But beyond doubt Bowman's chief coup has been the care and feeding of Hall and Plante. After last season Seth Martin, who had alternated with Hall, decided to retire, and Hall thought he might retire, too. Now Bowman has this belief that the fate of all expansion teams for the next few years is going to be determined by the performance of their goaltenders. The new teams, he reasons, cannot match the total offensive strength of the established clubs. Each Western team has one or two goal-scoring threats at most, while every East team has half a dozen or more. St. Louis may have Berenson, but Chicago, for example, merely starts off the scoring with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
To begin to compensate for this imbalance, Bowman has looked for defensive-minded players. His defensemen rarely lead a rush up the ice; they take their sweet, safe time and wait for solid openings. This style of play has enabled such veterans as Doug Harvey, 43, and Al Arbour, 36, to play regularly for the Blues long after the old six-team NHL discarded them to the minors.
Still, the hub of a sound defense is in goal, and last June the Blues faced the disturbing prospect of losing both their goaltenders. Bowman learned that Plante, who had retired in 1965 when his wife fell ill, wanted to make a comeback, so he drafted Jacques from the Rangers. "We both knew he could still play goal," Bowman said. "After all, he hadn't quit because he couldn't do the job. I told him what we would pay him. I told him he would play no less than 30 games and probably no more than 40. And I told him we always had a job for him in the St. Louis organization. He's an intelligent person, a good speaker, an excellent teacher. All this impressed him, and he signed immediately."
A few weeks later Bowman called Hall, who was painting the barn on his 480-acre farm in Stony Plain, Alta. Glenn's son Pat answered, and Bowman asked him, "How's your dad?" Pat said, "He's in great shape." When Glenn got to the phone, Bowman said to him, "So you're returning, eh?" Hall: "Who says?" Bowman: "Your son." Hall: "Oh!" Bowman flew up to see Glenn at the end of July and signed him then.
Hall and Plante are being platooned intelligently. Generally Hall will play two games, then Plante will play two. However, Bowman does not intend to play either goalie on successive nights. Bowman also has instituted a new spare-goalie system for them. Normally teams carry only two goaltenders on their roster. One goalie plays while the other sits at the end of the bench, ready to go on in an emergency. Bowman prefers to give one goalie the night off when the other is playing rather than subject him to a cold, hard bench to no purpose. "It would be an insult," he says. Instead, he dresses young Robbie Irons as his alternate, emergency goalie.
Last Wednesday in New York, Hall started in goal, so Plante sat in the Blues' broadcast booth. An attendant passed through and offered Jacques a soft drink. He declined politely. "I am not playing in the goal tonight," he said in his crisp, French-accented voice, "but in hockey you never know what will happen. While I may sit up here, I can't have the coffee, the hot dog, the mustard. Sorry. Thank you."
Down on the ice Hall had a strange new look as he cleared the ice shavings from the goal mouth. For 13 years in the NHL, Hall had defied and defeated the Beliveaus and Howes and Geoffrions and Mahovliches without wearing a mask. Attesting to this are the more than 250 stitches that have been sewn into his head since 1955. This night, though, Hall was wearing a mask. "I want to be sure I can collect my paycheck personally from now on," he said. "I don't want it mailed to the Good Samaritan Hospital...or Cemetery." (Plante recalls the night he introduced mask-wearing: "It was on Nov. 2 in 1959 against the Rangers in New York," he said. "I already had four broken noses, a broken jaw, two broken cheekbones and about 200 stitches in my head. I didn't care how it looked. I was afraid my face would look like the mask, the way I was going.")
Hall and his mask survived for only two minutes and one second against the Rangers. Shortly after the opening face-off Vic Hadfield of the Rangers scored on a 75-foot shot that danced around in midair and then dropped behind Hall's right shoulder. Moments later Referee Vern Buffey called a delay-of-game penalty on the Blues' Noel Picard—a seemingly arbitrary call at best. Hall now was really angry. He said a no-no to Buffey, then poked at the referee with his glove. Such a display automatically incurs ejection, so Hall was ordered to the dressing room for the night.
Enter Robbie Irons. As Plante rushed to the locker room to get dressed for action, Irons fielded a few practice shots. The first two were wide of the net. The third was aimed for the corner of the goal. He kicked out his leg—and thwack. He hurt his ankle—or did he? Anyway, Irons limped off the ice, and the Rangers, leading 1-0 at the time, complained vigorously that the Blues were stalling. With Plante a few minutes away, who wouldn't stall?
Eventually Irons played just two minutes and 59 seconds. Then, at exactly 5:00 of the period, Plante skated onto the ice, flipped down his mask and moved into the goal. He shut out the Rangers for the next 55 minutes, and the Blues rallied to win the game 3-1.