Sunday, November 01, 2009

The goalie mask celebrates its 50th anniversary

The media provided extensive coverage this weekend to the 50th anniversary of the date Jacques Plante got fed up with getting hit in the face. As result he revolutionized goaltending by putting on a goalie mask.

Plante was not the first to wear a mask. That distinction goes to Hall of Fame goalie Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons in 1930. He wore some contraption on his face that sort of looked like a mask after his nose was broken by a Howie Morenz shot.

Before the mask, goaltenders moved their bodies to get their feet in front of shots. After, it became far more common for them to drop to their knees, fan their legs to the posts and get their torsos in the way of pucks or to dive headlong into goalmouth scrambles to cover the puck. Those are movements that barefaced goalies did at great risk. I remember when I was young many goalies pinned down in their crease actually lifting their heads to block shots.

Fast forward to November 1, 1959 and Plante's face was sliced open on a backhand shot by Andy Bathgate. Goalies would just get stitched up and within 15 minutes be back in the net. But on that night Plante, who had been using a mask in practice, came back out with his mask. Montreal coach, Toe Blake, was adamant that he wouldn't allow his goalie to wear a mask in a game but that night he had no choice. Plante had refused to return to the game without it.

The rest is history.