Column: Behind the Mask

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist makes a save in overtime during an NHL hockey game against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

As we pass through Halloween this week, you are likely to notice people everywhere flashing different colored masks and costumes. It is the one time of the year where people can disguise themselves or hide behind a new face.

For hockey goalies, such ambiguity is part of everyday life. Each time they take the ice they lower their shield so that only their eyes can be revealed to the universe. They act almost as welders and knights when they slide their masks over their face, preparing themselves for work and battle.

When they submit themselves to this shield they are protected from not only hockey pucks, but also the thoughts of thousands of fans screaming at them from the stands. Perhaps they even block out the judgement of the world. Regardless, hockey goalies are in their own little paradises within their masks. That is, of course, if they keep the puck out of the net. It may be more of a deserted island of horrors if they struggle to fulfill their task.

Hockey masks, in both the literal and figurative sense, protect goalies. But imagine a world where goalies did not wear helmets in goal. It would be like going to a Halloween party without wearing a costume or mask, completely exposed.

In the earlier days of the game of hockey, goalies would remain bare in this way, subject to impact of ice-cold rubber striking them square in the face. Until 1959, it is believed that they would rarely wear any sort of protection over their head. That year, Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante was struck in the face with a puck during play. He refused to return to the ice without some sort of facial guard, so his coach allowed him to use one.

Before that, his coach, and many coaches throughout the game did not want goalies to wear masks, fearing that it would impair their vision. The Plante incident, despite the circumstances, was still frowned upon by many members of the hockey community.

But with this instance, and the continual fear of serious injury, masks started to become a distinct characteristic of hockey goalies. Goalies would wear fiberglass masks, which were typically all white masks that covered only the front of goalie’s faces, and had small cutouts for the eyes, nose and mouth.

In the 1970s Gary Cheever introduced the idea of decoration to the goalie mask, as his mask featured drawings of stitches all across it. This was the first time the mask featured a design component, making it an iconic piece of hockey history. From then on, goalies would sport all kinds of unique images on their shields. Goalies then began flashing masks replicating the faces of ferocious animals.

The tradition of decorating goalies’ masks is one that carries into the modern age. Goalies in today’s game work with artists to design new goalie masks that reflect their interests and likings. Each goalie has their own unique design that complements team colors and logos with their own personalities.

The idea of a goalie missing a mask is so foreign in today’s game that anytime it comes off the referees’ whistle play dead. These days, it is a concept as crazy as going costume-less on Halloween. And a goalie without a mask is as scary as some of the costumes people show off on Halloween night.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.