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Iron Man of the Ice
E.M. Swift
October 27, 1992
Glenn Hall played 502 consecutive games in goal—perhaps the safest record in all of sports
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October 27, 1992

Iron Man Of The Ice

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

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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."

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