Hockey’s record for the ages

Glenn Hall would never have missed the Victoria Cup

29.09.2009
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Chicago Blackhawks goalie Glenn Hall played 502 consecutive games. Photo: Frank Prazak / HHOF

With the Victoria Cup starting today, let us reminisce about a hockey record that will probably never be broken – Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive league games.

If Glenn Hall were playing for the Chicago Blackhawks today, promoting the Victoria Cup a year in advance would be simple: “Come see Glenn Hall and his NHL team try to retain the Victoria Cup,” the promotions would scream. And a year later, you know Hall would be in goal. Why? Because he was always in goal. Game in, game out, he played every minute of every game for his ‘Hawks for more than seven years. That’s right – years. Oh, and he did so without the comfort and safety of a mask.

To put Hall’s achievement in perspective, take a look at the current goaltender situation with the Chicago Blackhawks. The most games the club’s top netminder, Frenchman Cristobal Huet, played in a single seasn is 52, in 2007-08.

Last season, his first with Chicago, the 34-year-old former HC Lugano goalie split the duties with Nikolai Khabibulin and registered 41 games.

This season, Huet is counted on assuming the starter’s position, and if he responds well to the challenge he may play in 60 games (out of the 82 which comprise the regular season).

So today’s goaltenders play, on average, pretty much every second game, or two out of three, depending on his quality and his competition from the other goalie(s) on the club.

Now, rewind back to the 1950s and ‘60s when NHL teams played a 70-game schedule. Only six teams, every game was competitive, most of the away games were arrived at by train, and goaltenders didn’t wear masks.

Hall’s incredible streak of 502 consecutive regular season games (and 50 more in the playoffs) ended on November 8, 1963, when he had to leave the ice.

The reason: His back went out when he bent over to tie a toe strap.

When Bob Beamon jumped 8.90 metres at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, observers said that this was one record that might never be surpassed. Although it took 23 years before Mike Powell jumped 8.95 in Tokyo in 1991, it was eventually broken.

We don’t know how long it will take, but Usain Bolt’s time of 9.58 in the 100 metres – as amazing at it is – will some day fall.

In hockey, it seems that Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals in one season (1981-82) or his 215 points in 1985-86 are records that will last “forever”, but although these are incredible numbers, there is a chance that they will some day be surpassed.

But Glenn Hall’s 502 consecutive games – including 250 stitches in the face and 45 shutouts – will never be broken, unless the game of hockey as we know it today changes dramatically.

Canadian hockey historian, and frequent IIHF.com contributor Andrew Podnieks, describes Hall’s accomplishment as follows in his 959-page book PLAYERS:

… No record is more unbreakable, more sealed-behind-glass than Hall’s. For a goalie to achieve such a streak is super-human and this record will never be broken. Of course, the reason why he played all those games without substitution is that he was the best.

The reason why he played so many consecutively, though, was not because he wanted to. No goalie hated his “job” more than Hall. The fact that he threw up before every game reflected his disdain for the task of having to go out in front 15,000 screaming fans and not allow a single goal.

Most recently, Kevin Allen of USA Today, posted this anecdote from Glenn Hall’s amazing career:

During the streak, Hall suffered several cuts and injuries, including a memorable gash that seemed as wide as the Mississippi River. Former Chicago teammate Stan Mikita said the players assumed Hall was done for the night because the wound was gushing blood.

‘I don't know how deep the cut was, but you could put your finger in it,’ Mikita told me several years ago.

Although Mikita had witnessed Hall playing through other ugly injuries, it still stunned him when Hall demanded to be sewn up quickly because he wanted to be ready before the intermission was completed.

Hall didn't miss a minute of the contest.

‘It was one of the most outrageous acts of – you think I'm going to say courage – but I'm going to say one of the most outrageous acts of stupidity I've ever seen,’ Mikita said, laughing.

When Hall, after a final four-year stint with the 1967 expansion St. Louis Blues, retired for good in 1971 (at the age of 40), he went back to his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta, and lived the quite life he always craved.

SZYMON SZEMBERG


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