Goaltender mask evolution
The first goaltender mask was a metal fencing mask donned in February 1927 by Queen’s University netminder Elizabeth Graham, mainly to protect her teeth. In 1930, the first crude leather model of the mask (actually an American football “nose-guard”) was worn by Clint Benedict to protect his broken nose. After recovering from the injury, he abandoned the mask, never wearing one again in his career. At the 1936 Winter Olympics, Teiji Honma wore a crude mask, similar to the one worn by baseball catchers. The mask was made of leather and had a wire cage which protected the face, as well as Honma’s large circular glasses.
It was not until 1959 that a goaltender wore a mask full-time. On November 1, 1959, in a game between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers of the National Hockey League (NHL), Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante was struck in the face by a shot from Andy Bathgate. Plante had previously worn his mask in practice, but coach Toe Blake refused to permit him to wear it in a game, fearing it would inhibit his vision. After being stitched up, Plante gave Blake an ultimatum, refusing to go back out onto the ice without the mask, to which Blake obliged not wanting to forfeit the game since NHL teams did not have backup goaltenders at the time.
Over the course of 50 years, a lot has changed in hockey. One notable change was the masks worn by goalies. Some were more protective than others, and some looked as though they should be in a scary movie.
As a way to help celebrate the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 50th Anniversary, a vintage helmet collection was on display for Tuesday night’s game against the Nashville Predators.
The collection of masks belong to Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze, who started his collection five years ago when he showed interest in Jim Craig’s goalie mask.
“After I got the Jim Craig goalie mask–and working with the Penguins–I thought it would be neat to go back and visit what the Pittsburgh Penguins wore from 1967 to 1995,” Heinze said. “It started a long journey and it was a lot of fun.”
The display shows that masks have come a long way. Some of the earlier masks were so thin they look like you could snap them in half. In fact, Heinze had Al Smith’s mask displayed, and said that as Smith’s mask broke more and more, he would take it off after wearing it, fold it in half and toss it in his hockey bag.
General manger Jim Rutherford’s mask was one to note. When Rutherford came to Penguins in 1971, he wore a red mask from his time with the Detroit Red Wings. But when he arrived to Pittsburgh, they painted it white.
Rutherford was a friend of mask-maker Greg Harrison, who painted Rutherford’s mask blue to make it “different.” Greg then painted it white when Rutherford went to play with the Red Wings. Heinze says that is where art started to come into the vintage goalie mask.
Hockey Elite would like to thank www.nhl.com and Nicole Jelinek CLICK HERE for the full article