used to protect
in ice hockey
Amazingly, goalies didn't always wear masks. In an NHL game on November 1, 1959, goalie Jacques
Plante, playing for the Montreal Canadiens, was struck in
the face and injured quite badly by a shot by Andy
Bathgate of the New York Rangers. It was one time too
many for Plante, and he refused to return to the ice
without his mask, which until then he had been wearing
only in practice. Teams then did not travel with backup
goalies, so his coach allowed him to wear it, but only
reluctantly, because he feared it would obstruct his
Plante had a few forerunners. On January 7, 1930, a
shot by Hockey Hall of Famer Howie Morenz of the
Montreal Canadiens broke the nose and cheekbone of
goaltender Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons. Of
course, Benedict finished the game, but only after putting
on a mask that looked like a boxer's face guard and which
was made mostly of leather. Two games later, he decided
the mask was more trouble than it was worth and stopped
wearing it. Even before that, in 1927, Elizabeth Graham
of Queen's University wore a fencing mask for
But Plante continued to wear his mask. It was no
wonder, since the fifties were the decade in which
curved hockey stick blades were becoming popular
and bigger and stronger players were honing the slap
shots they had recently added to their repertoires.
Even so, and even though Plante was working on his fifth
Vezina trophy, he faced a lot of criticism because many
people felt a goalie who wore a mask was scared.
There was criticism of the design too. What
predominantly was in use was a clear facial shield that
had been developed by inventor Delbert Louch and
distributed to NHL goalies. But these were not used in
games because they restricted the goalie's vision; they
tended to fog up and reflect light funny. Plante had
improved upon the design by enlarging the eye area and
molding the mask more to contour his face. By the time
he defiantly returned to the game in which he had been
assailed by Bathgate shot, his mask was made of
fiberglass and was quite resistant.
Soon other goalies were wearing masks. Terry Sawchuk,
whose record of most career victories was not broken for
thirty years, began wearing one in 1962. His was made by
Lefty Wilson, the assistant trainer at the time of the
Detroit Red Wings. Wilson would go on to make masks for
several other goalies, like Gilles Meloche and Cesare
Maniago. Each one had to be custom made, which involved
the goalie's wearing a stocking over his head, his having
his face slathered with petroleum jelly, and his
breathing through straws while the mold was cast.
How could goalies resist an empty canvas? The
elaborate artwork on goalie masks that you see today had
a fairly innocent beginning. An early pioneer was Gerry
Cheevers of the Boston Bruins, whose mask was covered in
painted stitches, each one indicating where he would
have otherwise been hit with a puck or clipped with a
wayward stick. Cheevers has credited the Bruins' trainer
at the time, John Forestall, with the idea. And as a
practical joke, Doug Favell's teammates on the
Philadelphia Flyers painted his mask orange.
Goalie mask artwork was soon used to intimidate the
other team. Goaltender Greg Harrison, who played for the
University of Toronto, made his own mask from a
fiberglass car repair kit. It went so well that he turned
his efforts to designing masks for NHL goalies, and each
one turned out more impressive than the last. A mask worn
by New York Ranger Gilles Gratton during the
1976-77 season depicting a ferocious feline is
considered by many to be the all-time definitive work.
On February 17, 1979, Philadelphia Flyer Bernie
Parent suffered a career-ending eye injury when he was
clipped by a stick. As a result, Many goalies began
gravitating towards the birdcage-style mask
and helmet combination that Vladislav Tretiak of the
Soviet Union was wearing -- one of the early
European influences on the game. But Dave Dryden of
the Edmonton Oilers, feeling that it protected the
goalie's head more than his face, cut out the face area of
one of his Harrison masks, whipped out a soldering gun
and covered the hole with wire, creating the prototype for
the first hybrid mask and cage combination.
Improvements to the design have made this combination
mask very safe. The major flaws of previous designs
were that a puck that struck a mask would transfer the
force of its impact through the mask to the goalie's
face, and that the eye openings were very close to the
goalie's eyes, allowing the edge of a puck to come into
contact with the eye. Combination masks address these
issues. No part of the hard shell of a combination mask
touches the goalie's face. Instead the shell that covers
his forehead and the top of his head is
insulated with foam padding. The 5-inch wide steel
grille that protects his eyes is two inches away from
them. A chin strap holds the bottom of the shell in place
while keeping it away from his chin and mouth. And at
the back of his head, a separate backplate is held in
place with an elastic harness and is attached to the
main shell at the top to provide total protection of his
head and face.
This is the type of mask that is mainly used today.
Aside from its being considered to be the safest design,
and aside from its having influenced the design of
catcher's masks in the sport of baseball (which is
another story), it once again brings out the artistic side
of the goalies. Today's masks might depict beer, Jimi
Hendrix, Marvin the Martian, the Statue of Liberty, or
the mask artist's sons playing pond hockey.
Canadian Heritage Information Network. "Goaltender's
Equipment", Virtual Museum of Canada.
April 30, 2002.
Dennis Simone. "History of Masks", Painted Warrior Designs.
"Dave Dryden", SabresHistory.com.
http://www.sabreshistory.com/memories/ddryden.html. May 3,