75 Days Until The Season Begins
By Cam Lewis1 month ago
Throughout the summer and into the fall, we’ll be counting down the days until the Edmonton Oilers begin their 2023-24 season with a daily trip down memory lane.
Since we’ve already talked ad nauseam about Evan Bouchard this summer, we’re going to go in a very different direction for No. 75. Today, we have Jacques Plate, a Hall of Fame goaltender who played his final professional hockey game with the Oilers during their World Hockey Association days in 1975.
After spending their first two seasons playing in the Edmonton Gardens, an arena known as “The Cow Barn” because of its use for agriculture exhibitions, the Oilers moved into the brand-new Northlands Coliseum for the 1974-75 season. The team had been mediocre through its first two seasons in the WHA, so owner/general manager Bill Hunter sought to find a talent that could generate hype around the Oilers as they moved into their new home.
Hunter was “a man who once called a news conference to announce he’d be holding an even bigger and better news conference the next day,” the Saskatoon Star Phoenix’s Kevin Mitchell once wrote. “He charged through life with bluster and charm, smoke and mirrors, razzle and dazzle.”
His big addition for the Oilers was goaltender Jacques Plante, a six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens and seven-time Vezina Trophy winner for the NHL’s top goaltender.
Plante, who was in his mid-40s when he joined the Oilers, had last played professionally during the 1972-73 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. He made it through just one season of a 10-year, $1 million contract to coach the Quebec Nordiques before quitting because of the team’s poor performance and Hunter lured him back into the net.
Edmonton Journal Newspaper Clipping From September 10, 1974
Edmonton Journal Newspaper Clipping From September 27, 1974
Hunter gave Plante a cushy contract to come to Edmonton. The amount of money he was paid is unknown but the agreement essentially allowed Plante to play when he wanted, so he often didn’t join the team when they hit the road and almost exclusively played during home games.
“I don’t know if it was a condition of his contract, but he played mostly home games and didn’t travel all the time,” Oilers captain Al Hamilton told Daniel Nugent-Bowman of The Athletic. “If I was the other goalie and he was doing that, and I only played road games, I would have been ready to kill him. We were beside ourselves. We thought, ‘What the hell is this?’“He still played pretty darn good, so you couldn’t say too much about it.”
The Oilers played their first four games on the road in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Cleveland, and Indianapolis to start the season. Plante finally made his Oilers debut on November 10, 1974, when the team played their first-ever game at Northlands Coliseum. They beat the Cleveland Crusaders by a score of 4-1 with Plate putting forward a masterful performance between the pipes.
“I couldn’t believe how good he was for his age,” said Ken Hitchcock, who was coaching midget hockey in Edmonton at the time. “I couldn’t believe how quick he was, how agile he was. What surprised everybody is he didn’t look like a 45-year-old guy.”
Edmonton rode a seven-game winning streak through the first part of November and appeared to be one of the teams to beat in the WHA. But as the winter dragged along, the team cooled down and reverted back to their status as a middling team. They wound up going 36-38-4 and missed the playoffs.
Plante went 15-14-1 over the course of 31 games and posted a 3.32 goals against average, which was good for ninth among goaltenders in the WHA that year. He returned to Edmonton the following fall with the intention of suiting up with the Oilers for another season but Plante retired during the team’s training camp when he received news that his youngest son had passed away.
In 1978, Plante was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He moved to Switzerland when he retired and passed away in 1986 following a battle with terminal stomach cancer.
More about Plante’s season with the Oilers can be read in this article by Daniel Nugent-Bowman at The Athletic from 2020. There are a handful of excellent quotes in the post from Al Hamilton and veteran journalist John Short that paint a picture of what playing in the renegade WHA was like.
How many days are left until the Edmonton Oilers start the 2023-24 season? 75!
Can you guess who will be featured in tomorrow’s countdown?
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