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.