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Hockey Masks, Painted Protection

Tuesday, 10.31.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Boston Bruins
By John Bishop, BostonBruins.com

Halloween is the perfect time to talk about masks -- specifically goalie masks.

Starting in goal for your Goulish Gremlins, Jason Vorhees.
It might be a little sad to the noble wearers of such equipment that perhaps the most famous goal mask of all time belongs to the fictional malicious malcontent of the Friday the 13th movie series, Jason Voorhees. And it's his modified facial protection that has scared more moviegoers than just about any accoutrement, that is probably the most recognizable piece of hockey equipment of all-time.

But far more important than giving Hollywood's homicidal slasher a measure of iconic anonymity, goalie masks have been protecting ice bound keepers from harm since 1927, explains the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario, on its website, hhof.com.

Hockey's greatest shrine reports that the "first documentation of a goaltender wearing a mask for protection took place in 1927. As reported in the Montreal Daily Star at the time, Queen's University goaltender Elizabeth Graham 'gave the fans a surprise when she stepped into the nets and then donned a fencing mask.'"

Other men and women may have been wearing facial protection in the interim, but the first documented use of a mask in an NHL game came in 1930 when the Montreal Maroons goaltender, Clint Benedict, wore a leather mask for five games before moving on because of poor sightlines.

Ice hockey goalies, always the great tinkerers of sport, kept on inventing until "necessity," the greatest mother of invention and innovation, came into play in 1959.

And painfully so, as that's when a Andy Bathgate slap shot rearranged a young Montreal goaltender's face -- literally.

On November 1 of that year, the Montreal Canadiens legendary goalie Jacques Plante became the first NHL goaltender to wear a mask and keep on wearing a mask throughout the rest of his career thanks to Bathgate's errant slapper and the several stitches it put into his face.

Obviously, Plante's "invention" caught on and since then the hockey mask has become the most important piece of equipment in the goaltender's arsenal.

There were the pretzel or bone type mask (worn by Ken Dryden in college and his first few years in the NHL), the helmet and cage (think Tretiak, Billy Smith, and Dominic Hasek), those masks that resemble Plante's full face version (Bernie Parent, Mike Liut, Gilles Gilbert), and the combo face mask and cats-eye cage improvised by Dave Dryden, Ken's older brother (worn by just about everyone nowadays, including the Bruins Hannu Toivonen).

Speaking of Ken, perhaps the most recognizable non-Bruins full-face mask was his bulls eye paint job, displaying the blue, white and red of his Montreal Canadiens in his last few years with the Habs.

Cheevers painted stitches on his mask each time he was hit in the face.
But, the most famous non-movie mask of all time has to be the mask worn by the Boston Bruins own Gerry Cheevers in his days with the Lunch Pail AC Bruins.

In his excellent book, Goaltender, Cheevers describes his mask and its genesis:

"My masks are wild-looking because I paint the stitches on them that I figure I would have taken had I not been wearing a mask. It began during a practice [when a teammate] whipped a shot that deflected off [Ted Green's] arm and plunked me in the mask. I faked a big hurt, thinking I could get the rest of the day off…Harry Sinden, the coach then, joined in, 'Hey, you're in bad shape, Cheese,' Harry sympathized. 'You better get your tail over to the medical room…As soon as practice is over.' Afterwards I told [Frosty Forristall, the trainer] to paint 'em on, and I had a second thought. 'Say, Frost,' I said. 'Why don't we put 'em on every time I stop one with my face?'"

The rest is history.

And ever since Cheevers own "innovation," goalie masks have begun to be more recognizable than the faces of the wearers.

Think about it.

What do Curtis Joseph, Patrick Roy, Eddie Belfour, Mike Richter, Olaf Kolzig, Martin Brodeur, and former Bruin, Andy Moog, actually look like.

Now describe their masks…much easier, isn't it?

And now, Boston's own Tim Thomas has tinkered his way to the Hall of Fame as well, as his own new style mask, an amalgam of the Dave Dryden model and the helmet and cage, has been requested for hockey's highest history museum.

And who knows what the mask of the future will look like.

The only certainty -- they will be as cool as the ice the game is played on.

Especially, if they are painted Black & Gold.

Happy Halloween Bruins fans!

And click here to see the Hockey Hall of Fame's gallery about goalie masks, before you gorge on candy.

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