fb-pixel Skip to main content
Replay

In the 1960s, goalie masks were putting a whole new face on hockey

Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante (right) first donned a mask in 1959, and they slowly started to catch on after that.
Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante (right) first donned a mask in 1959, and they slowly started to catch on after that.AP

Editor’s note: The Globe is reaching into its archives to bring you “Replay,” articles from the past that highlight something interesting, timely, or revealing. This column by Harold Kaese about Bruins goalie Bernie Parent wearing a mask — at the time, he was just one of four players in the league to use one — appeared on Sunday, Nov. 28, 1965, under the headline “Goalie Mask Saves Turning Other Cheek.”

A flounder hitting the ice would not have made a louder smack than the puck as it hit Bernie Parent’s forehead. Down and out went the young goalie in the Bruins cage, but in a few moments he was up on his skates blocking Rangers shots.

Advertisement



Another goalie had been saved a serious injury by a face mask.

If Bob Nevin’s close-in Thanksgiving Night shot had not taken off the top of the rookie’s head, it almost certainly would have wound up needing more stitches than a baseball — except for the plastic mask with which Parent hides his good looks.

“Two cuts in one week, then no cuts in four years with the mask. That’s why I like it,” said Parent, whose brow was hardly bruised.

He wears a Jacques Plante mesh model, rather than the skin-tight face-saver preferred by the NHL’s other mask-wearers — Terry Sawchuk of Toronto, Charlie Hodge of Montreal, and Don Simmons of the Rangers.

Plante introduced the mask to the big league in Dec. 1959, was soon followed by Don Simmons of the Bruins, who started a controversy here, because he had trouble stopping shots with or without a mask.

In the fall of 1961, coach Milt Schmidt let him use the mask in exhibitions but not in regular games. Before long, Simmons was traded to Toronto.

Jacque Plante of the Maple Leafs won multiple Vezina Trophies playing with and without a mask.
Jacque Plante of the Maple Leafs won multiple Vezina Trophies playing with and without a mask.Dan Goshtigian/Globe Staff

Sawchuk says the face mask has added four years to his career.

Advertisement



Plante, who won the Vezina Trophy four times without a mask and twice with one, says, “I wish I’d worn a mask sooner. Cuts don’t mean much, but it saves broken cheekbones.”

But Gump Worsley, one of the holdouts, argues, “It’s not the mask. It’s the guy inside it.”

This Hodge disputes: “Since I broke a cheekbone, I’ve been hit three times in the same place and each time the mask saved me.”

The hockey mask comes from the catcher’s mask, which comes from fencing. Invented by Frederick W. Thayer, Harvard baseball captain, the catcher’s mask was first worn in a game by Jim Tyng of Harvard against the Live Oaks in Lynn, April 12, 1877.

It took the NHL 82 years to catch up with baseball. Even then, some diehards thought Plante and Simmons were sissifying hockey.

Dick Irvin hated to see hockey take anything from baseball. He made one of his most biting comments when one of his Toronto goalies, Ken Rollins, insisted on returning to a game after suffering two head injuries:

“Certainly he wants to play. He’s not one of those American baseball players, you know.”

Thayer’s mask worked so well that the Crimson in an editorial said, “The new mask proved a complete success, since it entirely protects the face and head and adds greatly to the confidence of the catcher (goalie), who need not feel that he is every moment in danger of life-long injury.”

Thayer was so interested in baseball and the success of the Harvard nine that “the faculty withheld his degree,” an omission that was atoned for when he was given his AB in 1883. He preferred masks to masques.

Advertisement



Masks are now used in such sports as lacrosse, football, cycling, softball, skiing and — let us not forget — wrestling, in which Masked Marvels are fairly common.

When one of these marvels was unmasked here a number of years ago, a reporter at ringside told his readers, “He was recognized as a perfect stranger.”