Was that a joke or did Plante really think that way? I don't know. But what I do know, from all I've heard and read in my 30-year obsession with the man, is that he was not one to seek friends or curry favor. Or, as his ex-Montreal teammate Bernie (Boom Boom) Geoffrion once put it, "Oh, that Plante. He was a very good goalie, eh? But he don't go to no parties."
Yet his own found him. There are NHL goalies past and present to whom Plante was more than a friend. As goalie coach for the Philadelphia Flyers from 1976 to 1982, Plante coached the magnificent Bernie Parent in 1978-79, Parent's last year of play. His place as one of the game's greats already secure, Parent could easily have resented Plante or rejected his coaching. I once asked Parent how he felt about Plante.
"Before, I just play by instinct," said Parent. "Now, Jacques has me thinking about everything and handling the puck more. Now, I don't just react. I know what I am doing."
We were in the visitors' dressing room in Boston Garden, and Parent was getting dressed while he talked to me. As I started to leave, Parent reached out and jabbed at my notebook. "You put down there that he was the tops. The best. The [bleeping] best," he said.
I put it down.
A few seasons ago, Buffalo's young goaltender, then Rookie of the Year, Tom Barrasso, told me that he had a copy of Plante's now out-of-print book, Goal-tending (Collier Macmillan Canada Ltd., 1972). The book was dog-eared, tattered and falling apart, said Barrasso, because he had read it so many times.
And, last season, when the St. Louis Blues announced that Plante would be hired as goalie coach (this was just before his cancer was diagnosed), an ecstatic Rick Wamsley, one of the Blues' goalies, said that being coached by Plante was "like being able to go to a library and take out every book ever written about playing goal."
But shortly after he joined the Blues, Plante complained of not feeling well. He was tested in a St. Louis hospital and his cancer was discovered. He went home to Switzerland to die.
I have thought about Plante a lot since that day last February. I still think that having his name stitched on my hockey jacket was a stupid thing to do. But I also think that it might be time now to haul that old jacket out of the garment bag. To come out of the closet, so to speak.
I'm going to wear that jacket a few times this year. To the store. To the town rink. To a high school game. Wherever a hockey jacket is not inappropriate. If people laugh, I will laugh, too. But if anyone asks me about it, I will tell them—as briefly as I can (there's no point adding boorishness to stupidity)—that in my youth, Plante was a man I greatly admired. And if they want to know why, I will tell them.