Jacques Plante saluted by Google for inventing goalie mask
Legendary goaltender Jacques Plante was featured on a Google doodle on Feb. 12 for popularizing the protective face mask. (Photo: Montreal Gazette archives)

An NHL legend who changed the face of goaltending forever almost five decades ago has been honored for his innovation by a major tech company.

Renowned netminder Jacques Plante was featured Feb. 12 in a Google doodle on the search engine’s home page celebrating his role in popularizing the protective face mask for goalies.

The move comes ahead of a milestone for hockey history, as 2019 marks the 60th year since Plante brought out the mask following an injury in a game while playing for the Montreal Canadiens.

Google occasionally posts doodles to celebrate holidays, anniversaries and the lives of famous people from around the world. Plante’s doodle was live until 11:59 pm Eastern time.

The fateful game

Six years after Plante made his NHL debut with the Canadiens, one of hockey’s most storied franchises, he took a puck to the face off a shot from New York Rangers winger Andy Bathgate three minutes into a game on Nov. 1, 1959.

The shot broke Plante’s nose, and after he left the ice at Madison Square Garden to get stitches, he told Canadiens head coach Toe Blake he wouldn’t return to action if he couldn’t wear the homemade face mask he had used before in practices.

Back then, NHL teams couldn't dress backup goalies. So the game would have been delayed until Plante got repairs in the dressing room, and Blake reluctantly let Plante go back to the net to finish the game.

Montreal won that contest 3-1. Blake told Plante he had to discard the mask when his nose healed, but the Canadiens won 18 straight games before losing 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings on March 8, 1960.

The mask quickly made a comeback and the Canadiens went on to win their fifth straight Stanley Cup, the last of Plante’s career.

Plante later designed his own masks and face shields for other goalies too.

Goaltenders’ helmets were eventually adopted as mandatory safety equipment across the league. Although Plante has gotten the most credit for starting that trend, he wasn’t the first to don a mask in NHL play.

Clint Benedict of the now-defunct Montreal Maroons also donned a leather mask in 1930 to protect a broken nose.

Plante’s career

Plante played parts of 20 pro seasons with the Canadiens, Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers. He also had three stints in the American Hockey League and a cup of coffee in the former Eastern Professional Hockey League.

The Oilers were in the World Hockey Association, a rival league to the NHL in the 1970s, when Plante suited up for Edmonton.

In 837 NHL games, Plante posted a 437-246 win-loss record, 145 ties, 82 shutouts and a 2.38 goals-against average.

The native of Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec also went 71-37 in playoff action and recorded a 2.16 goals-against average.

Plante won six Stanley Cups in nine years with Montreal and earned the Vezina Trophy seven times throughout his career. He also appeared in eight All-Star Games and received the Hart Trophy once.

He joined the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, three years after his second retirement.

Plante stepped back from playing in 1965, but was drafted by the Blues in 1968. He was traded to the Maple Leafs in 1970 and was shipped to the Bruins in 1973.

Off the ice, Plante had a short-lived stint as a Quebec Nordiques coach and general manager in the 1973/74 season. He became a color commentator for junior games during his first retirement and was an on-air analyst during the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

Following his second retirement, Plante moved to Switzerland, but stayed active in North American hockey as an analyst, adviser and goalie trainer. He died from stomach cancer in 1986.

What do you think? Was Jacques Plante’s doodle a clever way to honor someone who changed hockey? Are there other players Google could feature? Let us know in the comments section below!