Practice mask reportedly worn by Jacques Plante

Fished from the trash by teammate ‘Fergy’ Ferguson

lot300

In 2017, the NHL commemorated its 100th anniversary by naming the 100 Greatest NHL players in history. Jacques Plante was one of them. This legendary player forever changed the face of hockey by leading the charge for goaltenders to wear protective masks.

Plante (1929-1986) played in the NHL for 18 years, 10 of them with the Montreal Canadiens. But it was a November 1959 match at New York’s Madison Square Garden which turned out to be the real game changer. During a play, a shot off the stick of a New York Ranger hit Plante in the face. Bleeding profusely, he retreated to the dressing room where it took seven stitches to close the gash on his nose. He’d already been wearing a mask during practices, which in itself was a rarity in the sport, but after that injury he never went onto the ice again without one – game or practice.

Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante, Nov 1 1959, the first to wear a face mask in a regular league game© thesipadvisor via CBC

Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante, Nov 1 1959, the first to wear a face mask in a regular league game© thesipadvisor via CBC

While team owners were initially opposed to goalies covering their faces, they eventually had no choice but to give in. It was Montreal Canadien fan Bill Burchmore, who worked for Fiberglass Canada in Montreal, who first designed a goalie mask for Plante after seeing him take a puck to the forehead in 1958. Burchmore began working in his basement on a fibreglass mask, which he eventually persuaded Plante to try during practices. But getting those seven stitches in New York was a tipping point for Plante. He skated back onto the ice wearing the  mask for the rest of the game and never looked back, becoming the first NHL goaltender to wear one at all times. According to the Canadien’s historical website “one by one, goaltenders throughout the hockey world began covering up and conserving their faces.”

“Jacques Plante had wanted to protect his nose,” writes Roy MacGregor in a 2017 Globe and Mail feature story about hockey. “What he ended up doing was changing the game.”

Image Source:  NHL.com

Image Source: NHL.com

This particular practice mask, purportedly worn by Jacque Plante (1929-1986), now for sale through Miller & Miller Auction Ltd., has a fascinating story all its own.

Its consigner, Bob Habkirk, owned a bar in Montreal during the 1960s and got to know a lot of NHL players. He and the late Montreal Canadiens left winger John ‘Fergy’ Ferguson became friends, bonded by a common love of hockey and race horses. When Mr. Habkirk’s father died in 1988, Ferguson came to the funeral. He brought along this mask – and the story of how he came to have it.

Plante and Ferguson were Montreal Canadien teammates in 1963 and on June 4th that year Plante learned he’d been traded to New York. According to Ferguson, Plante cleaned out his locker and emptied the contents into the garbage can, including the mask. That’s when Ferguson salvaged it.  

Handing it over to Habkirk at the funeral years later, Ferguson said, “Don’t say I never gave you anything,” joking he could also have Plante’s jock if he wanted it (which he didn’t).

John Ferguson Junior, Fergy’s son and a distinguished hockey guy himself, corroborates the tale.

“I can confirm the story of the Jacques Plante mask,” says the Boston Bruins executive. “That story has been relayed to me growing up.”

A practice mask, explains Habkirk, is different from a game mask. A practice mask has larger holes, more breathing room and is less confining to the face and head. A game mask has smaller holes, especially around the forehead and the eyes.  

In 2006 on the 20th anniversary of his death, Plante’s second wife, Raymonde, put together a Jacques Plante memorabilia auction, which consisted of 53 items, including masks, jerseys and other personal items. A game-worn mask sold for $19,000 to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (since renamed the Canadian Museum of History).  

Mr. Habkirk plans to donate the proceeds from the sale of this mask to the Alzheimer Society Elgin-St. Thomas.

Author - Diane Sewell


Item Estimate: $9000 - 12,000

Lot Number: 300

Auction Details: Canadiana & Historic Objects - February 9, 2019. 10 am.

Live Auction Location: 59 Webster St. New Hamburg, Ontario. N3A 1W8


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