his passion for knitting.

As a goaltending coach later in life, how he predicted Patrick Roy would never make it to the NHL. Ironically it was Roy who would take goaltending to the next level of evolution. Plante, who had to fight the establishment to make his progressions, was now the dismissive establishment.

And then there was early death at the age of 57. He was living in Switzerland by that time, and had just been diagnosed with an untreatable and aggressive form of stomach cancer. When his coffin was carried from the church following the funeral mass, it passed under an arch of hockey sticks held high by a team of young hockey players from Quebec, visiting Switzerland for a tournament.

After just a few pages into this book it was obvious Todd Denault had written an instant classic. I can not recommend this book enough. Plante was one of the game's true great players. He is sadly unknown to many of today's generations of fans. He is truly worthy of such a fine commemoration.


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