Old time goalies: What a job!

It’s true Patrick Roy is the winningest goaltender in the long history of the National Hockey League. What is equally true is that this fidgety fellow has a lousy sense of history.

Patrick was between the pipes as the winning goaltender for the 448th time one night last fall, marking one more win than another twitchy fellow, Terry Sawchuk, had managed in 20 years of NHL turmoil.

Whereupon Roy turned a trifle ungenerous towards earlier craftsmen in his trade.

“This is a position that has improved tremendously in the last 15 years since I came in the league,” Roy said in a conference call with the hard-thinking scribes. “When I started to play the game you put a guy who could barely skate in goal. Now this position is getting more interesting, with great athletes going into the net. They are guys who could be forwards.”

Barely skate?
Punch Imlach, the one-time Toronto leader who never stopped a puck in his life, said on more than one occasion that goaltending was like cigarettes – hazardous to your health. Punch was around, thinking away, wning four Stanley Cups for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1960s-which just happens to be 30 to 40 years ago, not the dark ages of a mere 15 years back when little Patrick Roy began counting on his fingers.

Guys who could barely skate? Why, goaltenders such as Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Gerry Cheevers and Gump Worsley, to name a few, were acrobats on blades.

In addition, unadorned by facemasks, they confronted flame-throwers such as Boom Boom Geoffrion, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau, Andy Bathgate and a few dozen more.

Unlike today’s crop of goalies, they weren’t invisible behind gladiator helmets, mattress-sized bellypads, and blocker mitts larger than iron frying pans.

Grasp of angles
What was Patrick peering at when he peeked from his cradle at the family TV screen? Didn’t he see Jacques Plante zipping behind the Canadiens’ net, playing the puck for his defencemen, or Cheevers dashing from his Boston cage to corral the biscuit and feed it to Orr for another exhilarating Bruin foray?

Besides, in his assessment of his predecessors, Patrick ought to be playing particular homage to his fellow Quebecker, Jacques Plante, the innovative fellow who brought the facemask’s salvation to the brothers.

Plante had a mathematician’s grasp of the angles of approach to his cage. When a shooter zeroed in on him, the computer Jacques used for a brain advised him how much open net was available to the intruder and he stationed himself to reduce the daylight to its absolute minimum.

“You never beat Plante with a flukey goal,” his Boston rival, Gerry Cheevers, once said. “You only beat him where you should beat him – on the far side, or wherever there was that extra half-inch or so to shot at.”

Plante knitted
Of course, Jacques was a trifle eccentric. He used to knit woollen toques in the Canadiens’ dressing room to help him relax. Also, he suspected the air in some arenas carried tiny invisible enemies. Until he moved to Toronto late in his career he felt he could not survive there for long.

The deep thinker who ran Les Habs in those days, Toe Blake, tried various means to get him relaxed in Toronto visits. Once, he sent Jacques to the Westbury Hotel near maple Leaf Gardens while the rest of the Canadiens stayed at the Royal York Hotel farther downtown. Did Jacques feel better the next day?

“No,” Jacques replied civilly. “I slept well but I dreamed I was at the Royal York. When I woke up I was plugged.”

Plante paid his dues to the goaltenders’ union. Before he covered his handsome dark kisser with a mask he had broken his nose four times, his cheekbones twice, his jaw once, and had picked up a hairline skull fracture, a concussion and 200 stitches in his face. He also had four leg operations for removal of cartilage from both knees.

Down on your knees, Patrick Roy.