Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two Goalie System

Yesterday, I wrote about several rule changes and their impact on the game. One of the most contentious matters during the Original Six era wasn't a rule pertaining to goaltenders, but the lack of a rule. Previously, I wrote a  story, "A Backup Plan" which chronicled the origins of the two goalie system - Full Story.

The lack of a rule requiring each individual team to carry a second goalie, left the league open to criticism. If a team failed to play it's starting netminder (usually due to injury), his place would be taken be a local guy. This individual was often a goalie with limited skills who played junior or senior hockey. This goalie would also be available to the visiting team, should their netminder suffer an injury or fall ill.

As the NHL season was coming to a close in March 1959, there was an exciting race for the final playoff spot. The participants were New York, Toronto and Detroit - Full Story. As the three teams were battling for precious points, Detroit general manager, Jack Adams, vocalized his concerns over the second goalie situation.

On March 9, 1959, Toronto played the Montreal Canadiens in the Forum. The Canadiens starting goalie, Jacques Plante, was unable to play due to injury. Instead, they employed the services of Claude Pronovost and Claude Cyr. The Leafs won 6-3 and added two very important points to their total. The Habs were on cruise control, having already captured top spot in league standings.

Jack Adams, sensing his club wasn't benefiting from what was transpiring with the Montreal goaltending rotation, went public with his concerns. Montreal's next opponent was the New York Rangers. Would Plante be starting in Madison Square Garden? By going to the press, Adams was planting a seed for both league officials and Canadiens management. Without saying so, Adams was discouraging the notion of any plans Montreal were formulating to rest Plante.

Taking the matter a step further, Adams contacted league President Clarence Campbell. The Detroit general manager was assured that Plante was injured and couldn't play against Toronto. He stressed to Campbell that the spirit of the rule relating to this matter must be enforced - if the regular goalie is fit, he must play. In Detroit, Adams used his assistant trainer, Lefty Wilson, as his second goalie. Wilson regularly practiced with the team and Adams didn't have to rely on a goalie which was provided by the opposition.

On Sunday March 22, 1959, the Canadiens and Rangers faced off in New York. Once again, Jacues Plante was absent from Montreal's line-up. To upgrade their goaltending situation, general manager Frank Selke summoned Charlie Hodge from the Montreal Royals (QHL). Hodge was the number two goalie on Montreal's depth chart. His promotion was considered an improvement from Claude Pronovost and Claude Cyr. Hodge started the Habs final two games of the season. Against New York, to end the '58-59 campaign, Hodge and his teammates defeated the Rangers 4-2.

As for the playoff run, Toronto (65 pts.) edged past New York (64 pts.) by one point. The Red Wings finished last with 58 points. Their playoff hopes were extremely slim with two teams ahead of them in the standings.

In time for the 1965-66 season, the National Hockey League adapted a new rule relating to the goaltending position. It required that each team dress two goaltenders for each regular season game. The one general manager who wasn't around to see this rule change was Jack Adams. Following the 1961-62 season, he departed the Detroit Red Wings organization to become President of the Central Professional Hockey League.

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