Blackhawks

"Mr. Goalie" Glenn Hall looks back at legendary NHL career

Blackhawks

Hall of Famer Glenn Hall — a legendary goalie between the pipes for the Blackhawks from 1957-1967 — sits at his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta remaining sharp and humble at age 89 after earning the NHL’s greatest accolades and achievements as a player by giving everything to and risking everything for the game of hockey.

The instrumental member of the Blackhawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup championship team started and completed 502 consecutive regular-season games, beginning with the Detroit Red Wings in the 1955-56 season — his rookie year — and ending 12 games into 1962-63 with the Hawks. Far more impressive, and alarming, than the unattainable goalie record he set — which extends to 552 games if you count playoffs — is doing it without a mask. 

Hall, named one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history in 2017 by the league, was fully aware of the impending danger no mask and pucks traveling at high speeds towards him presented when he played.

“You’re damn right I realized it,” Glenn said over the phone. “I had been hit hard three times that was without a mask. So we certainly knew how much damage the puck could do. We played a little bit defensively, we held the glove hand a little higher so you could cover the face if you had to. But like I said, I had been hit hard three times.”

Glenn Hall stops Gordie Howe on Oct. 24, 1963 at the Detroit Olympia
Credit: Getty
Glenn Hall stops Gordie Howe on Oct. 24, 1963 at the Detroit Olympia

Glenn’s son Pat vividly remembers watching him get struck in the face once on TV as a child. The Blackhawks were facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs near the end of Hall’s time with Chicago.

 

“Jim Pappin lets a slap shot go with the curved stick, and what the curved stick did is it kind of made a knuckleball out of the puck, you hit it hard, it would move on you,” Pat explained. “So he went up thinking he could kind of corral this puck in his chest, but the knuckleball kept the puck rising and it just hit him solid in the mouth.” Pat recalls seeing his father in the morning, back from Toronto and sporting a “beard” of bandages.

There was the time Glenn was playing in juniors and players jostling for position in front of the net resulted in a skate going through his cheek. “Today, that scar is kind of gone, but it was so prominent all through his life and my childhood,” Pat said.

Hall’s routine to summon the ability to play through the feeling of imminent danger at a top level during the maskless days of the NHL involved working himself into such an intense mental state that he would vomit before games. “When I was sick, I knew I was ready,” he would later comment on the pre-game ritual.

“Now, I think I don’t know how I could have watched my dad play goal without a mask, and I did,” Pat said. “You just had this naive comfort that nothing’s going to happen, 'Dad will stop the puck.’ … I don’t know how nobody was badly hurt or killed.”

Goalies in Glenn’s time accepted playing without a mask because that’s the way it was.

“The goalkeepers before us, they played [without a mask],” Hall, who earned the moniker “Mr. Goalie”, said. “We always thought we were tough playing goal. It was, at that time, the most difficult position in sports I think . . . playing goal in the National Hockey League.”

Related: Ranking the best Blackhawks nicknames in franchise history

The living legend, who captured three Vezina trophies (best goalie), a Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) and a Calder (rookie of the year), is in the same boat as many seniors this holiday season, facing major alterations to cherished annual family gatherings.

With Alberta in lockdown through Christmas due to COVID restrictions, Glenn will be doing the majority of holiday visiting with his four children, nine grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren on a screen with some assistance, not at his farm where he normally enjoys hosting family and friends. Those living alone in Alberta, like him, are allowed to designate two people to visit with them.

As this Christmas is shaping up to present more challenges for the Hall family, and countless others, Pat — the oldest of Hall's children — reminisces about this time of year being a special one when Glenn was on the Blackhawks, even though Christmas road games often prompted an early celebration.

Blackhawks players' kids at team Christmas party
Credit: Pat Hall
Blackhawks players' kids at 1964 team Christmas party, Chicago Stadium - Pat Hall (behind Santa, to the right)

He recalls the Blackhawks Christmas parties at Chicago Stadium being “a high point of the Christmas season” every year. The families skated and the kids would split up with the boys playing hockey and the girls figure skating. Santa would show up and give the children big plastic stockings filled with candy. 

 

Families highly anticipated the gifts the Hawks would give players at the holiday party. “The one that really kind of blew me away was a color TV, and that’s when nobody on our block had a color TV,” Pat said. “To watch the Flintstones and Bonanza with color, you were just living the high life.”

In October, Glenn was able to visit with a couple grandchildren for Canadian Thanksgiving before the lockdown. 

“It’s difficult for everybody, this virus, but I don’t mind being alone. I keep telling people that when I’m with a crowd I’m usually the best looking, when I’m alone I’m the smartest, and that’s why I don't have a goldfish. Because if I had a gold fish, I’d be second in command,” said Hall, who’s had no trouble hanging onto his sense of humor. “I’m just enjoying life and doing very little and enjoying doing nothing.”

Glenn’s wife, Pauline, passed away in June of 2009 from cancer. In the 55 years they were married Pauline did most of the talking, including vocalizing her frustration to former NHL President Clarence Campbell over games on Christmas. Many credited her when they went away in 1972.

“I know he misses her dearly, but he also has grandchildren, great grandchildren and his kids, and he knows that he’s got to keep going forward for them,” Pat said. “While it had a big effect on him, Dad’s whole philosophy is you have to get up tomorrow and keep going.”

Pat, a 64-year-old retired insurance broker, lives close by and is able to regularly visit with and assist his father. He and the rest of Glenn’s family have been selective of and careful with visits since the pandemic began.

“It’s funny, and I think it goes back to what made him a great goaltender, he’s really strong in his mind and he always is and always has been a bit reclusive,” Pat said. “He loves people, he loves socializing and things like that, but kind of at his place. … He talks to people lots on the phone, so whether it’s the kids, the grandkids or the great grandkids calling . . . he also has lots of friends.”

Glenn Hall at his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta
Credit: Pat Hall
Glenn Hall at his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta

The 1961 Cup team is strongly represented among the incoming calls. Jill Mikita, the late Stan Mikita’s wife, and Bobby Hull both gave Glenn a ring on his Oct. 3 birthday this year. He kept in touch with Pierre Pilote prior to Hall of Fame defenseman and former Hawks captain passing away in 2017. He’s also regularly chatted with Eric Nesterenko, who was a longtime strong defensive forward for Chicago.

“I think that that’s a good thing, it keeps him engaged,” Pat said of the calls.

 

Glenn was on the phone with Scotty Bowman right before our interview. Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history and currently the Senior Advisor for Hockey Operations with the Blackhawks, is a regular caller to the Hall farm.

“He’s got such a good memory and there were good, good days (with us),” Hall said of Bowman. “I never played with a team that played defensive hockey like St. Louis did. It was an absolute pleasure to play in St. Louis because Scotty was way before his time. He felt that if you stopped a goal from going in, it was just like scoring a goal. So it was wonderful to have a coach that could think the way a goalkeeper thought.”

Scotty’s first gig as an NHL head coach was serving behind the bench for the St. Louis Blues in 1967-68, their inaugural season and Glenn’s first year with St. Louis after being the Blues’ first pick in the expansion draft.

Hall had skipped training camp his last couple seasons in Chicago in order to avoid hard shots like Bobby and Dennis Hull and Mikita’s. Ahead of 1966-67, Glenn didn’t want to return to hockey, he was spent. The Blackhawks gave him more money, so he returned during the year, but it was backup Denis DeJordy who they chose to protect in the expansion draft.

After becoming the Red Wings’ starter for the 1955-56 season following his first Stanley Cup as their backup goalie in 1952, and making it to the Cup Final in each of the Blues’ first three years — winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in their first season despite getting swept by the Montreal Canadiens — Glenn still considers himself a Blackhawk. 

Related: 10 best goalies in Chicago Blackhawks history

It meant a lot to him when the Hawks retired his jersey in 1988 and held a 50-year reunion for the 1961 Cup team in 2011. The organization also welcomed Hall to a couple fan conventions and offered to accommodate him and his family at the team’s last three Stanley Cup Finals (2010, 2013, 2015). 

Aside from the treatment he’s received as an alumni, “Mr. Goalie” looks back at his ten years in Chicago with delight. 

“Just the fact that I liked playing [there],” Glenn said of what stands out about his sensational career with the Blackhawks. “I liked playing hockey and I remember when we first got to Chicago the team wasn’t very good and as we went on we picked up a bunch of players and the team got better and a good team will start to play good hockey.”

When it comes to the uncanny ’61 team, Hall feels it wasn’t the talent that made them special but the squad’s selflessness and chemistry. 

“Well, I think our best friends were our teammates and so we were really, really close. Also our wives were best friends,” Glenn said. “We were really a close hockey team and I think we played as a team, we played for one another. It was a great feeling and a great team.”

 

On the ’61 squad, everybody was expected to conduct themselves with a team-first mentality, set forth by players like center Ed Litzenberger—the Hawks’ captain for the 1961 Cup run. “It just fell into it was an expected thing,” Hall said.

Pat says one of Glenn’s few gripes about his hockey career is that he and the Stan and Bobby Blackhawks didn't win more Cups together.

“We should have won multiple Cups. Our coaches didn’t know how to coach in the playoffs. Should have been a lot more, that was a great hockey team,” Glenn has told Pat over the years.

Hall believed the Hawks’ coaching style was too relaxed after their successful Cup run. The Blackhawks made it to the final two more times and the semifinals four more times before he bid farewell to Chicago.

His other grievance is with the Vezina Trophy, which he won in 1963 and shared in 1967 and 1969.

For the 1981-82 season, the NHL changed the criteria for the award. The trophy had been previously given to the goalie(s) on the team allowing the fewest goals against during the regular season. It was modified to be awarded to the best goalie, decided on by NHL general managers. The William M. Jennings Trophy was introduced in 1981 to acknowledge the Vezina’s original requirements. 

“Dad won’t sign an autograph if it’s a picture with the Vezina Trophy. He’s totally disowned the Vezina Trophy,” Pat Said. “When Dad won it, it was what team had the best goals-against (average). So it’s distorted everything because Jacques Plante won six Vezinas because he played on the Montreal Canadiens (and shared one with Hall on the Blues) and that team (always) had the lowest goals-against average, if they had had [the newer Vezina requirements] in the ‘60s when dad was getting [seven] first team All-Star selections out of 10 years, I’m sure he would have gotten [seven] Vezinas (those years). So it’s totally distorted his legacy. Dad would have eight or nine and Plante would have two or three (by today’s Vezina standards).”

saskatchewan sports hall of fame
Credit: Pat Hall
Glenn and Pat Hall at the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame

Pat had a front-row seat to his father cementing arguably the greatest legacy of any NHL goaltender. He was two years old when Glenn was traded from Detroit to Chicago in 1957. He remembers getting to skate on the ice with now iconic Blackhawks players before team practices at Chicago Stadium. 

“Bobby Hull would come up and skate with you for a while, then you go in the dressing room after. A lot of fun, pretty cool childhood,” Pat said.

“You knew something was different. I think I was about seven years old when the (iron man) streak ended. We were getting all kinds of cards and cakes and things like that and I didn’t really understand what was going on at all,” Pat recalls. “As I got older though, that’s when it kind of sunk in. … I don’t think I appreciated what he was doing and what he had done and everything until later when it was done and you’re looking back.”

 

Fully understanding the scope of what Glenn accomplished now, Pat speaks proudly of his father’s career, pointing out that the no-mask iron man streak actually reaches over 1,000 games when you count juniors and minors, and that “Dad” got his name on the Cup a third time in 1989 as a goalie coach with the Calgary Flames.

The Hall family stayed grounded as the insurmountable achievements piled up for Glenn and as Pat was able to mingle with future Hall of Famers. They always lived in blue-collar neighborhoods — surrounded by blue-collar people — wherever they went, including Chicago area neighborhoods like Berwyn, Westchester, North Riverside, and Elmhurst.

Glenn even worked several offseasons — including 1961’s as a Stanley Cup champion — flipping burgers at Hannigan’s, a fast food restaurant in Edmonton, where the family spent their summers.

“Well, [it was] to make a living,” Hall said matter-of-factly. “You got paid enough money to support yourself and the family during the season but you had to have a job in the summertime. … So I had to have a job and I had friends that I played with who owned a fast food business and so I worked for them. I was lucky enough to get a job with them.”

Looking back at his unparalleled accomplishments in the NHL under dire circumstances, Hall is most proud of being the only goalie to be a first-team All-Star selection with three different franchises (Red Wings, Blackhawks and Blues). He was named a first-team All-Star seven times, a peerless achievement to this day for a goaltender.

One of Glenn’s marks on the game can be seen today in nets at all levels. He’s credited with being the innovator of the butterfly style: when a goalie drops down to their knees and spreads their pads to cover the bottom of the net.

The positioning allowed him to not only cover down low, but to have more mobility. If he needed to move, he could dig the edge of a skate into the ice and push off.

Glenn wasn’t a fan of flopping or stacking pads to make a save, “Once you stack your pads, you’re useless,” he thought.

The butterfly played to his strengths. “His reflexes and eyesight is what I think made him exceptional,” Pat said. 

Back when Hall introduced the position, there weren’t any goalie coaches. He drew a lot of criticism from head coaches around the league who said it wouldn’t last. 

Trophies were won, records were set and conservative bench bosses were made fools of as Glenn used the butterfly, along with his toughness and skill set, to achieve feats and prestige perpetually unattainable to future generations of goalies.

 

As for this Christmas, it will just be Glenn and Pat at the farm on Christmas Eve and Glenn's daughter Leslie will be with him on Christmas Day.

Pat knows it'll be far from ideal, but "if it keeps Dad safe, it's worth it."

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