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Michel Plasse was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens with the first overall pick of the 1968 NHL entry draft. He was the first ever goalie selected number one, and is still one of only three goaltenders who have been drafted number one (Rick DiPietro and Marc-Andre Fleury, in 2000 and 2003 respectively, are the other two).
This was only one of the “firsts” in the career of Michel Plasse.
Born on June 1st, 1948 in Montreal, Quebec, Plasse first came to prominence in the Quebec Junior Hockey League. Playing for Drummondville, in 1967-68 he led the league in goals against average. After the season he was named to the league’s second all star team.
Despite his status as a number one pick, Plasse faced a daunting task in making the Canadiens. When he was drafted the Canadiens goaltending duo was “Gump” Worsley and Rogie Vachon, other goaltenders in the Canadiens system included Phil Myre, Tony Esposito, and a college prospect named Ken Dryden.
As was common during this period, Montreal was able to farm out players to the expansion teams, in return for cash, prospects, etc. After spending his first two professional seasons with Cleveland of the AHL and Jacksonville of the EHL, Plasse was sent to the St. Louis Blues in exchange for cash on December 11th, 1970, after being loaned by the Canadiens on October 1st, 1970.
Plasse was immediately placed by the Blues with their CHL team in Kansas City. And it was in Kansas City, on February 21st, 1971 where Michel Plasse became the first ever professional goaltender to score a goal.
As Plasse recalled years later, “We were ahead 2-1, and we got a penalty “, then with a minute left in the game, “Oklahoma City pulled out it’s goalie and put an extra forward. They were really putting it to us, believe me.”
"They threw the puck into our end from center, and when it came right to me, I skated out a bit - maybe ten feet - and flipped it down the ice. It went up over the Oklahoma City players and straight into the enemy net - not slow, either, but quick. It was a hell of a shot!"
In telling the story Plasse always maintained that he had been simply trying to clear the zone, and that the goal had been, indeed a lucky shot.
Plasse’s year in St. Louis also saw him start his first NHL game, where he recorded his first ever win. However, despite his success, Plasse was traded back to Montreal on August 23rd, 1971, again for cash. Plasse was sent by the Canadiens to their AHL team, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs for the 1971-72 season.
Plasse joined a Voyageurs team that included future NHL’ers Larry Robinson, Yvon Lambert, and Murray Wilson. Splitting the goaltending duties with Wayne Thomas, Plasse posted a 2.77 goals against average and 17 wins in 36 games as the Voyageurs finished in a tie for first place in the AHL’s Eastern division.
But it was in the playoffs that Plasse made his mark. Named the Voyageurs starter for the post season. In 15 post season games Plasse posted 12 wins, 3 shutouts, and a measly goals against average of 1.25 as he was the clear cut most valuable player as the Voyageurs went on to win the Calder Cup.
Clearly, Plasse was ready to take the next step and move up to the NHL. The Canadiens helped make the path easier by leaving Phil Myre unprotected in the expansion draft, and by trading Rogie Vachon to the Los Angeles Kings.
Unfortunately for Plasse, there was a clear cut starter manning the net for Montreal. And Ken Dryden in his second year followed up his Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe achievements in 1971 with the Calder and Vezina trophies in the 1972-73 season.
During the 1972-73 season Plasse managed to get into 17 games as Dryden’s back up. He was able to win 11 games while only losing 2 games, with a 2.58 goals against average. However, he was only able to watch from the bench as Dryden led the Canadiens to another Stanley Cup triumph.
This was Michel Plasse’s first and only Stanley Cup championship.
At the beginning of the 1973-74 season Plasse seemed to get the break he had been looking for when Dryden stunned the hockey world by sitting out the season because of a contract dispute.
However, things didn’t go as hoped for Plasse. In a three headed goaltending situation, Plasse was clearly the odd man out. His former Voyageurs goaltending partner Wayne Thomas started 42 games, while rookie Michel “Bunny” Larocque started 27 games. This left Plasse with only 15 games to play in and his 4.08 goals against average was over a goal higher than either Thomas’ or Larocque’s.
Given the starting assignment in the playoffs was Larocque, but unfortunately the Habs lost to the Rangers in the first round. When Dryden decided to come back for the 1974-75 season it marked the end of Plasse’s career as a Canadien.
Plasse was left exposed by the Canadiens in the expansion draft on June 12th, 1974, and was claimed by the Kansas City Scouts. Unfortunatley, for Plasse he was to find out there was a big difference in having the Canadiens in front of you as opposed to the expansion Scouts. In 24 games for the Scouts, Plasse was only able to manage 4 wins with a goals against average of 4.06. Mercifully, the Scouts traded Plasse to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Denis Herron and Jean-Guy Lagace, on January 10th, 1975. In his season and a half with the Penguins, Plasse was finally able to fulfill his dream of being a starting NHL goaltender.
However, in the summer of 1976 the Penguins were looking to upgrade their goaltending. So in an ironic twist the Penguins signed restricted free agent Denis Heron, the man they had traded to get Plasse a year and a half before. Since Heron had been a restricted free agent, his old team the Colorado Rockies required compensation. The Rockies compensation turned out to be Plasse.
For Plasse, the Rockies represented another starting goaltending job, but it also represented another expansion team in front of Plasse. And while Plasse was becoming an NHL starter he couldn’t seem to shake the tendency of fronting subpar teams.
A good example of a typical night in the nets for Plasse can be found in a game against the Canadiens on November 13th, 1976.
“The Canadiens were absolutely blasting the puck towards Plasse all game”, reported the Denver Post. “One shot off the stick of Murray Wilson put Plasse down in the second period with an arm injury, but the gritty goalie got up and finished the game. For their effort, the Rockies' forwards came back twice from two-goal deficits to finally tie the game at three a piece with just about nine minutes left in the third. However it was Plasse who made the tie stand by stopping 47 of 50 shots, 20 in the third period.”
"I'm tired, but happy," Plasse said in the Post. "At the end of the game, I couldn't get up any more. I was giving everything I had at the end to get at the puck."
Plasse played the next four seasons in Colorado, but was only able to win 24 games. Signing as a free agent in 1980, Plasse was able to return to his home province as a member of the Quebec Nordiques. As the Nordiques primary goaltender, in 1980-81 Plasse was able to post a respectable 3.66 goals against average. But in the playoffs, he only played in one game as the emerging Dan Bouchard became the Nordiques go to goaltender.
In 1981-82 Plasse was only able to get into eight games, as Bouchard became entrusted as the Nordiques top goaltender. On January 12th, 1982 Plasse was traded to the Whalers, where he was sent to the Whalers AHL team in Binghamton. After playing eight games for Binghamton, Plasse decided to retire at the end of the 1982 season.
On December 30th, 2006 Michel Plasse passed away from a heart attack in l’Île du Pas, Quebec, at the age of 58.