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Iron Man of the Ice

Glenn Hall played 502 consecutive games in goal—perhaps the safest record in all of sports

Glenn Hall watches as the Calgary Flames pepper their goaltenders with shots on the first day of '92 training camp. As the shooters blast away unimpeded, Hall, who has been the Flames' goaltending consultant for nine years, ducks his head involuntarily each time a puck is deflected into the seats, smiling at himself as he does so. But this man, of all men, understands that you can't be too careful around flying rubber.

In 15 of his 18 NHL seasons as a goalie—with the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Black Hawks and the St. Louis Blues—Hall played without a mask, and his mug has the scars from some 250 stitches to prove it. "Our first priority was staying alive," Hall says. "Our second was stopping the puck."

Crackkk! A direct 25-foot shot smashes off the face mask of a Flame goalie. It is one of the most terrifying sounds in sports. When it is suggested, foolishly, that a shot like that one might have sidelined him for a couple of weeks, Hall says mildly, "It would've been the end of my practice, that's for sure."

Out for a couple of weeks? Glenn Hall? For more than seven years he wasn't out for even a single game. Hall holds the record of records, a mark we will swear, on the good book of Guinness, won't ever be broken. Between the start of the 1955 season and Nov. 7, 1962, Hall played 502 consecutive complete games in goal. In truth, the number was 551, including the 49 playoff games, which the NHL does not recognize in its tabulations.

For seven complete seasons—two with Detroit and five with Chicago—the maskless Hall, who became known as Mr. Goalie, never missed a start. To put the inviolability of Hall's streak into perspective, consider that the last goalie to play every minute of every game of even one regular season was the Boston Bruins' Eddie Johnston in 1963-64. Last season Detroit's Tim Cheveldae led all goalies by appearing in 72 of the Red Wings' 80 games. "With teams carrying two goalies now," Hall modestly allows, "I'd have to say it will never be broken."

What particularly distinguishes Hall's iron-man mark was the quality of his play throughout it. In '55-56 he was NHL rookie of the year. In '60-61 he led the Hawks to an unexpected Stanley Cup championship. During those seven seasons Hall was named to the first or second All-Star team six times—a feat made more amazing by the competition. This was the golden era of the goalie (or the "goolie," as Hall was nicknamed). Five future Hall of Famers were manning the nets in the six-team NHL then: Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Bower, Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley and Hall. "You pretty much saw good goaltending every night," Hall says. "That was one of the great things about the old six-team league. You always wanted to force the guy in the other net to play well."

In those days teams traveled with only one netminder. The emergency backup was the equipment manager. Hall, who had grown up the son of a railway worker in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, had spent four seasons in the minors before breaking into the elite circle of NHL goalies, and he had learned to play with the sorts of ailments that might keep a modern player out for who knows how long—pulled groins, bone bruises, influenza. "In the minors, if you sat out a few games, you might lose your job," says Hall. "So you learned to play with pain."

A puck to the face was considered a hazard of the profession, not an excuse to sit out—unless it was that rogue shot to the eye all goalies feared, the one that ended a career. Hall, blessedly, never saw that shot, although once a puck cut him on three sides of the eye socket without injuring the eyeball. Another time Toronto's Jim Pappin hit him with a slap shot that left a 30-stitch gash across both lips and knocked out the only tooth Hall lost in his playing career. "The dentist told me how lucky I was," Hall says. "I said through my swollen lips, 'Ah don' fee' wucky.' "

On another occasion, in junior hockey, a skate blade cut clean through Hall's right cheek, so he could stick his tongue out through the wound. "It must have been hard on the mothers to dress their kids for goal and say, 'Now go have fun,' " Hall says. "But facial injuries were just pain. They didn't restrict your movements. And you forgot about pain once you were in game conditions. I had a reaction to penicillin once after a trip to the dentist, and that almost ended the streak. And the flu would knock you down a little bit. But everyone played with the flu."

It was Hall's back that finally brought his remarkable record to an end. He leaned over to fasten his toe strap one day in practice and felt the back go out. He tried to play the next night, hoping the adrenaline would kill the pain. But he found he couldn't move and removed himself midway through the first period. He never did find out exactly what ailed him. "When I went to the doctor's office, he told the nurse to bring him an inch-and-a-half needle," Hall recalls. "She could only find one an inch-and-a-quarter. So he stuck it into my back extra hard and wiggled it around until I about fainted. I hated needles, and I hated pain. So I said, 'I'm cured, Doc.' Walked out and never came back." Reenacting his exit, Hall staggers off like a man carrying a canoe.

The public seldom saw this side of Hall, the dry and amusing raconteur. "He kept his humor in the locker room, but he's a very sharp-witted guy," says Al MacNeil, a teammate of Hall's with the Black Hawks and now Calgary's director of hockey operations. "You don't want to start trading barbs with him."

MacNeil should know. Hall still ribs him about the year he outscored MacNeil, a defenseman, two points to one. "But Al had a better second half than I did," says Hall, who got both his points before the All-Star break.

The Glenn Hall that hockey fans remember was a guy so tightly wound that he threw up before most games. "Goaltending was hard on Glenn," says MacNeil. "It was hard on all of them, playing without a mask when a deflection could literally kill you. Any number of times I can remember Glenn bringing it up from his toenails about four minutes before a game, so his eyes would still be watering as we stepped on the ice."

The vomiting, says Hall, was not brought upon by fear or dread. "It was the opposite. I was so excited to go out and play that it made me throw up. I thought of it as a strength. If I weren't up for a game enough to get sick before it, I felt I wouldn't play well. It was no big deal. I could have a glass of water and throw it up while it was still cool. A few years ago I was coaching a young guy who said, 'Gee, how could you toss your cookies before every game? I'm never nervous out there.' I told him, 'Yeah, but aren't you embarrassed that you play so horse-bleep and you're not even nervous about it?' That wasn't the answer he was looking for."

Hall loved the games, and he loved the subtleties of his position. "If you're not thinking three or four or five plays ahead, you're not finding goaltending interesting," Hall says. "And, jeez, it's an interesting position, isn't it?"

Certainly the way Hall played, it was. He pioneered the butterfly style that is routinely used by modern goalies. Instead of splitting to stop the low shot, or sprawling sideways and stacking the pads—which was the common style of his era—Hall dropped to his knees and fanned his feet out in a wide V. There were several advantages to this butterfly technique:

1) Hall was able to use his glove hand to catch almost any shot off the ice and, subsequently, kill the play.

2) Most of the bottom of the net was protected, guarding against a deflection. (When a goalie splits, much of the bottom of the net is vulnerable.)

3) It was an easier position to recover from than either the split or the sprawl.

4) Perhaps most important to Hall, his face was kept farther from the ice. "The butterfly was a move designed to keep the face away from the puck," says Hall. "It was just common sense. But it was only used when the puck was tight in. Today, with the masks, they're butterflying on shots taken all over the ice."

Hall was known as a reflex goalie, one who relied more on quickness of hand and foot than on angles and positioning. Playing most of his career for the run-and-gun Hawks of the Bobby Hull era, he was often left to fend spectacularly for himself. Opponents had no reliable book on how to beat him, except to keep gunning.

Hall appeared to be even quicker than he really was, because of his great anticipation. "There's a very fine line between anticipation and cheating," he likes to say. It is a line he often would tread. He would, for example, leave the left corner open to an opponent, perhaps a tantalizing six inches, then, when the player put his head down to shoot, Hall would slide over and take that corner away. "Reeling them in," he called it.

Expansion eventually ruined this ruse, however. Hall would give some no-name one side of the net and, when the head went down, move over to cover the corner. Then—bang!—the jerk would put a shot right where Hall had been standing, and it would get through his legs. "The guy would raise his stick and think he was a hockey player," Hall says in disgust. "We all had trouble with that at first."

When he was playing, Hall felt he had the best seat in the house. Why on earth should he have wanted to take a night off? He remembers the Canadiens' Maurice Richard for his great backhand shot. The best at tip-ins was, no question, the Rangers' Camille Henry. Hall cites the Red Wings' Alex Delvecchio as having the most deceptive follow-through, which was the same whether Delvecchio was shooting low or high. He remembers the Rangers' Andy Bathgate for his paralyzingly accurate slap shot and the Canadiens' Jean Beliveau and the Red Wings' Gordie Howe for their ability to adjust: They had no habits that Hall was able to anticipate.

He loved to play. The complexity of goaltending was mother's milk to him. It was the practices Hall hated. Loathed. He can't understand how modern goalies put up with them. "We didn't have these stupid practices they have today," he says, "where they come in and blast pucks at you, one after another. How often does a guy get that kind of time in a season? I counted the shots they took on our goalie one time in practice a couple of years back. It was something like 275. That was more shots than I saw in a month. What's the point? I've always believed if a forward can play every night, so can a goalie. But not if you practice like that. I know the greatest thing for me was a day off from practice. Once in a while the coach would ask if I could use one, and I had a standard two-word answer: 'Of course.' That's frowned on today. Coaches think you're not working hard enough if you take a day off."

For much of his career, Hall had to practice day after day against the likes of teammates Hull and Stan Mikita, who in the mid-'60s were among the first to use the curved stick. "Practices were sheer terror," recalls MacNeil. "Bobby had the hammer out all the time, and he had no compunction about trying to put it right through a guy's stomach. He just loved to hit guys with the puck."

"Stan and Bobby used the hook as a form of intimidation," says Hall. "There was no limit to the curve then, and they'd kind of cut their shot so it'd dip two feet on you. We weren't used to it, and we didn't like it."

Hull would have contests during practice with his brother and teammate Dennis to see who could shoot pucks highest into the seats of Chicago Stadium. But what was most unnerving to Hall, who was still maskless at that point in his career, was a ritual that began during pregame warm-ups. "The goal judge in Chicago Stadium always held a soft drink in his hand," says Hall, "and Stan and Bobby would deliberately shoot the puck off the glass in front of him to see him jump and spill the drink on himself. They thought that was funny as hell. The problem was that first it had to come over my shoulder."

Those Hull-Mikita-Hall-led Hawks were a thrilling team to watch, but despite their great talent, they only won the one Stanley Cup, in 1961. Hall believes that the Black Hawks' penchant for the offensive game—and a lust for goal scoring—may have been a factor. "They sacrificed passing the puck for the shot," he says. "Bobby just loved to shoot the puck more than anything."

"Those Hawk teams never paid much attention to defense," says Scotty Bowman, who coached Hall for four seasons with the St. Louis Blues. "One year Glenn was leading the race for the Vezina Trophy [which in those years went to the goalie who allowed the fewest goals against] by six goals with two games left in the season, and on the plane trip to Toronto all the Black Hawks were talking about was how many goals they needed to make their bonuses. Glenn never said a thing, which he wouldn't, knowing him. So Chicago ends up getting in a couple of shoot-outs, and Glenn lost the Vezina on the last day of the season. It tells you how well Glenn had to have played all season to even have been close."

The Hawks left Hall unprotected when the league doubled in size in 1967. A 10-time All-Star at age 35, Hall was making just $35,000 a year, and he had announced his intention to retire. But when the Blues drafted him, they were able to lure him back to the NHL with a raise to $47,500. Hall rewarded the expansion club by helping them get to the Stanley Cup finals three years in a row. He also finally began wearing a face mask. "Age, common sense," Hall explains. "You were looking at more deflections and screen shots. The players would tell me, you're crazy not to wear a mask, and basically you knew you were. But it wasn't like you put it on and felt invincible. We didn't have that much confidence in them."

The primitive mask certainly didn't diminish Hall's play. In 1968 he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the playoffs; the next season, at 37, Hall and 41-year-old Jacques Plante shared the Vezina Trophy, combining for a 2.07 goals-against average. When Hall retired, in 1971, he had 84 shutouts (third-most in NHL history) and a lifetime goals-against average of 2.51.

Since that time, goals per game averages have soared, and the question remains: Has modern goaltending somehow gotten worse? Are the shooters that much better? Or is it a combination of both?

Hall, for one, doesn't feel today's goalies should be blamed. He has seen the entire league shift the emphasis to more offense, playing like his old run-and-gun Hawks. Certainly more players today shoot the puck well than their predecessors did 25 years ago, and, with 24 teams, it is impossible for goalies to get a book on the strengths of every shooter, as Hall was able to do.

He has noticed, however, that more of today's goalies tend to throw themselves at the puck than they did in his day. "Someone came along with the phrase, 'Challenge the shooter,' " moans Hall. "I cry when I hear that. The whole game today is designed on getting the goalie out of position. That's why I preach recovery, recovery, recovery. I'd love to be playing now. I could move. I could get there. I was a good skater, which is the most important element of goal tending."

The 61-year-old Hall now assumes a familiar crouch, unforgettable to those who regularly watched him play. His knees are bent with his legs swaying back and forth like sea grass. His head protrudes so that it is in front of his hands, a little like a turtle with its neck out. He is fluid, relaxed, poised on the balls of his feet and ready to spring. Without equipment, without even ice, Hall is still the consummate goalie. No one has ever floated up and down, in and out of the crease, with quite his style.

"That's why I don't like the idea of alternating two goalies," Hall says. "When you get on a roll, you're moving with confidence, smooth and easy. When you're not confident, when you haven't played, you're jerky. And if you're moving jerky, you're looking at double figures.

"You know, today's goalies work harder in practice than we ever did," Hall says. "But I see a complacency—a lot of guys just happy being in the NHL. I'll never understand that complacency. Scotty Bowman used to say, just because you signed an NHL contract, doesn't mean you're a National Leaguer. That's the way I felt. God, I'd have hated to be an average goalie."



Hall was a pioneer of the butterfly style that's common today.



After toiling for the Black Hawks of Mikita (below) and Hull (above), Hall went to the Blues and finally donned a mask.



[See caption above.]



[See caption above.]



For a mug that took 250 stitches before it was masked, Hall's looks pristine.


They said Bob Beamon's long jump record would never be broken, and look what happened. They said Lou Gehrig's consecutive-game streak would never be threatened, and look what Cal Ripken is doing. Which leaves one to query whether any sports record is truly inviolable. Our answer is yes, and we offer these 10 achievements as evidence, listed in order of unbreakability.

1) Glenn Hall's 502 consecutive complete games in goal (1955-62). It has been nearly 30 years since any goalie played every game in even one season. Enough said.

2) Ty Cobb's .367 career batting average (1905-28). Unimpeachable. The closest contender in recent times? Wade Boggs (career average: .338), who, by hitting .259 this season, suggested that Cobb can rest in peace.

3) Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak (1941). Yes, Pete Rose got close, sort of, with 44. But modern media madness alone assures that no man will eclipse the Yankee Clipper.

4) The Boston Celtics' eight straight NBA championships (1959-66). Consider this: There have been as many three-peat champions in the NBA since 1966 as there have been three-peat presidents in the U.S. since '66. Eight-peat? Octo-peat? Huit-peat? Forget it.

5) Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a game (1962). Although it might rank as the most imposing record in sports history, who today would want it? When Michael Jordan scores 50, the game is promptly branded a badly balanced effort by the Bulls.

6) UCLA's seven straight NCAA basketball Championships (1967-73). Since '73, only Duke (in 1991 and '92) has been able to wear the crown two seasons in a row.

7) The Los Angeles Lakers' 33-game winning streak (1971-72). Given that no team has won more than 18 consecutive games since 1972, we would argue that even the Dream Team could not match this Teat.

8) Jack Nicklaus's 20 major golf championships (1959-1992). Bobby [ones, with 12 majors, remains a distant second. The record would appear particularly sale in today's egalitarian golf world in which Nick Faldo is the only current player under age 40 to have have won even four majors.

9) Rocky Marciano's 49-0 heavyweight record (1947-55). Evander Holyfield is the closest challenger, with a 28-0 record. Extrapolating from his light schedule over the last two years, Holyfield would surpass the Brockton Blockbuster's record in May 2003, at age 40. Any bets?

10) Roger Maris's 61 home runs in a season (1961). In 1995 this record turns 34, the same age Babe Ruth's record was when Maris broke it. Between 1927 and '61, nine players hit 50 or more homers in a season. Since 1961 only three players have hit at least 50. If you trust trends, you can trust that Maris's mark is safe.