As a formal game, hockey began to be played in North America in the 1870s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The first organized hockey league began with four teams in Kingston, Ontario in 1885. Hockey has been played for over 100 years in North America and over 500 years in Europe, but amazingly the goalie mask is a relatively new invention. In the early beginnings of hockey, goaltenders had never thought to wear any facial or head protection. Shots were low and were not as strong and fast as they are now.
Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons was the first goalie to wear any type of facial protection in a hockey game. In 1930, he wore a modified leather mask that covered his broken nose and cheekbone, the result of getting hit by a puck during a game. There are two theories as to the origin of the face-mask that he wore. One theory is that it was a modified football faceguard, and the other is that it was a boxer's sparring mask. Benedict ended up wearing the mask for only two games because it blocked his vision. This, however, was not recorded as the first goalie mask in history.
In 1934, Roy Mosgrove, who wore eye glasses all the time, first put on a wire cage to protect his glasses. The wire cage was originally worn by baseball catchers. It took decades for the goalies to incorporate the wire cages into the fiberglass masks of today.
As the game of hockey progressed, the players got stronger and faster, and players were shooting the puck harder and higher. The slapshot was beginning to hit players in the face, resulted in broken facial bones and skin lacerations. Goaltenders began experimenting with facial protection such as wire cages and clear shatter-proof shields in the 1950s, but they were only used during practice. These forms of facial protection were not satisfactory since they fogged up, there was a glare from the lights in the rink, and they had many blindspots, making them unsuitable for game use. Goalies also did not wear any form of facial protection during games because they worried that other players and fans would lose respect for them, thinking them to be weak. Goaltenders at that time wore their injuries like badges.
Clint Benedict in 1930 is thought to have worn the first mask-like protection in a game but his mask was not formally recorded. The first recorded goalie wearing a mask came on November 1, 1959, when Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadians was hit with a rising shot in the nose and was knocked unconscious by New York Ranger Andy Bathgate. Plante was forced to leave the game to be stitched up, but later returned wearing a flesh tone mask constructed of fiberglass with cutouts for the eyes. By this time, Plante had broken his jaw, both cheekbones, and his nose, his skull had suffered a hair-line fracture, and he had gotten over 200 stitches from past injuries received during games.
Plante's mask was the product of a Canadian company called Fiberglass Canada. Bill Burchmore, a sales and promotional manager for the company, envisioned the mask. One evening he had gone to watch a game in which Plante was goaltending. He witnessed Plante getting hit in the forehead with a puck, resulting in a 45 minute delay of game while he was being stitched up. While at work the next day, Burchmore was looking at a fiberglass mannequin head when he realized the he could design a contoured, lightweight fiberglass mask that would fit the goalie's face like a protective second skin. Burchmore gave Plante his idea, and Plante was persuaded by his trainers to give it a try. A mold was taken of Plante's face. He had to put a woman's stocking over his head, cover his face with Vaseline, and breath through a straws stuck in both nostrils while his head was covered with plaster. Burchmore layered sheets of fiberglass cloth saturated with polyester resin on top of the mold. The result was the flesh toned 0.125 in (52 mm) thick mask that weighed only 14 oz (397 g).
By January of 1960, Burchmore had come up with a second goalie mask design. His new mask, called the pretzel design, used fiberglass cloth and was made up of fiberglass bars contoured to the goalie's face. The new mask weighed 10.3 oz (292 g) and allowed more air to circulate around the goalie's face. In 1970, Plante added hard ridges on the forehead and down the middle of his mask to deflect pucks, and protruded the mask over the ears. This new mask was made with epoxy resins which were able to absorb impact better. This mask withstood a test in which pucks were fired out of an air cannon at speeds of 120 miles per hour (193 km/h). The only thing that broke were the hockey pucks. More and more goaltenders began to wear masks not only in practice but also in games. The year 1973 was the last year that a goaltender went without a mask in the National Hockey League (NHL). Now it is a rule in the NHL and other hockey leagues that all goaltenders must wear masks for protection. A hockey puck weighs 6 oz (170 g) and can get up to speeds in excess of 100 mph (161 km/h), the speed at which many players in the NHL can shoot the puck at the goaltender.
Manon Rheaume was born in 1972 and raised in Lac Beauport, a suburb of Quebec City in Canada. Learning to skate by age four, Rheaume spent hours practicing hockey with her brothers. When she was five, her father was short a goalie for a local tournament. Rheaume volunteered, and the minute she tried her skills in real competition she was hooked.
Rheaume's ability landed her on boys' teams all through school and the youth leagues. After high school she made Canada's Junior B league and even played briefly on the Junior A level—the level just below the NHL. With women's teams she was nothing less than a star. As the goaltender for the Canadian national women's team she helped to win a gold medal at the 1992 women's world championships in Finland. Rheaume gave up just two goals in three games in the world championship tournament.
Given a tryout for the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992, Rheaume composed her-self bravely in the Tampa Bay tryout, giving up two goals and making seven saves in the first period of an exhibition contest. Tampa Bay general manager Phil Esposito signed her to a three-year contract and sent her to the minors in Atlanta. Rheaume became the first woman ever to play in an NHL game.
Masks are still made of fiberglass and epoxy resins, but now have added materials such as Keviar, carbon fiber, and capron nylon resin. Fiberglass is still used because it is a light material, has a high tolerance to damage, and is easy to handle and mold. It also comes in different styles and weights. Kevlar is the material used in bullet proof vests. It adds strength to the mask, but at the same time is very light weight. Carbon fiber is similar to fiberglass, but it has higher strength and stiffness. It is also more expensive than fiberglass, therefore it used in limited amounts in goalie masks. Carbon fiber is also used in snowboards, mountain bikes, and race car bodies. Rubber and foam are used as padding inside the mask. The caging in masks is made of stainless steel rods or titanium. Cages began to be used more often after goaltender Bernie Parents was hit in the eye by a stick, resulting in an injury that ended his career.
The mold taken of the goaltender's head is typically made from alginate, the same gel-like material used in dental molds.
Goalie masks vary in size and color, depending on the goalie's preferences. The first goaltender to decorate his mask was Gerry Cheevers, who painted stitches on his mask where he had been hit with a puck or stick. The masks of goaltenders, especially in the NHL, are often the canvas of an artist. The first artistic mask in the NHL was owned by Glenn "Chico" Resch of the New York Islanders. In 1976, Linda Spineela, a friend of the trainer and an art student, was allowed to paint Resch's plain white mask. Masks may be decorated by a combination of painting and airbrushing in various ways, such as with team colors, images that reflect the team name, or where the team is from. For example, the San Jose sharks goaltender has a shark painted on his mask. For decorative painting Epoxy primers, basecoats, automotive paints, and urethane clearcoats are used. To ensure that the paint will not chip it is clear coated, sanded, polished, and then baked.
Custom made masks ensure a comfortable fit to each goalie's head. Custom made masks are still manufactured in a similar fashion as in the 1960s, and are still made by hand without the aid of automated processes.
- The first step is to make an impression of the goaltender's entire head. A bald cap is placed over the goalie's hair and straws are placed in both nostrils. A gel-like substance called alginate is spread over the player's face. The substance adheres to the skin, but will not stick when removed. After about four minutes, the gelatin-like mold is removed.
- After the alginate impression has completely air dried, plaster is pored into the mold and a bust is made.
- Once the bust is dry the molding process of the mask begins. The beak area—the area over the nose and mouth—and other extrusions, such as around the ears, must be sculpted onto the plaster bust using clay or paper mach&.
- Once the sculpting is finished, the laminating process begins. Multiple sheets of fiberglass coated with epoxy are laid on the bust until the desired thickness is achieved. The mask may also be reinforced with Kevlar or carbon graphite composite. Epoxy resins are used to form a bond between the layers. It is important for the manufacturer to smooth out any air pockets when laying the layers of fiberglass. If there are air pockets in the mask it will result in a weak spot that may break when hit by a puck.
- Finally, once the resin has dried, the mask is broken from the mold. It is then properly fitted to the goaltender and the facial opening is cut out. The mask is primed, and a top coat of enamel paint is applied.
- Cages are now placed in the facial opening and are attached with stainless steel fasteners. Cages are made out of steel, and occasionally titanium. They protect the eyes from being penetrated with a stick or a puck.
- The interior of the mask is lined with high / impact rubber padding for comfort and extra protection. Chin straps are added to hold the mask onto the goaltenders head. The result is a strong mask that is comfortable and lightweight Energy from a puck is transferred more evenly because of the custom, even fit.
A goaltender's mask will endure many hits, but parts that are not made out of fiberglass (such as the padding and cage) will deteriorate after time. Many mask manufacturers offer reconditioning of masks when they reach this stage of wear. Therefore, instead of throwing the mask away and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars for a new one, the goaltender can have it reconditioned and continue to use it. Reconditioning includes putting in new interior padding, sweat bands, and chin cup. A new cage may be added if the old one is dented. The cage could also be chrome or gold painted. If there are chips in the mask they can be repaired with fiberglass layers.
As NHL players become stronger and the puck becomes faster, injuries will continue to grow. New technology in the manufacturing of hockey pucks, sticks, and skates, as well as rink developments, will result in new safety regulations. With the development of new materials, masks continue to vary in design and offer more protection.
Where to Learn More
Hunter, Doug. A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending. Triumph Books, 1998
Classic Mask Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.classicmask.com/evolution.html>.
Dillon's Custom Goalie Mask, LTD Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.dillonmask.com>.
Pro-Masque Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.promasque.com>.
Sportmask Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.sportmask.com>.
The Science of Hockey Web Page. December 2001. <http://www.exploratorium.edu/hockey>.