For nearly two decades, Glenn Hall ‘guarded the pipes’ for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, and the St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.
Many claim Hall was the absolute best.
The native of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, was an NHL All-Star an incredible 11 times — a record for goalies. He made the First All-Star team 7 times, another record for netminders.
The hockey icon now lives alone on a 155-acre farm near Edmonton.
Partly because of his acrobatic style, partly because of his 84 shutouts and a low goals-against average — but largely due to his grit — Glenn Hall was tagged with an awesome nickname: Mr. Goalie.
That’s quite a tribute because so many have now tended goal in the Bigs, but only one netminder has that moniker. It says all you need to know about Glenn Hall.
Hall played about one thousand National Hockey League games. He only wore a mask, however, for fewer than 100 — and that was at the end of his career.
Hall spent most of his pro years in the Windy City where, in 1961, he helped his Black Hawks win the Stanley Cup — hockey’s most coveted trophy — snapping the Montreal Canadiens’ amazing cup-winning streak at five.
It had been 23 years since the good folk of Chicago saw Lord Stanley’s mug up close.
Three times Glenn Hall was presented with an N.H.L. goalie award — the William Jennings Trophy [in his day known as the Vezina]. When Hall played, the Vezina was awarded to the netminder who had the best goals-against average. Not surprisingly, it often went to the goalie on the best team. In other words, if the top team came out on top in firewagon shootouts — by 6-4 and 7-6 scores, for example — the goalie that allowed 10 goals would still be recognized as the league’s best.
In his first season in the National Hockey League [with the Red Wings in 1955-56], the kid from a small town in Saskatchewan made a big statement by racking up 12 shutouts.
Nobody was surprised when Hall snagged the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
Most remarkable is that Glenn Hall played in 552 consecutive, complete N.H.L. games [regular season and playoffs combined over a span of 8 seasons] without wearing a mask. I have trouble getting my head around that. It’s one thing to play goal in the world’s premiere hockey league without facial or head protection — but for more than 550 games straight?? Incredible. That’s one ‘ironman’ feat that won’t be broken anytime soon.
The following is an account of my dealings with Mr. Goalie who, in early October 2018, turned the Big 8-7.
THE MAKING OF A LEGEND – ONE SHOT AT A TIME
As a kid growing up in the 1950s in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada, I first heard Glenn Hall’s name on sportscasts on CKNB, the local radio station.
My father [Byers] and I also caught radio broadcasts of the Boston Bruins games where we often heard Hall mentioned during the exciting play-by-play.
Hall seemed to do everything right … and that made him damn hard to beat.
As well, I spotted Hall’s name in The Hockey News, the Telegraph-Journal [of Saint John, N.B.] — and in the Star Weekly magazine, a weekend supplement to Canada’s major dailies. In its day, the now-defunct Star Weekly was a big deal. If you were featured in that mag, you’d made it.The old Edmonton Gardens — where many a future N.H.L. star laced on skates — was built in 1913, just months before World War One broke out. The old wooden edifice was demolished in 1982.
It was on those popular ‘trading cards’ where I again spotted Glenn Hall, stretching to make a glove save in what appears like a staged shot because, well … Mr. Goalie looks just a tad too relaxed.
On the flip side of Hall’s playing card was some interesting data: His Saskatchewan roots, the number of games played the previous season, how many pucks got by him … and shutouts. Shutouts are a big thing with goaltenders.
Nowadays, there’s a 5-letter buzz word for that kind of information: ‘Intel.’
Four or five hockey cards came in a sealed package padded with a thin slice of delicious pink bubble gum. To collect the cards, I blew not only bubble gum but most of my 25-cent a week allowance.
Got those precious cards at a small, family-run grocery store on Duncan Street called Butlands.
Sure wish I could time travel, slip back to an era where life wasn’t so complicated — half a century ago, say — buy a big stack of those playing cards … and not open them for 50 years. I would have my private hockey capsule. And I’d be a kid again.
In the early 1960s, I got to see Mr. Goalie in action — in living black and white — on our first television set. Watching a hockey game live on that small Electrohome TV made Saturday night special.
There were no instant replays back then. If a goal was scored while I was out of the room, Dad or one of the kids revealed how everything went down, occasionally acting it out with some dramatics thrown in for good measure. I know, I know. It’s a guy thing.
It wasn’t just me who thought those weekly hockey games on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada were a big deal. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians got worked up over them as well. They nervously gathered in living rooms from coast to coast to watch … and “got involved.”
The fast, hard-hitting sport is very much a part of the Canadian psyche. For those reading this post in Australia or Zanzibar, ‘ice hockey’ — as you would know it — has helped define Canadians. We’re immensely proud of those men who starred in the National Hockey League.
In those days, how it worked for viewers of Hockey Night in Canada in Atlantic Canada was that one week, the featured game was from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto; the following week, it was from the Forum in Montreal. In French-speaking Quebec, the Montreal Canadiens were always shown — but in the rest of Canada, viewers got to see the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Mystery solved. That’s why when Toronto plays today in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton or Vancouver, you’ll see a lot of Leaf jerseys in the stands. The memories remain and the passion lives on.
FROZEN PUCKS, BLOOD, AND STITCHES
Back to Mr. Hall …
His first N.H.L. game was on a Saturday night, 27 December 1952 at the Forum in Montreal. Glenn Hall had just turned 21 and was replacing the injured Terry Sawchuk. Was Hall nervous playing his first game in the bigs? “Not really,” he says, “… but I was anxious.”
Hall had a good reason to be anxious. His equipment had not arrived and so he was forced to use old equipment [including skates with dull blades] used by the Wings’ trainer and backup goalie. More than 63-years later, Hall still shakes his head when he thinks about the gear he used that night.
Even through Detroit was outshot 34 to 17, the Red Wings tied the Canadiens at 2.
The first N.H.L. player to score on Glenn Hall? Bernie ‘Boom Boom’ Geoffrion. The second? Doug Harvey. Both hockey legends.
Glenn Hall took the game seriously, and he put his heart into it. He tended goal with one goal in mind: Keep a frozen rubber puck out of an area measuring 6 feet by 4 feet. Trouble is, the puck wasn’t always kept out with a stick, pads or a glove. Sometimes it was stopped by unprotected body parts. Getting drilled to the head with a frozen puck is one serious boink.
As a goaltender in the old 6-team N.H.L., Glenn Hall wasn’t just playing a game, he was also trying to survive … as in trying to get through a private hell. A 100 mile-an-hour slap shot to the temple or a slash to the throat from a razor sharp skate blade could have ended more than his career.
Mr. Goalie finished his career with 300 stitches, mainly from the neck up.
Glenn Hall wasn’t alone when it came to getting stitched up. It’s estimated that his former teammate, Terry Sawchuk, collected more than 400 stitches in his 16-years in the N.H.L.
Sawchuk’s face was cut up over and over — over many years. Thanks to a professional make-up artist and a doctor, we have a good idea of the extent of his injuries. The guy looks like he’s about to star in a Frankenstein movie.Even though Hall joked that his plan was to retire when he was 15, hockey would become his life. The players who were far better than average — the Richards, Howes, Hulls and Halls — stuck around until the game took over their lives, forever becoming their identity.
Another thing: In the six-team N.H.L., players weren’t in it for the big bucks. That’s because there were none. In those days, hockey was a calling. Those who took to the ice did so because they loved the game.
The late Tim Horton whose story was so well-documented in Douglas Hunter’s book, Open Ice, quotes Horton as saying he got paid to practice, but he played for free.
For the most part, guys in the old NHL played hard and had a good time … and when that final buzzer went, they either went home or to a bar where they shared a few drinks and laughs. Nowadays, N.H.L. players laugh all the way to the bank.
It was Glenn Hall who introduced the butterfly style of goaltending. That’s where a goalie splays his pads along the ice to cover the bottom part of the net.
Coaches weren’t happy with the unorthodox style but the youngster proved it was effective, especially in stopping shots fired low. The proof was in the pudding, and the pudding was in the win column.
As for coaches’ criticism, let’s not forget there was a time when they didn’t want their goalies to wear masks either.
Hall takes exception to being described as a ‘flopper.’ “I was extremely stand-up,” he says, “I went down when I had to go down but was quickly back up again. I always looked around for the puck. A ‘flopper’ didn’t. He didn’t know what he was doing. I knew what I was doing.”
The acrobatic goalie with the quick hand became a key part of a winning combination: Good defence and good offence.
HAWKS A CONTENDER … AND STRESS
Thanks to blistering slapshots from newcomer Bobby Hull — the man who introduced the curved stick — and the slick playmaking of Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Murray Balfour and Billy Hay, not many teams outscored and outshot the upshot Black Hawks.
Glenn Hall gained a notoriety of sorts when word got out that he vomited before every game. [Sorry to bring that up.]
He points out that he didn’t throw up in the dressing room, as was sometimes reported, but induced his vomiting, as in gagging. And he did it in the bathroom.
The man doesn’t knock pressure. Just the opposite. Mr. Goalie calls pressure “the greatest thing” because it brings out the best in someone.
Here’s a newspaper clipping from the early 1960s when Glenn Hall was presented with a new car by the Black Hawks’ owner, Jim Norris, for playing in 500 consecutive games. Norris also paid the insurance and customs duties [for when Hall returned to Canada with his car].
Another ‘Hall story’ was that in his last years in the league, he was a perennial holdout at training camp. A no-show. With a wife and four kids to support, Mr. Goalie held out for a better contract. And that didn’t always mean more money.
From Glenn Hall’s perspective, training camps didn’t make a whole lot of sense. The farmer says he didn’t need to go through weeks of training to get in shape — or to get sharp.
According to media reports, Glenn Hall couldn’t make training camp because he was busy on his farm … “painting the barn.” A strange thing to be known for but, hey, it helped sell newspapers.
It also helped Hall get a better contract.
Remember, those were pre-union days when N.H.L. players were at the mercy of team owners. Back then, player salaries were a fraction of today’s multi-million dollar contracts. There’s just no comparison, and never mind that in 1962 it cost 4 cents to mail a letter and gas sold for 25-cents a gallon.
More on the N.H.L. Players Association towards the end of this post.
Gotta get this off my chest: In the eyes of this youngster [me, the Author], there was only one thing wrong with Glenn Hall: He did not play for the right team. He didn’t wear the uniform of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The names of N.H.L. players came up in countless road hockey games … from fishing villages in Newfoundland to fishing villages on Vancouver Island. Across the land, children pretended to be their hockey idols.
We youngsters simply played better — at least, thought we did — if we imitated Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovolich, Jean Beliveau, Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey or Dave Keon.
The scrimmages — better known as shinny — were played on streets and in parking lots using either pucks or tennis balls, mainly the latter. It was — heck, still is — a big part of growing up in Canada. If planet Earth isn’t blown to smithereens by another damn world war, 100 years from now kids will still be playing road hockey.
Those parking lots and streets were often empty, but sometimes they weren’t. When a car or truck suddenly appeared, the game came to a stop often with the driver giving a nod that signaled, ‘Sorry for the interruption. Well, the thoughtful drivers did that. The inconsiderate ones rolled down their windows and told us to get lost. When they were a safe distance away, we referred to them as assholes.
The irony, of course, is that today televised hockey games are routinely interrupted by car and truck commercials.
For more on shinny, scroll to the very end of this article to ‘Road Hockey – Campbellton Style.’ You’ll do a double-take when you see the photos.
IT WAS THE SPRING OF ’62 …
I vividly remember Tuesday, 10th of April 1962. On the tube that night was game six of Stanley Cup finals between the Maple Leafs and the defending champs, the Black Hawks.
The game was being played in Chicago.
Toronto held a slim 3-2 game lead in the best-of-seven set. A win by the Hawks would even the series — but a Leaf victory would give them their first cup since 1951.
Turns out, the Leafs hoisted the Stanley Cup that night, winning a close one, 2-1 on a third-period goal by forward Dickie Duff. Duff scored on … who else? Mr. Hall.
Chicago ace Bobby Hull had opened the scoring by blasting one by the popular Johnny Bower, the Maple Leaf’s veteran goalie [and WW2 vet] whose face was stitched like a roadmap. The Leafs evened things up when Bobby Nevin “found the range” … or “bent the twine.” Don’t laugh. There was a time when sportswriters wrote stuff like that. I know I did.
Care to slip back in time and see the three scoring plays from the last game of the 1961-62 season? Click on the link to watch a vintage Hockey Night in Canada clip, courtesy of the CBC and YouTube.
The Leafs had finally captured the Stanley Cup and here I was, jumping up and down with glee [‘high fives’ weren’t in vogue then]. I was still beaming when the players lined up for the traditional handshake. I couldn’t believe that my dear Leafs had actually won the Cup.
The Black Hawks didn’t stick around to watch Leaf captain George Armstrong accept the Stanley Cup from N.H.L. President Clarence Campbell. In the bowels of Chicago Stadium, the dejected Hawks were quietly trudging their way to the dressing room.
Hall’s reaction to that moment, years later: “I wasn’t dejected. I was happy to be getting out of my sweaty equipment, taking a shower and heading home.”
MEETING HALL FACE-TO-FACE
Eighteen years after that dramatic win by the Leafs — I’d put in some time in broadcasting by then — I got to know Glenn Hall personally.
At the time of my first interview with Mr. Goalie, I was hosting the afternoon show and producing documentaries at CKXM, an FM radio station in the west end of Edmonton that played easy-listening music. “100.3 on the dial.”
It was 1980 and to mark Alberta’s 75th Anniversary, station brass decided to broadcast a series of one-hour docs featuring ‘outstanding Albertans.’ They decided that Glenn Hall would be showcased.
Although a decade had passed since Hall had retired, his name was still well known. He was also living close by, on a farm just outside Edmonton.
One moment stands out for me from those story meetings at Broadcast House, and that was when CFRN Sports Director Al McCann pointed out that Glenn Hall was not only outstanding in net, he was outstanding period. He was — as Al also put it — a “regular guy.”
And so off I went to the Hall farmhouse, a few miles southwest of Stony Plain. I pulled off two-lane Highway 628 and made my way down a narrow, winding dirt driveway, through a treed area. As I passed a red barn on my left, I wondered, was this what Mr. Goalie was painting when he was holding out?
Yup, that was the barn – or as the Newfies would put it, “there she be.” I was half-expecting this huge building. This was a ‘starter’ barn.
I continued past a large garden and a well-kept lawn … up to a sprawling one-story residence.
Stepping out of the car, the first thing I noticed was how peaceful the place was. No non-stop traffic on the highway, no horns … and no noisy neighbours. In fact, I couldn’t see any neighbours.
I was met at a side door with gentle handshakes from both Glenn and his wife, Pauline. They struck me as not only friendly — but sincere as well. As in no plastic smiles. “Welcome,” Pauline said with a warm smile.
We made our way to a spacious living room, sitting down on a couch near a wood-burning fireplace. We sipped either coffee or tea — can’t remember which now — and munched on biscuits. Pauline was a great hostess.
Have to admit, I was a tad nervous being there. Here I was, face-to-face with a Hockey Legend and his misses … but after ten minutes or so, I settled down.
I recorded a long interview with both Glenn and Pauline. The questions were somewhat ‘routine,’ I suppose … what are your memories of the game? … how did you two meet? And on and on. The questions kept coming, the memories kept coming and the cassette tape kept rolling.
I sensed that over the course of his career, Glenn had heard the same questions many times. But you’d never know it. He was a gentleman. Polite, modest, thoughtful — and real. Al McCann was right about the guy.
At that point in my career, I’d only met one N.H.L. player — and that was 11 years earlier. It was the summer of ’69 and I was an announcer at CFOM Radio in Quebec City. René LeClerc, a forward with the Detroit Red Wings, was home visiting his Mom and Dad who ran a small grocery store across from my walk-up apartment building in Vanier, where our station was also located.
Glenn Hall made quite an impression on this fledgling reporter. What got me was his ‘realness’ [is there such a word?]. It got me then — and more than a third of a century later — it still gets me.
Glenn shared his thoughts on sports reporters in Edmonton and in 1980, there was a good number of them then. It was interesting to hear his perspective of journalists. I got the impression he had time for those who ‘called a spade a spade.’ Glenn seemed to be drawn to facts and it was clear he had respect for reporters who told it like it was.
That was inspiring, actually. In those few brief moments, he was probably unaware but he made me a better journalist.
I don’t think Mr. Hall would be comfortable working public relations for a left-wing political party, perhaps any party. It’s just not him. Hidden by his soft demeanor and politeness, I sensed a low tolerance for BS.
Perhaps that was simply Glenn’s Saskatchewan roots coming through, I couldn’t say. Could it have been the times? Or both? Remember, he was raised in the “Dirty Thirties” … when times were tough and, in my view when people were more grounded.
THAT FIRST INTERVIEW
Somewhere on a shelf in my basement, tucked away in a cardboard box, is a cassette recording of the one-hour radio program we produced on Glenn Hall. Even without hearing the tape again, I can still remember much of it …
- Like, how Glenn and Pauline met. Pauline recalled it was in Saskatchewan while she was in nursing school and Glenn was playing junior hockey. “What was it that attracted you to him?” I asked. “Was it because he was a star player?” “No,” she said matter of factly, “he had a car …” She was pulling my leg of course. She liked him because of the man he was.
- Glenn’s recollection of filling up at a gas station in a town in Alberta, chatting it up with the attendant when the gas cap suddenly slid off the trunk of his car. Just before the cap hit the ground, Mr. Goalie with the lightning-quick hands grabbed it. “You can’t do that!” exclaimed the bewildered attendant, a young fellow. I asked Glenn if the man knew who he was. “No.”
- As I scribbled notes, hearing Glenn’s gentle reminder, “Remember, there are two n’s in Glenn …”
- Just two years after Glenn Hall broke into the N.H.L. with the Red Wings, he was traded to the Black Hawks — the team with the worst record. Pauline shared that when she started going to the games in Chicago, the Stadium was nearly empty. She could sit wherever she pleased. That all changed when the Black Hawks got some good players and moved from the basement to the top floor.
- Pauline talked about the time a huge blizzard struck Chicago and the players were ‘car pooling,’ on their way to a party. A driver, trying to make his way through the blinding snowstorm, lost control of his car and sideswiped Black Hawk Lou Angotti, sending the 170-pound right winger flying through the air and into a snowbank. With the wind knocked out of him, Mr. Angotti wasn’t moving. A medical doctor who lived nearby rushed out to help. Leaning over Angotti, the doctor snapped, “What’s your name?” And as Pauline told the story, “One of the boys then said, ‘Don’t ask him that … he doesn’t know it anyway.'” With a tilt of her head that indicated she didn’t fully appreciate rough team camaraderie, Pauline went on to say, “Sometimes those boys could be mean …” Of course, the players were just giving Mr. Angotti — who had an engineering degree — a rough time. It was their way of making a tough situation bearable.
- Glenn beaming with pride as he talked about his days in St. Louis when he shared goaltending duties with another hockey legend, Jacques Plante. It must have been something for players in the Blues’ dressing room to see two netminder greats in the same room. And on their side.
Pauline Hall died from cancer on 17 June 2009. The native of Kelvington, Saskatchewan was 77.
Glenn and Pauline were married for 55 years. They have four children [Pat, Leslie, Tammy and Lindsay] and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
MEETING JACQUES PLANTE
My next assignment was to get together with Jacques Plante, then a goalie coach with the Philadelphia Flyers .
Our meeting took place in the empty stands of Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton. It was during a Flyers practice; Plante kept one eye on his goalie [either Pete Peeters or Rick St. Croix], another on my microphone.
I soon found out that the former Montreal Canadiens great had a ton of respect for Glenn Hall, with Plante reminding me that goalies tend to stick together. There was a bond, he said. Not surprising perhaps, as goaltenders are a special breed. On the ice are three forwards, two defencemen — but only one goalie. Not only that, they play the entire game.
Without becoming over-analytical here, there’s a lot of pressure on goaltenders. They’re credited for wins, blamed for losses. Either way, there’s stress.
In the 1968-69 season, Hall and Plante were awarded the Vezina Trophy. Hall was 37, Plante 40.
Imagine, winning the best goaltender trophy while one is in his forties. That’s something you’d expect to read in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
Plante shared with me that he was living in Switzerland, but that few there knew who he was. I said, “What?” “Yes,” he said with a big grin, “I can walk down the street and no one stops me for an autograph!”
It was clear that Plante enjoyed the anonymity. It was also obvious that fame — while nice and all that — ain’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
Jacques Plante didn’t have much privacy in his home province of Quebec. He pointed out if he was at a shopping center, fans would sometimes surround his car, asking for autographs. And that went on for years after he’d retired.
In February 1986, the man who had changed the face of hockey died from stomach cancer in a hospital in Zurich, Switzerland.
Jacques Plante was 57. The hockey icon is buried in the small Swiss town of Sierre, near the German and French borders.
MORE MEETINGS WITH MR. GOALIE
Over the years, Glenn and I continued to get together and over a cold beer or two or three … we talked about not just his time in the N.H.L. but about his old teammates and opponents, now dear friends.
We also discussed stuff that two guys sitting around a campfire, say, would go on about: our families, stupid taxes, corrupt governments, commodity prices, murder cases, some good jokes, some bad jokes, the wild animals that show up at his window, you name it.
The more we met, the less we talked about his time in the National Hockey League. Sometimes I caught myself leaving and thinking, “We didn’t talk much hockey today.”
Believe it or not, Glenn has a strong interest in true crime, especially murders. If I’ve handled certain homicide files, he’ll want to know the backstory … how police collected evidence, how things went terribly wrong, etc.
One day we were sitting at his kitchen table, Glenn, Pauline and I, when the wall phone rang. This was years before Mr. Goalie broke down and got a cordless model. Glenn excused himself, pushed his chair back and walked over to the phone. “Sorry,” I could hear him say, “but I can’t talk right now … we have a visitor. I’ll call you back.”
He hung up the phone and returned to the table.
Not that it was any of my business, but I asked, “Who was that?”
I met Gordie Howe only once. It was in the mid-1980s during a pre-game meal in the media lounge at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton. We were alone at a table and, although there was no formal interview, we chatted about this and that, what was going on in his life, where I was from, etc. Not terribly deep stuff, but not small talk either.
Here was another hockey great who had a lot of time for Glenn Hall.
What impressed me most about Howe was his modesty. I thought the man known as Mr. Hockey would be full of himself, but I was dead wrong. He was the type of man that if you addressed him as Mr. Howe, he’d say, “You must be talking about my Dad …”
Mr. Hockey died on Friday, 10 June 2016 at his daughter’s home in Toledo, Ohio. [Source: Globe and Mail]. He was 88.
Another hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky, called Howe “the greatest hockey player ever.”
“Ever going to get a cell phone?” I asked Glenn during another visit. “You know, it is 2010.” “Now, why would I need that?” he shot back, explaining that his doorbell was about as high tech as he was going to get.
“Want to know what’s strange?” he asked and without waiting for an answer, continued, “Whenever I hear a certain tune, there’s always someone standing at the door!”
OLD FRIENDS, THEY AIN’T FORGOTTEN
Glenn Hall was in the St. Louis Blues net for one of the most memorable goals in N.H.L. history. Boston Bruins defenceman Bobby Orr scored a Stanley Cup overtime winning goal in Boston Garden, flying through the air after he popped the big one in behind Hall.
The overtime marker has become an iconic hockey photo, prompting Hall to ask Orr, “Is that the only goal you ever scored?,” adding, “Bobby, I was in the shower before you landed on the ice.”
Hall looked my way and asked, “Do you know how old Bobby Orr was when he stopped playing [due to injuries]?” “I dunno,” I said. “29!” replied Hall. And, shaking his head, he continued,”Can you imagine what Bobby would have accomplished had he played another ten years?”
The two remain close friends, occasionally appearing together for autograph signings.
Not only is Glenn from another era, so is his humor. It’s always clean, which is fine with me. It’s a nice break from the rough jokes tossed around newsrooms.
Glenn likes to play golf, not unusual for hockey players. When teams were eliminated from the playoffs, sports stories often made mention of the fact that they were now on the golf course. So what happens to golfers when they’re eliminated from a tournament? Do they play hockey?
There was often confusion over ‘Hall’ and ‘Hull.’ Glenn Hall, Bobby Hull. They’d get asked about this. Hull once quipped that he and Glenn were cousins.
One of my favourite ‘Glenn Hall stories’ was when he was playing for Chicago in the 1957-58 season.
The lowly Black Hawks were taking on the N.H.L. powerhouse, the Canadiens. To make matters worse, the game was in Montreal. The play was in the third period and the Habs, as they’re known, had the game well in hand, leading by several goals.
A Canadiens’ forward came rushing down the wing, blasting a hard shot on goal. Hall came out to cut down the angle — and remember, no mask. The young goalie blocked the shot, but it hurt. One of the Hawks defencemen, veteran Jimmy Thompson, then skated over to his goaltender and remarked, “Save yourself for the practice.”
When Glenn played for the St. Louis Blues, he said the players from Quebec kept things loose with their humour.
He recalled that defenceman Noel Picard had a habit of skating over to an injured player on his knees, struggling to get up, asking if he could fart. “Fart???” the player would ask, wincing. “Yeah. You always feel better when you fart …”I asked Glenn if they were paid extra to have their pictures taken for the hockey cards. Turns out, they were. $100.
Glenn Hall’s image now appears in hundreds of hockey books … but for that, he’s not paid a dime.
I wanted to know why Glenn never fished the puck out of his net after a goal had been scored on him, that the referee had to stoop down and get the puck. Mr. Goalie’s response: “I didn’t put it in there.”
I got a cool ‘Hall story’ from former hockey scout Harvey Henkel of Duffield, Alberta. Mr. Goalie confirmed it. When Glenn played in the old, 6-team N.H.L. he knew where every player shot when they took aim at the net. And so Hall gave them something to shoot at … and when they fired and ‘telegraphed’ where the puck was going, he was ready.
He also pointed out that in the 6-team N.H.L., the players were accurate with their shots. In the 1967-68 season, the league expanded to 12-teams. That meant plenty of new players. Glenn was up to his old tricks again. He left an area open for the players to shoot at. They shot, sometimes missing the area Glenn had left open because they weren’t accurate. The irony is that they’d score just the same because Mr. Goalie wasn’t expecting them to miss.
Back to Hall’s endurance record of 552 consecutive games … it came to an end when he hurt his back on 8 November 1963. Ironically, he wasn’t injured during a game — but in the dressing room when he bent over to tie a toe strap.
And to be fair, 552 games was more like 550 or 560 because some of those playoff games went into overtime.
I’m not sure how the subject came up, but one time I asked Glenn that during his time in the 6-team league … where were fans the rudest? [the answer is coming right up] He pointed out that when you play goal, you hear everything … and that rude fans sometimes say the meanest things — and they don’t really know the person they’re talking about. Nor do some care. The rudest fans — according to Glenn — are in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Second, Philadelphia.
Why did Glenn Hall choose to become a goalie? Why not a forward? I mean, most kids want to score, not to be scored on. According to Glenn, playing goal was the most interesting position in the game.
Glenn feels that people with a high education will sometimes talk down to him. “The most ignorant, arrogant people are the educated ones,” he says.
I’m reminded of the quote by the founder of the Holiday Inn hotel chain, Charles Kemmons Wilson of Arkansas. A reporter once asked the multi-millionaire why he was so successful … because, after all, he hadn’t completed high school. His response? Because Wilson didn’t have a formal education, he said he had to “use his brains.”
Glenn Hall has proven that one doesn’t need a degree to excel in this world. The kid from Saskatchewan achieved more greatness over 20 years than most people will in a lifetime. Make that 10 lifetimes.
Glenn Hall’s father was a train engineer with Canadian National Railways [C.N.R.] His mother was a stay-at-home mom which, in those days, wasn’t terribly unusual.
The Hall family lived in the town of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, 113 kilometers east of Saskatoon.
According to Glenn, his mother was nervous about him being a goaltender because of the risk of injury.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Hall made trips to Detroit and Chicago to watch their son play. They also saw him from time to time, of course, on TV: Hockey Night in Canada.
BEE HIVE HOCKEY PHOTOS
At some point in the 1980s, Glenn and I got going through my old black and white Beehive photos of N.H.L. players.
On small containers of Beehive Honey were paper rings; these rings could be mailed to an address in Ontario, with the name of an N.H.L. star … and in the mail would arrive a 5×7 mounted photograph of the player.
I had about 200 of the black and white photos. I’d collected them for a few years, starting when I was 12 or so. Some were of stars who played in the N.H.L. long before Glenn Hall appeared on the scene.
Then something cool happened. Although we were sitting around the kitchen table, Mr. Goalie was magically transported to a place called Memory Lane. He plunked the stack of photos down on the table and — covering up the player’s name with his hand — tried to guess who the player was. He knew darn near every one.
Sometimes he had a story to go with the name …
“Now … who’s this guy? Just give me a minute … he’s from Sudbury,” he said. And I said, “How’d you know that?” “He told me.”The man known as ‘Gump’ was a favourite of many, especially Glenn Hall. I liked Gump Worsley too. He was an original.
Montreal-born Lorne ‘Gump’ Worsley picked up the unusual nickname because he reminded people of a popular comic strip character, Andy Gump. Can’t say I ever heard of the guy.
Glenn smiles and chuckles when thinking about the Gumper’s wry humour. When Worsley played for the lowly New York Rangers — where he faced up to 50 shots a night — someone once asked him which team gave him the most trouble. “The Rangers,” he said.
Gump Worsley held out wearing a mask. “My face is my mask,” he was quoted as saying.
Another thing the Gumper had in common with Hall is that they both won the N.H.L. rookie of the year award. Worsley won his Calder Trophy in 1953 when he played for the Rangers.
When playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Worsley took a hard slapshot in the forehead from ace Bobby Hull, knocking him out cold. When the Gumper regained consciousness at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, a doctor asked how he felt. His response? “Good thing the puck hit me flat!”Hall found out the hard way that Bobby Hull had one mean shot. He played against Hull in practice and would tell the ‘blond bomber’ not to shoot so hard because, after all, it’s just a practice.
Sounds like Hull paid little mind to the request.
Most often, Glenn would comment on where a player was living, what they were now doing, if he’d met them lately … or if they’d phoned or dropped in to see him.
It was a pleasant trip down Memory Lane. For both of us.
“Oh, here’s Leo Labine,” Hall exclaimed, then broke into a long smile, a cue that a story was coming. “Leo walked funny. He took short steps. And so I asked him, why do you walk like that?”
Leo’s explanation was that he was brought up near Haileybury, a small town in northeastern Ontario and the easiest way into town was to walk on the railroad ties … and he never stopped taking short steps.
In 2005, Leo Labine died of cancer in a hospital in Thunder Bay.Murray Balfour never smoked — yet he died from lung cancer [30 May 1965]. Balfour was only 28.
“Murray never drank either,” Glenn adds. “After a game, we’d go to a bar and all the guys were drinking — except Murray. He was having a soft drink. In those days, a pop cost more than a beer, and we’d tell Murray to have a beer instead to keep our tab down.”
Balfour’s hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan named a hockey arena in his honour.
Hundreds of hockey players in North America and Europe have died while still playing. According to Wikipedia, the most common causes of death are airplane crashes and car crashes.
WHERE ARE MY BEEHIVE PHOTOS NOW?
About 20 years ago I shipped them off to a retired N.H.L. player who’d been appointed to the Canadian Senate by the federal Liberal party.
Frank Mahovolich [Toronto, Detroit, Montreal] was always one of my favourites [he played for the Leafs, remember?].
‘Number 27’ called from Ottawa to say that my collection of old Beehive hockey pictures was in his office and that when former teammates dropped by, they enjoyed going through the photos. I can imagine.
Sure beats having the pictures in a cardboard box in my basement.
Mahovlich revealed something interesting, and I hadn’t known this until he mentioned it. It happened in 1972, when he was in Europe playing for Team Canada in their heralded series with the Soviet National Hockey Team.
Number 27, whose roots are from the former Yugoslavia, took a side trip to see a relative, an elderly woman. Can’t recall now what her relationship was to the N.H.L. star, but I believe she was either a grandmother or an aunt.
When Mahovolich walked into her house, the doorway was so short he had to duck . Once he got inside, what immediately got his attention was a framed photograph hanging on the wall. It was an old photo of him in a Maple Leafs’ uniform.
As a youngster growing up in a small town in Saskatchewan, which N.H.L. team did Glenn Hall follow? It wasn’t Montreal, Detroit or Chicago — but the Toronto Maple Leafs. And as a kid growing up in rural Saskatchewan, Hall tuned in his family’s old, scratchy radio to hear Foster Hewitt’s play-by-play of the Leaf games.
PLAYERS’ ASSOCIATION HEADACHES
As stated earlier, in the days of the 6-team National Hockey League the men played for the love of the game, not so much for the money. There was certainly no “big money” back then — and no pension plan.
In the mid-1950’s, Ted Lindsay — a rugged, star forward with the Detroit Red Wings — realized that players were not being treated fairly and so he tried to organize an N.H.L. Players Association.
A union was something the owners dreaded. Gosh. Here I was thinking it was players on opposing teams who’d nicknamed Lindsay “Terrible Ted.”
In any case, Terrible Ted didn’t get very far with his players’ association.
I recalled hearing about Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall being traded from Detroit to the lowly Chicago Black Hawks, and I always wondered what the hell that was about. Even as a kid, something told me there was more to the story.
Lindsay’s efforts to form a union only made the news many years later, long after he’d retired. It was the CBC that did a splendid documentary on Lindsay and how management had punished him.
Turns out, both Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall were both active in that union venture. For their efforts, they weren’t just traded — they were banished to the worst team in the league.
It was a clear message to other players who entertained thoughts of forming a union in the National Hockey League.
HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
For a professional hockey player, broadcaster or manager, the pinnacle of success is to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, located in the heart of downtown Toronto.Glenn Hall made it into the Hall in 1975.
Strange enough, I was living in Toronto at the time although I don’t recall hearing much about it. Must have had other things happening in my life. Oh yes. Now I remember. I was working and raising a family.
GLENN HALL CENTENNIAL ARENA
Stony Plain, Alberta, did the right thing. The town named its hockey arena after Mr. Goalie.
On the east side of the building is a collage of murals depicting various stages of Glenn Hall’s life and career. Pauline and Glenn are together in the final frame.
MORE TRIBUTES …
Humbolt, Saskatchewan has paid a special tribute to Glenn Hall by building a park in his honour. If you’re ever in Humboldt, check it out at 4th Street and Highway 5.
Highway 5 is also known as Glenn Hall Drive.
Hall’s first hockey games were with the Humboldt Indians. Interesting. From the Indians, he eventually ends up with the Black Hawks.
Hall travels to Humboldt occasionally to visit old friends. As the years slip by, he’s finding they are fewer and fewer of them.It was Glenn who told me the coin was coming out. I found it to be a bit pricey, so I didn’t pick one up. Was sure tempted, though.
I was reminded of the man who applies for a job and in his job interview is asked about his previous employment. “The Canadian Royal Mint,” he says, “made $50,000 an hour.”
A PRIVATE MUSEUM
It’s in the basement of his house. I’ve been there a number of times and every time I am filled with wonder.
For Mr. Goalie, a trip to Yesteryear is only steps away, through a door that leads off from the kitchen to the basement.
“Watch your step,” he cautions as we make our way down a short flight of wooden stairs. Glenn goes on ahead and flicks on the light. Bingo! There it is … more than two decades of golden hockey memories: Framed photos [most of them autographed], hockey sticks, trophies, team uniforms and old equipment …Red Kelly was one of the first N.H.L. players to don a helmet. While still playing for the Leafs he became a federal politician — the Liberal Member of Parliament for York West [Toronto]. Here’s a short [:27] clip showing some of Glenn’s museum [taken with my iPhone]
I once asked Hall if he wanted to watch the old black and white video clip of the three goals [including the two that got by him] of the night in April 1992 when the Leafs won the Cup. I was ready to show him the clip on my iPad. “No thanks,” he said, “I was there. I already saw it.”
THE HALL FARM, HIS FAMILY
60+ YEARS OF SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS
Glenn Hall is still in demand. He continues to make appearances at autograph sessions with other retired N.H.L. stars, sign hockey cards, sticks, jerseys … and books.
And, by the way, the man has a signature that can be read.
I was leaving his house one day and noticed, on his kitchen table, a goalie mask perched on a pedestal. Interesting, I thought. Before my hand reached the door, Glenn remarked, “I’d like you to have this,” and he handed me the mask. I was pleasantly surprised.”I’m honoured,” I said, and we shook hands.
“I have a favour to ask you, Byron … could I have your autograph?” That kinda floored me because people rarely ask reporters for autographs. The All-Star reached for a pen and a blank sheet of paper and I signed my name on it.
“Aha!” he exclaimed, “you young fellas! … can’t make out your signature!”
To see the deer in action, click on the arrow. The reason the deer moved away was that Glenn had stepped outside to give them their feed.
“Don’t move,” Glenn warns as I jump off the couch to snap photos of the deer. “You’ll scare them.”
He then expressed concern about one deer in particular — a buck [they’re the ones with antlers]. “Haven’t seen him in months,” he said. “I hope he’s okay …”
FINAL REFLECTIONS …
What do two old guys talk about? Well, just about everything … from who isn’t here anymore to what we’ve done with our lives.
Glenn played professional hockey, and he has his hockey stories. I covered crime and I have my crime stories.
As I was getting up from the couch to help myself to another beer, Glenn remarked, “You know, Byron, we both did something we loved. You loved reporting … and I loved hockey.”
We do not talk about hockey nearly as much as we did when we first met, about four decades ago. When we discussed N.H.L. players then, they were pretty well all alive and active. They were doing something, even if it was just playing golf. But not now.
I don’t think there’s been a visit in the past two or three years where Glenn hasn’t mentioned that an old hockey player has died. Jean Beliveau. Doug Harvey. Bert Olmstead. Pit Martin. Gilles Tremblay. Allan Stanley. Dickie Moore. Pierre Pilote … even sports reporter Al McCann of CFRN has moved on to that great golf course in the sky.
And the young Black Hawk for whom Glenn Hall was best man at his wedding — Stan Mikita — has passed on.
For a time a stem, a cell transplant helped Gordie Howe but now he too is gone.
On 2 February 2016, I dropped around to see Glenn again and we got going through my old hockey scrapbook of newspaper clippings, autographs, magazine photos and N.H.L. stats.
And I mean ‘old.’ The scrapbook, which had a price tag of 29-cents, was put together in the mid-1960s.
The top scorers in the 1963-64 N.H.L. season: Stan Mikita [Black Hawks], 89 points; Bobby Hull [Black Hawks], 87 points; Jean Beliveau [Canadiens], 78; Andy Bathgate [Rangers & Toronto], 77; and Gordie Howe [Red Wings], 73 points.
Glenn read many of the names out loud. It was another trip down Memory Lane.
When he was done, he handed the leaflet back. I said, “It’s yours, Glenn.” “No,” he said, “it belongs in your scrapbook.” But I insisted. “It has names of your old friends,” I said, “some are gone now. You keep this.”
So he did.
Perhaps the scoring parade from 50 years ago ended up on Glenn’s night table, I don’t know. I do know that it’s now in the hands of someone who is more deserving than most players and fans.
Here’s something odd: Glenn Hall was called up to play for Detroit in the 1952 N.H.L. playoffs, but didn’t get to play. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, and Hall’s name appeared on the Cup. But it was spelled incorrectly — and it was far worse than missing an ‘n’ in Glenn — “Glynn” Hall.
[One of the biggest mistakes with names on Lord Stanley’s coveted mug came when the Edmonton Oilers were winning Cups in the 8os. Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington had his father’s name inscribed on the trophy. The league had it removed. How’s that for a lesson in ‘I have money and I can damn well do as I please?’]
A REARGUARD’S PERSPECTIVE OF HALL
Tom Wright played Intermediate and Senior hockey in Eastern Canada in the 1960s, but in the 1950’s he and Peter Maher spent hours on Peter’s backyard rink in Campbellton.
“By this time,” Tom reveals in an email from his home in Riverview, New Brunswick, “Glenn Hall had taken over as #1 for the Detroit Red Wings from my hero, Terry Sawchuk. The Hockey News was raving about Hall, so Glenn became my choice in our shinny games.”
After Glenn was traded to Chicago and the once fledgling team was a bonafide contender, Tom Wright began playing defence, emulating the offence-minded Pierre Pilote of the Hawks.
“All goalies in the day were gladiators,” notes the retired air-traffic controller, “no face or head protection, basic padding long before Kevlar-styled padding. More amazing were the gloves. The trapper [mitt] was not much more than a baseball trapper on steroids.”
“If one compares that era to the current era, the Glenn Halls stood guard covering about one-third of the net while today’s goalies cover about two-thirds. Brave men!”
“Glenn was a classic,” concludes Tom. “It was exciting to watch him ply his craft and seemingly improve with age.
“He was a true ironman at hockey’s most difficult position. There was no ‘back-up’ goalie then, everything rested on one goalie.”
A BROADCASTER’S THOUGHTS
Peter Maher did play-by-play for hundreds of N.H.L. games, earning him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Campbellton, New Brunswick native ended his illustrious broadcasting career as the voice of the Calgary Flames.
Maher got to know Glenn Hall when Hall was a goaltender coach for the Flames. “I was a kid when Glenn earned the nickname Mr. Goalie,” Peter recalls, “and I’d marvel at his great goaltending.”
Just as I did, Peter got to know Hall as a kind, caring man. The announcer adds, “And that was even more awesome …”
You could tell that Glenn Hall was a stand-up guy in more ways than one.
“At times, Glenn comes across as shy,” Peter offers, “but once you get to know him, he offers great insight, stories — and humour.”
“When Glenn was Flames’ goalie coach, he would rarely go on the ice but would sit and observe. He’d have a conversation with Mike Vernon or whoever the Flame backup goalies were in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Vernon often told me that not only did Glenn help his game with instruction but he also kept him loose with his stories.
“Glenn never really wanted to do interviews, but when I was able to get him to come on during an intermission for a 10-minute chat, he was great — although a bit nervous — a [condition] prevalent when he played with the nervous disorders he’d have prior to games.
“Glenn could have been a great after-dinner speaker but again wasn’t much interested unless, of course, he had a few Molson Canadians [beer] in him. I recall one summer, about 7-8 years ago, at a Sutter Brothers Charity Golf Tournament in Red Deer, when Brian Sutter convinced Glenn to speak at the banquet. He’d had enough of his favourite brew to be relaxed and he entertained the crowd for about 20 minutes with funny hockey stories. He brought down the house.
“Glenn didn’t like flying and he didn’t like heights. Thus, he didn’t travel that much with the Flames and when he was at the Saddledome for games, he’d sit up near our broadcast area. It was always the same spot with his left arm firmly around the pillar post for security. Glenn never left his seat during the entire game. He was much more comfortable in the dressing room later.
In summing up, Peter Maher had this to say about Glenn Hall: “I miss the many Flame practice mornings when I’d sit with Glenn, Al MacNeil and the late Bert Olmstead … and hear stories with some great one-liners — especially from Glenn.
ROAD HOCKEY, CAMPBELLTON-STYLEIn the 1960s, while tens of thousands of Canadian youngsters played road hockey, a group of us kids from the west end of Campbellton played ‘swamp hockey.’
The idea of playing hockey in a frozen swamp, in the middle of nowhere, came out of desperation. It was getting to be too much for us to play hockey on the street. First, there was the constant vehicular traffic and having to stop a game while a car passed.
Our parents also got complaints about the ‘rough’ language.
We decided to get off the street and build our own spot in a deserted area just west of Campbellton. It was the perfect place. No cars. No trucks. And NO fucking language police.Dennis Arpin would later take part in the Olympics as a member of Canada’s cross-country ski team; a few years ago he was inducted into the Grand Falls [New Brunswick] Sports Hall of Fame.
Terry Belliveau lives in Hamilton, Ontario.We didn’t have the Internet … just old-fashioned nets. Our nets were primitive, which made them even more special. Posts were made from small trees we’d chopped down and the ‘mesh’ consisted of sheets of stitched-together burlap from old potato sacks.
We played with all our hearts, just like in the N.H.L. And just like in the Bigs, we fired ‘cannonading’ drives, made sprawling saves, made great passes and scored from unbelievable angles. How good were we? Put it this way, at the end of the game, there weren’t just three stars, but 8 or 9.
If you were standing off to the side, knee-deep in snow, you’d swear that a dozen N.H.L. superstars were having a scrimmage in the snow bowl, complete with play-by-play of the game.
We all took turns imitating Bill Hewitt, Danny Gallivan … and Campbellton’s own Peter Maher … except, at times our language was more colourful. We may have even had some fake commercials, not sure. It’s been so long now.
It was at the swamp where Gordie Howe stormed in on Glenn Hall with a cannonading drive … while waiting to pounce on a rebound was none other than Stan Mikita and Pierre Pilote.
If one listened carefully, they’d hear goals being scored by Dave Keon, Jean Belliveau, Frank Mahovlich, Dickie Moore, Red Kelly … Maurice Richard, and others. Tim Horton and Doug Harvey blocked shots … sometimes even “traded punches.”
Goals were scored on Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley and Jacques Plante. Even Mr. Goalie slipped up now and then, especially if he didn’t have the proper stick.
It’s amazing that half a dozen boys could take on so many identities … and play so well.
One memory I have of those days — and it’s an odd one — is one of the boys streaking down the wing, then — without warning — suddenly stopping in his tracks. Everyone stood still. “Hey,” he said, “is this ever neat! … we’re playing in the middle of a blizzard and the snow is blowing right over our heads.” It was a moment in time — a swamp moment if you will — that none of us would forget, snow sifting down and tickling our necks.
Then without warning, the kid snapped that well-worn tennis ball into the net, past an unsuspecting goalie. That ignited a 5-minute heated argument as to whether the goal should count. There were no officials to settle the dispute; we settled things on our own.
The silly things that come to mind when I think back on those days, now more than half a century ago.
It was decided that those who arrived late [therefore missing out on the snow shovelling] were assigned to find the tennis ball when it was shot over the ‘boards.’
The dust-ups were soon forgotten, unlike the welts from that frozen tennis ball. We trudged home on the same path that brought us there, hockey sticks resting on our shoulders. The chatter focused on the cool goals, such as the ‘neat’ tip-ins, the Hall-like saves … and the N.H.L. team playing that night on Hockey Night in Canada.
Oh, one final thing about the walk home … no one was texting!!We had so much fun back then … but like our icons, we played hockey because we loved it.
So, Mr. Hall … fine. You played for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, and the St. Louis Blues — but you also starred in swamp hockey in Northern New Brunswick, where you didn’t wear a mask either.
The swamp is no more; the water drained out and the trees moved in. In a sense, our special place has gone the way of the two places that were special to all hockey fans in Canada: The old Forum in Montreal and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. They’re gone too. Something else has taken over, and it wasn’t nature.
The boys who carved out a special place to play shinny in that swamp are now grandfathers, perhaps even great-grandfathers. Pardon the cliches here, but we’ve gone from the Rolling Stones to kidney stones, from disco to Costco … and from long hair to longing for hair. Time has marched on, as we knew it would.
50 YEARS LATER: FAN MEETS HIS HERO
It was a warm, no-cloud-in-the-sky Sunday afternoon, 15 May 2016 when myself and longtime hockey fan Ed Black made our way past a row of tall, evergreen trees and down a winding, paved driveway that leads to Glenn Hall’s house.
I pulled up in my Elantra and just as I turned off the ignition, Ed turned my way and asked, rather incredulously, “Is this where GLENN HALL lives?” Ed was pumped. He was no longer 68 years old. He was a teen again.
Within seconds of the doorbell chiming, Mr. Goalie slowly made his way to the door, with a wave of his hand acknowledging that he’d spotted us. The door opened. “Come in,” he said, with a warm smile I’ve come to expect from him.
Ed Black, a native of Campbellton, New Brunswick, played hockey, indoor soccer, and basketball. He was a highly competitive player, a team leader … and a guy “who had your back.” He was never known for mincing his words. “Glenn,” he said, looking the N.H.L. great in the eye, “you were one of my heroes — ever since I was this tall,” dropping his right hand to indicate how big he was when he first learned of Mr. Goalie’s exploits.
“I love you, man!!” he blurted … then gave the aging Hall-of-Famer a bear hug. Now that’s a greeting. Hall loved it.
We retreated to the living room and with the help of some ice-cold beer we all enjoyed a cool trip down Memory Lane.”Man, you were something!!” exclaimed Ed, right out of the blue, jumping to his feet to pretend he was a goalie, kicking out his left leg to block a shot. He then plunked himself down in his chair, glanced Glenn’s way … and smiled. Glenn beamed. I’m not sure if Mr. Goalie was smiling because of Ed’s antics — or that he’d stopped a shot.
How many hockey fans across North America would have loved to have been in Ed Black’s shoes that day? It was a special — dare I say magical — moment.
We shook hands and said our good-byes. It was a long goodbye, however. The two men continued to talk about hockey and the “old days.”
If you’re under 30, chances are you have no idea of what those “old days” are about. But someday you will.
A KID AGAIN
It was a beautiful day in late July 2016. Thirty-plus degrees, a soft breeze … some white fluffy clouds; the way a Canadian summer is meant to be.
Glenn and I were relaxing on his back deck, chatting and enjoying a cold brew.
We weren’t talking about hockey. We were going on about music — and it sure as hell wasn’t rap. I asked Glenn to name some of his favourite tunes. He rattled off songs by Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold, Patti Page, The Platters …
Would you believe I had most on my iPhone? I didn’t realize I was that old. And so I played his favourites tunes, right then and there. Glenn enjoyed every one, the moment made even more special because we were on our second, third or fourth beverage. Can’t say for certain because I was drunk.
There was one very special tune — his all-time favourite — one I didn’t have in my iTunes library. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it. It was “Whispering Grass,” an odd, playful song by The Ink Spots, a popular American vocal group that had some huge hits during the Dirty Thirties and World War Two.
Give a listen … it runs 2:47. “Ladies and gentlemen, The Ink Spots and “Whispering Grass …”
A Google search soon located the ditty on YouTube and within seconds the song was playing on my iPhone. “That’s it! That’s the one!” my host exclaimed. I glanced over to see Mr. Goalie, head tilted back, eyes closed, silently mouthing the words to a song that was a ditty when he was nine.
I didn’t say a word.
It’s as though Glenn was no longer an old Hockey Hall of Famer, but a kid again. Did he slip back to the early 1930s? Was he in that small Saskatchewan town, trudging home after a game of shinny, stick dragging in the snow on one of those bitterly cold Western Canadian winter nights with a million stars in the sky? Was that the space he was in? Don’t know.
Whispering Grass was a biggie in 1940 when World War Two was just warming up. Back then, everyone knew about The Ink Spots … but of course few knew about Glenn Henry Hall. But all that would change before the decade was out. The kid from small-town Saskatchewan would sign a contract with the Detroit Red Wings. He’d later go on to be NHL Rookie of the Year … then capture a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blacks before ending his pro career with an expansion club, the St. Louis Blues.
Hall would record 84 shutouts and here he was, now well past 84 himself and lost in a cool little time warp. The song ended and for a moment neither one of us said a damn thing. Mr. Goalie then turned my way and again remarked, as if to reinforce, “That’s my all-time favourite …”
Changing the subject, Glenn said, “Care for another one?” I couldn’t stand the thought of some brewery workers being unemployed, and so I agreed. ‘Pssst!’ went one can. ‘Pssst!’ went the other.
Turns out, our brew was from St. Louis — where Glenn had worked nearly half a century ago. Played, pardon me.
Speaking of all-time favourites, those moments on his back deck listening to The Ink Spots and watching Glenn with his eyes closed, head back … now that’s one memory I’ll cherish. It’s nice when old folk become young again. Nothing does that better than sweet memories … and nothing brings ’em back like music.
KNOCKING ON HEAVEN’S DOOR
I’m sure Glenn has moments when he says, “What the hell?? I’m 87???” I know. I find myself saying, “What the hell? I’m 69???”
We don’t like to talk about it, but we have shared our thoughts on “crossing over.”
I joked that when we meet on the Other Side I’ll strap on a pair of skates, play defence … and save his ass. “That’s not going to happen,” he said. “… I’ll be playing forward.”
The last time we spoke, I said Glenn … you’re getting on in years and the day is coming when we won’t be able to meet anymore. “Well that would piss me off,” he said, pausing to look my way, “if I die before you …”
GLENN SPEAKS [0:25]
LEGENDS OF HOCKEY
Let’s end this post by posting a 9-minute video clip of Glenn Hall in the Legends of Hockey series …
[‘Legends of Hockey – Glenn Hall’ courtesy of YouTube. Runs 9:10]