At long last—and it has been long—the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup champions are beginning to play something like championship hockey. Picked by most of the experts at the start of the season to finish in first place (SI, November 6, 1961), James Norris' big, bruising Chicago Black Hawks played through their first 30-odd games as if they didn't want to hurt their opponents' feelings. By the first of the year, they had won only 10 games and scored only 90 goals, the fewest in the league. Perhaps more significantly, in view of their reputation as bruisers, they were lagging far behind the rest of the league in total minutes in the penalty box.
Then, about a month ago, things began to change. By last week the Hawks were bearing down hard on second-place Toronto, more determined than ever to repeat their last year's victory in the playoffs. Their Sunday-night win over Montreal tied an alltime Hawk record for victories (29) in a single season. As if to prove they meant it, they had once again surged far out in front of the league in penalties (more than an hour over the next team).
Offensively, the Black Hawk rush focused on the scoring of big blond Bobby Hull and the playmaking of centers Bill Hay and Stan Mikita. After a slow start, the 200-pound superstar Hull, whose arms are bigger than Rocky Marciano's and whose shot is the heaviest in the NHL, not only had hit his stride but had developed some sly finesse as well: a shot from the extreme left wing that skidded in on the goal mouth at so shallow an angle that most goalkeepers relaxed before it came, believing that Bobby had skated past a shooting position. By last week Hull had pulled ahead of Detroit's Gordie Howe and was only two points behind league-leading Andy Bathgate in scoring. In actual goals (as opposed to goals and assists) he was far ahead of anybody.
Close behind Hull in the point parade were his teammates Hay and Mikita. When Hay, Hull, Mikita and the rest of the Hawks are playing as a team, as they have been recently, they are virtually unstoppable. But much of the time, particularly in the early months, they played like five strangers scrambling for the pot in a crap game when the cops walk in. The only thing that has saved them from a fate worse than Boston's during these periods was the virtually impassable fortress in their goal: 30-year-old Glenn Hall, a stoic family man whose major dream is to settle down and raise cattle.
Playing goal for the Chicago Black Hawks is a little like fielding bricks with an eye socket. The big, bruising, fast-skating muscular Hawk forwards are determined to beat the frozen inferno out of any team they can catch; the trouble is they can't always catch them. The result is that while Hawk forwards are milling malignantly around the other fellow's goal looking for somebody to bruise, the other fellow's forwards (particularly if they happen to be the fast-skating Montreal Canadiens) are more than likely at the Chicago end swarming all over Goalie Hall. "Only 10% of goals are the fault of the goalkeeper," he says without rancor. "The rest are the result of mistakes up the ice that let a guy get through to take a shot. The goalkeeper either makes the last mistake or makes the great save that wipes out the other mistakes."
Hall, who leads the league in shutouts with eight scoreless games to his credit, prefers to make the great save—and generally does—even though the effort makes him actively sick.
"You wouldn't think after all this time," says the goalie, who is now in his seventh full season with the NHL, "that I'd still be so afraid of a bad game I'd get sick about it." Yet in about three out of every four games, either before the first face-off, during the rest periods or after it's over, Glenn Hall quietly and unobtrusively throws up. "I used to be able to fight off the nausea," he says, "but this year, it's worse than ever." How much strain of this sort can a man take? A lot, apparently. At the end of this regular season Hall will have played three full 20-minute periods in 527 consecutive major league games. Only two other big league players, neither of them goalies, have played in more.
Glenn Hall became a goalie because he was once the midget manager of a midget team and he couldn't get anyone else to take the job. A superbly relaxed, almost languid young man, he gives no evidence off the ice—beyond a face laced with tiny scars—of his tense professional life. The serenely permissive father of three, he doesn't like to push even his children around. One day last week a plan to have 5-year-old Pat Hall's hair cut on his way home from kindergarten was hastily jettisoned because Pat raised a ruckus. "I didn't want to make a scene," explained Pat's father, "so I just took him home."
All play, no practice
Behind Hall's easy malleability, however, lies a flinty sense of self-discipline and a determination to be his own man. Recently someone asked Hall what, if anything, he gets out of practice. "I'm really not supposed to talk about things like that," said the organization man in Hall, but then he talked anyway. "I really don't believe in practice," he said as firmly as an iconoclast entering a church. "It's all right for the players who aren't getting much time on the ice. But when you're playing three or 3½ games a week you don't have much chance to get out of shape."
When he does practice, Hall wears a mask somewhat like that worn by Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens. But he does not wear it in a game. "There's no use getting hurt in practice," he says. "If you're getting paid to take risks, that's a different matter."
The risks that Hall takes are somewhat mitigated by his approach to the game—an approach that is as cerebral as it is reflexive. He is a shrewd analyst of his opponents' styles. "Camille Henry of the Rangers," he says, "will give you the greatest shuffle I've ever seen; you don't know where the puck is. Jean Beliveau gets out there in front of the nets to set up the screen for somebody else. And, if that somebody misses, boom! he's in on the puck and shooting! Before he quit, Montreal's Rocket Richard had an outstanding backhand shot. He was a left-hander playing right wing, which was how he developed it. Andy Bathgate will come in on you, take a look and, if he hasn't got you beat, pass off to another man."
Hall's own style is as individualistic as an infant's ear. The majority of goalies use a semisplit in which one leg is locked vertically into place as a pivot while the other one is swung out wide to the left in a lopsided V. Hall meets the shot with his feet wide but his knees close together to form an inverted Y. Instead of throwing his whole body to the ice in crises, he'll go down momentarily to his knees, then bounce back to his feet, able to go in any direction. "In this way I'm always in position and ready for the next shot," he says.
On the ice Hall follows the puck with the concentration of a gem cutter. (He has 20/15 vision, which means that he can see at 20 feet what the normal eye can see at 15 feet.) "Sometimes I have to talk to myself to sell me on concentrating a little more," he says.
Ping-pong and pills
To keep his eyes sharp during the offseason Hall plays ping-pong—as many as 20 games in a row. "I don't really play too well," he says. "I play up close to the table where I'm going to need the same characteristics I need for goalkeeping—reflexes and coordination." When he drives he wears sunglasses, even on cloudy days. And at night he keeps well to the right on toll roads and superhighways. "Keeps the bright lights of the oncoming cars out of my eyes when I'm going to the game," he says.
For years he's experimented with stomach-settling preparations—"but they only come up with everything else." Today, as one of the two best goalies in hockey (Jacques Plante is the other), he accepts nausea without complaint as the burden of trying to straddle two worlds with a single nervous system. "I guess," he once said of goalkeepers, "we're all a little bit sick."