On November 1, 1959, Jacques Plante broke new ground by donning a goalie mask during an NHL game. Toe Blake, coach of the Canadiens, had allowed Plante to wear his mask only at practice because he felt it obscured his vision. Then, during a game in New York, Plante was hit in the jaw by a slap shot.
Bob Turner recalls Plante being a bloody mess when he went off the ice. "In those days we had only one goalie. He went into the medical clinic in Madison Square Garden and got all stitched up. He came out, put his mask on and Toe never said a word." It was a primitive-looking thing but at least it provided some protection.
There was even less equipment in the game when Squee Allen spent his one and only season in the NHL with the New York Americans in 1940-41. "We didn't have equipment at all. We didn't have equipment like they've got today-no helmets or face masks."
Perhaps if they had, his career would not have been cut short. During a game in Boston, Allen was on a power play break-away when he was hooked from behind. The opponent's stick caught the bottom of his eye socket and popped his eyeball out so it was hanging on his cheek. His career in the NHL came to an abrupt end. Although he eventually recovered most of the sight in his eye, league regulations forbade him from playing after an eye injury.
Better equipment is not the only way the game has changed, say these former Saskatchewan NHLers. The most noticeable difference is the money in today's game.
The 78 year-old Allen, who grew up in Kerrobert, Sask., and returned there to run a farm machinery dealership after his year in the NHL, said he was earning a good salary for the time, but it was nothing like the millions players receive now.
"We got peanuts! I turned pro for $3,500.00 a year. The highest-paid player in the National League was Syl Apps at that time and he got paid $6,000.00. It's hard to believe."