The goalie mask is one of the most interesting pieces of equipment in all of sport. It allows for personality to show, which hasn’t always been promoted in sport – especially in hockey. The modern goaltender’s mask is a blank canvas and has led to some incredible helmets such as Curtis Joseph’s “Cujo” mask and Ed Belfour’s “Eagle” mask.
But before the new-age helmet, the goalie mask looked a little different. You’ve certainly seen it. The single piece of fibreglass that was used to “protect” the netminder’s face. The word “protect” is used very loosely here.
Some goalies chose to keep their masks as the simple, white shield. However, some chose to let their personality show by getting creative with their masks. Here’s a look back at 10 of the coolest old-school masks in NHL history.
We‘ll start off simple, with the plain white mask of New York Rangers legend Ed Giacomin. Despite being one of the last goaltenders of the time to wear a mask, Giacomin‘s has gone down as one of the best just for its simplicity. When he finally made the decision to wear a mask, he had two shutouts in his next three games. And he never took it off.
Giacomin spent 11 seasons with the Rangers from 1965 to 1976. In that time, he won a Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, was a two-time First Team All-Star and three-time Second Team All-Star, led the league in games played for four straight years, and shutouts three times.
The Canadian netminder was known for his competitive side, once staying in a playoff game against the Chicago Black Hawks after Bobby Hull had skated over his hand. The Rangers won the game.
In his last season with the Rangers, they decided to put him on waivers and the Detroit Red Wings picked him up. When Giacomin played his first game back in New York, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and booed their own team when they shot on him.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Rangers Goalies
While in Detroit, Giacomin added red “sparks” to his mask above his eyes, as a promotion for Champion Spark Plugs. Originally, he wanted to write “Spark With Eddie” on the mask, but the league said no. Instead, he settled for the sparks (which could be played off as “Red Wings.”
He spent three seasons with the Red Wings before retiring in 1978. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987, and his number 1 was the second number to ever be retired by the Rangers in 1979.
It seems crazy to say that Bernie Parent played only 13 seasons in the NHL, but it’s true. In that time, he was mainly backstopping the Philadelphia Flyers, helping them to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and the Vezina Trophy in both seasons.
Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, Parent was left available for the 1967 Expansion Draft and was picked up by the Flyers. He was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1971, where he played for two seasons with his boyhood idol Jacques Plante, before spending one season in the World Hockey Association. He then returned home to the Flyers, helping them to their best run in franchise history.
In 1979, Parent suffered a career-ending eye injury when a stick caught him through the hole in his mask. While he was forced to retire, the sight came back to his eye. While he’s on this list for his old-school goalie mask, this retirement led to many NHL goalies switching to the cage and mask style, and it became required in junior leagues.
Related: Top 5 Goaltenders of the 1970s
In 1979, his number 1 was retired by the Flyers, becoming the second Flyer to have his number retired. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984 and named one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in 2017.
There’s an interesting story about Parent’s mask. While playing for the Maple Leafs, the team got into a line brawl against the New York Rangers on April 8, 1971. Rangers’ captain Vic Hadfield hurled Parent’s mark into the crowd at Madison Square Garden. They were unable to locate the mask until it turned up in a 2006 auction – 35 years later.
Gary Bromley may have had the scariest mask of this list. While he had a short NHL career – 136 games played – he’s become very well known simply because of this mask. The skull mask came from his nickname, Bones, which came from his lean build.
Through his career, Bromely played for the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks, compiling a record of 54-44-28. He also had an impressive career outside the NHL in the AHL, WHA and CHL. He even won an Avco Cup with the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets and a Calder Cup with the AHL’s Cinncinati Swords.
While his NHL career wasn’t as long or memorable as the other names on this list, there’s no questioning that the skull mask will be forever remembered as one of the greatest of all time. Interestingly enough, the mask that he’s known for was only worn for one season, 1980-81 – his last in the NHL.
You really can’t have any sort of old-school goalie mask list without including Jacques Plante. One of the greatest goaltenders to ever play the game, Plante is known for changing the face of goaltending – literally. The netminder was the first NHL goalie to wear a mask on a regular basis, developing and testing them out himself.
Plante was actually wearing a mask in practice before he wore it in a game. He coach, Toe Blake, was afraid that it would impair his vision so he wouldn’t allow him to wear it. On Nov. 1, 1959, Plante broke his nose and had to briefly leave the game to get stitches. When he returned to the ice, he had his mask on.
Blake fought Plante about wearing the mask, but Plante said that he wouldn’t play without it. They won that game on Nov. 1 – and the next 17 games as well. Suddenly, Blake wasn’t so vocal about the mask. Plante started designing masks for other goaltenders in the league as well.
One of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players of All-Time, Plante won six Stanley Cups, all with the Montreal Canadiens (including five straight from 1956-1960. He also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, and the Boston Bruins.
Through his 19 seasons, Plante won seven Vezina Trophies, a Hart Memorial Trophy, and was named to three First All-Star Teams and four Second All-Star Teams. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978, and had his number 1 retired by the Canadiens in 1995.
Glenn Hall, simply known as Mr. Goalie, is yet another member of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players of All-Time. While he’s largely know for his time with the Chicago Black Hawks, he also played for the Detroit Red Wings and the St. Louis Blues.
The netminder was a three-time Vezina recipient and won a Calder Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and was a seven-time First All-Star Team honouree. He also won two Stanley Cups, although he was just a backup in the playoffs for the first one.
Hall holds a record for NHL goaltenders that is likely to never be broken. From 1955 to 1962, Hall played 502 straight games – both regular season and playoff games. Ultimately, he missed that game due to back problems. While Hall’s mask is definitely one of the coolest of all time, he actually didn’t even wear the mask through this streak. It came later in his career.
Related: The Best of ‘Mr. Goalie’ Glenn Hall
On top of his stellar play and his mask, Hall is known for something else. One of the most famous images in hockey, the Bobby Orr flying goal that was scored in overtime of Game 4 the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, to win the Cup, was scored on Hall. That image isn’t as memorable for Hall.
Hall was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975. Growing up in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, the town built a monument to Hall in 2005 to recognize his impressive career.
Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon might be one of the most underrated goaltenders of his time. The netminder spent 16 seasons in the NHL, playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.
He helped the Canadiens to three Stanley Cups, won a Vezina Trophy, and he backed up Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup, leading them to the victory and was named Team MVP. Vachon was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2016.
Vachon had a number of masks that could be on this list, but what the majority of them have in common is the “smile” at the mouth. When an opponent is coming down this ice looking at Vachon, it’s almost like he’s mocking them with a smile on his face.
Related: Top 3 All-Time Kings Goalies
At one point with the Kings, Vachon had an all-purple mask. He then added two of the Kings’ crowns to the top of it, just above his eyes.
Vachon was one of the best goaltenders of his era, with extremely quick reflexes and was arguable the best one-on-one goaltender of his era. Maybe the smile on his face got in the heads of opponents.
Gilles Gratton, known as “Gratoony the Looney” for his outspoken personality, played just 47 games in the NHL. His personality and his mask have left him as one of the most memorable goaltenders in history.
The tiger mask idea came to Gratton when he was looking at Tigers in National Geographic. He thought the face of a tiger would look good on his mask. We can confirm that it does. Even though his mask was seen for just 41 games while he was with the Rangers, there’s no questioning it’s legendary status.
The mask is now in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but apparently Gratton has asked for it back from them. Technically though, the mask is owned by the Rangers, and as a piece of NHL history, the Hall said no.
As the first mask to don a tiger, Gratton’s mask likely sparked the wide attraction to putting predators on masks.
John Davidson played for the St. Louis Blues and more notably, the New York Rangers. He didn’t have a particularly notable career, but he was drafted fifth overall in 1973 and jumped straight into the NHL – becoming the first goalie in NHL history to make the jump from the junior levels to the NHL.
His career is likely best defined by a series of significant injuries, although he pushed through many of them. In 1979, he helped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final on an injured left knee. In 2009, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for broadcasting.
His mask is one of the best parts of his career. He wore a mask that wore a mask. Similar to Zorro or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Davidson looked like he was hiding his identity in the net with the blue band across his eyes. A mask wearing a mask? That’s legendary.
Ken Dryden is an absolute legend. One of the best goaltenders of all time and his mask was one of the best as well. It’s hard to believe that Dryden only spent eight seasons in the NHL, all with the Montreal Canadiens. But it’s true, and they were some of the best seasons that the NHL has ever seen.
Remember, Dryden played eight seasons. With the Canadiens, he led the team to six Stanley Cups, won five Vezina Trophies, won a Conn Smythe and a Calder Trophy, and was named to five First All-Star Teams and a Second Team. Interestingly enough, Dryden won the Conn Smythe and his first Stanley Cup in 1971 and won the Calder in 1972.
He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, had his number 29 retired by the Canadiens in 2007, and he received the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2020. In just eight seasons, it’s safe to say he left a mark.
On top of his legendary play, Dryden is known for his mask. Pictured above, the design uses the colours of the Habs but is painted like a target. Similar to Vachon’s “Smiley” mask, it’s almost like Dryden is begging opponents to shoot on him.
Since Dryden was so tall, at 6-foot-4, he actually had to have his mask specially done. Since taller goaltenders had to lean forward more, the eye holes had to be adjusted to fit Dryden right. He also wanted it to “fit like a glove” adding to the uniqueness of the “target mask.”
If this were a ranked list, Boston Bruins’ Gerry Cheevers’ stitches mask would be number one. Believe it or not, the famous mask started out as a plain white shield. In practice one day, Cheevers took a hard shot to the face and left the ice. Coach Harry Sinden came into the dressing room telling him to get back on the ice. He obliged, but not before a trainer took a black marker and drew 10 stitches on the mask.
It stuck. From then on, every time Cheevers took a shot to the face, he’d draw on stitches in that spot. It didn’t matter if it was a practice or a game, he’d pull out the marker. Pretty soon, the mask was filled with stitches.
Cheevers mask became legendary. This mask inspired others to decorate their masks, kids grew up wanting the Cheevers’ stitches mask, and it has become one of the most recognizable masks in NHL history. Years later, Steve Shields was traded to the Bruins and had his mask covered in the stitches as a tribute.
What the mask did was give a nod to all of those who actually needed stitches. Cheevers was honouring all of them with the mask while initiating a series of events that have led to goaltenders showing their personality on their mask. In a way, it connected the old, with the new.
The Bruins netminder helped the team to two Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972. In 1985, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.