It’s probably safe to say that for most hockey fans, when the name “Jacques Plante” is mentioned, can tell you that his biggest claim to fame is he was the first goalie to wear a mask during play. By 1963 (only about half way through his playing career which ended in 1975, he’d already received over 150 stitches on his face. He was criticized for wearing that mask, and was taunted by coaches, players and fans for first using it during games. In a 1963 article, Plante said, “People said I was afraid when I started to use the mask in 1959, but I ask them, ‘Would you call it brave if you jumped out of a plane and didn’t wear a parachute?’ I call it stupid.”
So while Plante’s goalie mask may be the one bit of information that he is best known for, as an artist and knitter myself, I will forever associate Jacques Plante with knitting, and though it wasn’t spoken of as frequently, he was also a painter and created great landscapes, and wrote a hockey column for a newspaper in Quebec. He even had an off-season job working for a brewery. As a child, grew up in a large family with 11 children, and his mother taught him how to knit, sew, cook and clean, but it seems that knitting was the skill he took with him the farthest in life. He would knit his own toques to wear under his goalie mask, and even knit socks, undershirts, scarves and gloves for himself, and shared his creations with others, such as a ¾ length coat that he knit for his wife.
When his team traveled on buses and teammates played card games together, Plante was knitting. Can you imagine one of those smoke and booze filled busses, traveling from city to city with a team of hockey players engaging in poker while they smoked cigars, drank out of flasks, but sitting quietly on his own, the team goaltender sitting by himself, happily knitting a new toque for himself or a coat for his wife. Like many professional hockey players, it took a few years for Plante to make the NHL. He underwent surgery on his hand, and eventually became a full time goaltender as a member of the Canadiens. After a few years in the minors, Plante was excited that the hockey season in Montreal would allow him to catch up on his knitting. “A fellow’s got to have something to do when he’s not tending the nets.”
If I ever get the chance to visit Switzerland where Mr. Plante is buried, I’ll leave a knitted gift on his grave. I think he would appreciate that.
An note from the author: Sometimes I get sucked into a research project, and it ends up so far beyond what the initial plan was, but I can’t stop reading. In a few weeks, the Charlotte Knitting Guild is going to be attending a Checkers game, and they’ve asked me to speak to their group beforehand, so I wanted to come up with some fun facts that tie hockey and knitting together. I also cast on a new project that I doubt will be done in time for the Checkers “Old Time Hockey Weekend” next month, but when my own, hand knit retro Checkers sweater is done, it will be epic!
So as I worked on my own hockey knitting, and researched other’s hockey knitting, I became more and more fascinated by a hall of famer I previously knew very little about. Thanks for reading, and indulging in a bit of very random hockey trivial!
Other Hockey Knitting Links:
- Here is an article by Milton Gross, and printed on October 30, 1963.
- Another article about Jacques Plante from the New York Times about his knitting.
- Come see the Checkers with the Charlotte Knitting Guild. Tickets are available through this LINK, and the promo code is KNIT
- Are you a knitter? You can create you’re very own knitted hockey action figure with this pattern I created years ago. It’s free and fun!
- My friend and fellow Checkers fan Emily hosts a great hockey themed knitting podcast. If you knit, it’s DEFINITELY worth checking out!