The Evolution of the Goalie Mask

I have always been drawn to goalies, their helmets and the stories behind them are fascinating and each one is as unique to the person wearing them. They are the only piece of equipment that can be personalised and that makes them interesting, but what is more fascinating still is their evolution from something as simple as leather across the nose and cheeks, as worn by the Montreal Canadiens George Hainsworth, to the full head masks we are used to seeing today.

Elizabeth Graham, second from right, was the first netminder to wear a mask in February of 1927

However, it was a woman, Elizabeth Graham, who first wore a mask similar to those we see today. In 1927, the Queens University goal tender wore a fencing mask to protect her face and teeth and avoid any hefty dental bills that might come from playing. Some speculate that her father was so insistent because Ms. Graham had just received dental treatment.

However thewhig.com say Ms. Graham simply saw it as a common sense option. Although there are conflicting reports as to why she wore it, what is most important here is that it was her decision to wear the mask that changed the course of goal tender equipment history.

3 years later, in 1930 Clint Benedict wore a mask for the first time. Benedict, a goalie for the Montreal Maroons took a puck to the face and got head injuries in two consecutive games which resulted in a 15 game absense.

His mask covered his nose, cheekbones and forehead as shown above, however he threw the mask away as he felt the mask hindered his game, saying at the time “It was leather with a big nosepiece. The nosepiece proved to be the problem, because it obscured my vision.” He stopped playing hockey after he was injured while wearing his mask and the following season he wasn’t brought back by the Maroons.

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In 1936 Teiji Honma, wore a mask when he played for the Japanese national team at the Olympic games held in Germany. He wore something not unlike a baseball catchers mask made of leather and metal wiring, there is speculation as to why he wore it but it was most likely to protect the glasses he had to wear in order to see. Honma played in two games during the span of the Olympics and very little else is really known about the man.

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Jacques Plante’s original fibreglass mask. Source: Wikipedia

Jacques Plante, in 1959, was considered the first NHL goaltender to wear a mask. It was crude and homemade and worn to protect his face from an injury sustained in a game which required stitches. His coach at the time tried to put him back on the ice without a mask because he believed it would impair Plante’s vision. He told his coach to forget about putting him back on the ice without his mask and since the Canadiens coach didn’t have another goalie to put on the ice he had to concede to Plante’s request. He played 18 straight games in the mask, winning every one of them. Once his face was healed, he played a game without it and the team lost. Suffice to say, the mask returned for good the following night and the rest as they say, is history.

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Steve Shields of the Boston Bruins in his Cheevers inspired mask.

It’s now 1970 and Gerry Cheevers of the Boston Bruins is the owner of one of the most recognised masks in NHL history. Cheevers painted stitches on his mask each time he got hit in the face. It showcases how much goaltenders take to their faces in the line of duty. The mask is so iconic in fact that it was recently used as the design for Boston Bruins Steve Shields mask.

soviet mask 1972

1972, Soviet Union goaltender Alexander Sidelnikov wore a mask which is very reminiscent of the masks we see today on goaltenders all over the world. Soon after this event, masks much like this were seen on NHL goalies Patrick Roy and Marty Brodeur and continue to be work to this very day.

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