Halloween was a light night of NHL action and, quite frankly, the goalies got shelled. So instead, we’ll take a look at one of the most significant developments in the history of goaltending: the debut of the mask.
Plante Wears First Mask
When we think about NHL goaltenders, we think about masks. In 2019, masks are an extension of a goaltender’s psyche. Somewhere between war paint and artistic expression, masks capture a goalie’s personality every bit as much as they protect his face and head. So it’s hard to believe that 60 years ago this morning, no goalie had ever worn one in the NHL.
Early in a game against the New York Rangers on this date sixty years ago, Montreal Canadiens legend Jacques Plante took a puck to his uncovered face. He left the ice bleeding and came back wearing a mask he had made a habit of wearing in practice. After the Canadiens won the game 3-1, Plante insisted to hesitant coach Toe Blake that he would never play without one again.
The mask worked out pretty well for Plante. He would go on to win his sixth and final Stanley Cup that season, but the mask would help him extend his career well into the 1970s.
Plante played his final professional season at the age of 46 with the Edmonton Oilers, then of the World Hockey Association. He retired a seven-time Vezina Trophy winner, a seven-time All-Star, a one time Hart Trophy winner, a six-time Stanley Cup winner and, unsurprisingly, would go on to join the Hockey Hall of Fame. But for everything else he accomplished, his enduring effect on the game will always be the mask he introduced.
The Mask Evolves
Of course, the goalie mask didn’t remain a blank, fiberglass slate for very long. In the 1970s, Gary Cheevers innovated goalie mask design when he asked his trainer to begin painting stitches on his mask as a memento for every puck that hit his face.
The mask evolved quickly after that. Around the same time, Dave Dryden (brother to the more famous Ken) began to wear a mask with a cage, while a Russian goaltender at the 1972 Summit Series began wearing a more traditional helmet with a cage. Though that style has disappeared from the game, Dominik Hasek, one of the greatest goaltenders in the history of the NHL, wore his mask that way until he retired in 2008.
In 1974, Andy Brown became the last North American goalie to play without a mask. Before long, goaltenders began to recognize the mask as a potential canvas for their personalities and their spirit animals alike. Gilles Gratton began painting his mask to resemble a lion (Gratton is a Leo) and Gary Simmons followed suit with a snake to resemble his nickname, “the Cobra.”
By the late 1980s / early 1990s, the modern goalie mask began to rise. Mike Richter’s iconic Statue of Liberty mask helped set the tone for what was to come: masks that captured both the personality and the team of their wearers.
A Fiberglass Canvas
Today, goalie masks are a fixture of the NHL, and their design is as unique and creative as the goalies that wear them. Each mask is a work of art, and they often differ not only from player-to-player but from game-to-game, as goalies will often change masks to recognize a unique moment or special occasion.
The goalie mask is a unique aspect of the game of hockey, and we have Plante to thank for it. Had Andy Bathgate’s shot not caught him in the face, who knows how long it would have taken for the mask to make its debut.
Goalie Gram: Purrfect Company
It looks like Jack Campbell of the Los Angeles Kings had a relaxing Halloween. He posted this video to his Instagram account of his cat visiting him with holiday kisses.
They say it’s bad luck for a black cat to cross your path, but what about if a calico cat licks your face? Maybe it’s the good luck kiss that will mean a change of fortunes for the struggling Kings.
Stephen Ground is a veteran of over three years at THW, focusing on the St. Louis Blues, NHL goaltending, and the annual World Junior Championship. He is the co-host of the Two Guys One Cup Podcast, a hockey podcast focused on the Blues.