Jacques Plante & the Parkdale Knitting League




Jacques Plante & the Parkdale Knitting League began as a radio play after winning the CBC Radio/Quebec Playwrights Drama Federation Award.

It tells the story of the legendary Montreal Canadiens hockey goalie, who was an avid knitter, and blends historical fact with the imaginary tale of Violet Henderson, a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a zealous Toronto Maple Leafs fan. Violet becomes attracted to Plante because of their mutual love of knitting and to fight back at her husband, Fred, who hates the accomplished Montreal player. She begins a long one-sided relationship with Plante, by mail, until the goalie is traded to Toronto late in his career, at which point she decides they have to meet in person.

Produced by the renowned theatre and film director Guy Sprung, the radio play boasted a cast of some of Canada’s leading actors, including Janet Amos and Peter MacNeill, as well as a special performance by Hockey Night in Canada’s Brian McFarlane.

The first stage version of the play won the Canadian National Playwriting Competition. Its initial professional production took place at Calgary’s Lunchbox Theatre in January 1999, directed by Bartley Bard. It seemed auspicious when the cast learned that Plante’s nephew, also named Jacques, worked in the same building as the location of the theatre.

The play received excellent reviews…

Paul McLaughlin’s comedy/drama is a sweet, affecting little piece about a Toronto housewife’s unrequited love for the great goaltender, which touches lightly but poignantly on fan worship and gently punctures the macho aura surrounding Canada’s national sport,” Calgary Herald, Jan. 14, 1999.

“A triumph – when the play draws to an end, you wish it could go into overtime,” Calgary Sun, Jan. 14, 1999.

…and prompted Montreal Gazette feature writer Dave Stubbs, who happened to be in Calgary and came to see it, to write a wonderful feature article on Plante and the play.

There have been several amateur productions, the most recent having been staged by the Garrison Little Theatre in Fort Erie in 2017.

Jacques Plante’s Career

There are few professional athletes who have so influenced his sport. Without question, Plante’s greatest contribution to the game was his insistence on wearing a mask while playing in goal. He had experimented with a mask in practice during the 1950s but had been prohibited from wearing it during a game by his coach, and others, who believed, so foolishly, that a goalie who wore a mask was afraid of the puck.

That all changed in New York on November 1, 1959…

…when Plante suffered terrible injuries during a game from a shot that hit him in the face. He refused to return to the ice unless he wore a mask. From that day on, he always wore one and, soon after, so did all NHL goalies. It’s almost certain that his bravery and stubbornness saved a future goalie from serious injury, if not death (players were beginning to use sticks with curves that made the flight of the puck unpredictable; and they were developing much harder shots than in previous years).

But Plante, who is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, also introduced other contributions to the evolution of the game. He was the first goalie to come out of his net and stop the puck behind the net for a defenseman (a move unheard of before he began to do it), the first to pass to teammates to move the puck faster up the ice, and the first to signal teammates, with his arm, when icing was going to be called.


Plante was the oldest of 11 children in a terribly poor Quebec family. He learned to knit when he was a young child to help his mother make clothes for the family.

Because of his asthma, he wore a toque in net, which he knitted himself, during the early days of his career, but was forbidden to wear it when he entered the NHL as his coach believed other players would laugh at him. Laugh they did nonetheless, when they learned he knitted his underwear and other items, partly because knitting relaxed him and also because, despite becoming wealthy as a player, he was always extremely parsimonious.

However, as revealed in the play, knitting played a far more important role in his success than was ever understood during his career.

→ Read more: Knitting and Hockey – how Jacques Plante’s legacy goes far beyond the goalie mask.

A Difficult Iconoclast

Plante was an amazing innovator and magician on the ice. But off-ice he was a difficult person in many regards.

He would not socialize with other players and often, to save money, would eat in the owner’s box to get free food, an action that isolated him from his teammates. He was accused of being a hypochondriac, and he drove coaches to distraction with his complaints about everything from the carpets in a hotel where the team stayed while on the road (they bothered his allergies, he said) to drafts on the back of his neck from doors being left open in an arena a great distance from his net.

“Suppose you were working at your job one day, and you made a little mistake. Then, all of a sudden, a red light went on over your desk, and fifteen thousand people stood up and yelled at you that you sucked?”
- Jacques Plante

Although taunted for his knitting (many suggested he was not masculine because of it), he was, in fact, a player who enjoyed the company of women. Sometimes he used his complaints about staying at the team’s hotel to allow him the opportunity to spend time with female admirers at another hotel, supposedly acceptable to Plante, where coaches would not encounter him or control his comings and goings.

Career Statistics

Jacques Plante (nicknamed “Jake the Snake”) began his NHL career in 1952-53 with the Montreal Canadiens; it ended in 1974-75 with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA.

Over the years, he won the Vezina trophy as the best goalie in the NHL seven times and the Hart trophy, as the most valuable player in the league, once. While with Montreal, his team won the Stanley Cup on six occasions, including five years in a row (1956-1960).


Jacques Plante & the Parkdale Knitting League is a full-length play with a cast of five. To obtain the amateur rights, please contact the Playwrights Guild of Canada. For professional rights, contact Paul McLaughlin at paul@paulmclaughlin.ca.