Hall loses a Plante mask

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

"Who was that masked bandit?"

Long before Jim Carrey donned a rudimentary ancient mask to gain magical powers in The Mask, a diminutive Frenchman helped create a mask for protection that revolutionized Canada's national pastime.

The late Jacques Plante, a Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the greatest netminders in NHL history, was the original proponent of the prototype goalie mask as we know it today.

At the time it cost about $50.

Later, five other masks were added to the Plante collection in the Hockey Hall of Fame, one from each of the NHL teams he played for: the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins.

Visitors to the Hall have been admiring these masks for years, hoping they'll be preserved forever -- but then, mysteriously, one disappeared. It was the New York Rangers mask.

"We had a call from Mrs. Plante, who asked us to return one mask to her," said Phil Pritchard, curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame, said. "We tried to talk her out of it, but one of those companies that deals with collectibles promised her that she could get good money for it.

"We pleaded with her, but she insisted on getting at least one mask back. So, we gave one to her. It was the mask Jacques wore as a Broadway Blueshirt. I believe she received some $16,000 for it."

Some Hall of Famers have no binding commitment to the Hall that would make the memorabilia the property of the Hall in perpetuity. Others have special arrangements.

Jeff Denomme, president of the Hall, wanted to make certain that, in spite of the financial windfall available due to the boom in memorabilia, the artifacts remain with the institution for good. It is for that reason he instituted in the 1980s a donors' agreement, which now must be signed by individuals providing artifacts.

"Our aim is to preserve these famous memorabilia," he said. "Some Hall of Famers, such as Jean Beliveau had a special arrangement with us by loaning the artifacts to us."

When Beliveau took them back, he sold them for $1 million.

"Others, such as Guy Lafleur, made $500,000, while Yvan Cournoyer and the late Boom Boom Geoffrion have also made good money. Rocket Richard's collection was bought by the government."

Most of these souvenirs sales seem to be restricted to famous Canadiens players. For instance, a Stanley Cup ring from the 1958-59 Canadiens netted $19,459.

"I don't know how long the hunt for these souvenirs will be so profitable, but eventually some memorabilia will find its way back into the Hall," Denomme said. "For instance, Rocket Richard's Order of Canada medal is back in our possession."

I suppose, if a celebrity finds himself -- or herself -- in need of money, I can understand why they are willing to sell. But if you ask me, it's a shame not to preserve these souvenirs.

VARIETY VILLAGE GAMES

The highly successful, eight-day Variety Village Games Festival concluded yesterday at the spectacular Scarborough facility with the wheelchair basketball gold-medal game.

More than 1,200 challenged youngsters took part in various activities, including the Lieutenant Governor Games with the Hon. James Bartleman in attendance, the Police Children's Games with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair offering support, and the Sunshine Games with corporate teams competing, including the SUN TV team.

Amongst the challenged youngsters were almost 400 with special education needs who did their best in track and field, swimming, weightlifting and basketball.

In yesterday's gold-medal wheelchair basketball game, the Burlington Vipers defeated Variety Village 60-48. The Variety Village second team finished third overall.

I had the honour as Julian Fantino's co-chair to close this wonderful show with thanks to the Variety Village staff, all the volunteers and participating youngsters. Keep up your good work.

Ontario Energy Minister Donna Cansfield, on behalf of Premier Dalton McGuinty, addressed the event and Jennifer Tory of the Royal Bank of Canada presented a cheque for $610,650.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Canada's Olympic double gold-medallist Alex Baumann will be the featured speaker at the Canadian Olympic Committee's think-tank meetings in Calgary and Banff next month. Knowing CEO Chris Rudge's salesmanship talents, it would not surprise if he talked Baumann into leaving Australia and joining the staff of the COC ... George Chuvalo's Tribute Night last week was a big financial success for George's Fight Drugs charity with 900 in attendance at the Convention Centre. Too bad that MC Bert Sugar forgot to remove his hat during the playing of O Canada and that he pronounced Team Canada '72 member Rod Seiling's name as Rod Selling. It also bothered me that nobody mentioned Irv Ungerman's name. It was Irv who was in Chuvalo's corner when he most needed it ... The new Serbian White Eagles soccer team, coached by former Yugoslavian international superstar Dragoslav Sekularac, will open the 2006 CPSL season at Centennial Stadium on Friday against the Italia Shooters ... The new management of the York Racquets Club in Toronto might learn to spell one of its pro's names correctly. He's Slovakia-born Frank Ilavsky, who has been with the club for 35 years. Still, in a recent bulletin the club referred to him as Frank Ilosky. Oh, boy!


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