50 years ago today, kids, was the first time that Jacques Plante broke out his infamous mask and wore it in a game. November 1, 1959 changed the way that fans and opposing players saw the game forever. Rangers' legend Andy Bathgate fired a high backhand on net that caught Montreal Canadiens’ goaltender Jacques Plante in the face. The resulting cut on Plante’s face sent him to the trainer’s room, causing a 45 minutes delay in the game. When he returned from getting stitched up, his face was dramatically different – he was wearing a mask! Because of Plante's injuries and his resulting decision to wear a mask, goaltenders today have reached new heights with their masks. Not only do the serve as protection, but many of them make statements about the goaltenders themselves.
Today is nothing more than a gallery of photos of some of the best masks that have been worn in hockey. All of these are based entirely on my opinion, and not some scientific process. That means all of these choices are up for debate. Please feel free to discuss my choices in the comments below if you feel I've made a bad choice.
- Gary Bromley's skull mask is still one of the most intimidating masks in NHL history in my opinion. Warren Skorodenski of the Blackhawks also went with the skull imagery.
- Speaking of Blackhawks, I absolutely love Tony Esposito's modified mask. The reason? More protection around the eyes. It's just a very unique mask.
- More Blackhawks: Murray Bannerman's "war paint" mask is still one of the finest paint jobs in NHL history. Bannerman was the first goaltender to change the logo on his chest into a full facemask without using the logo. This mask design is replicated more often than any other for collectors.
- The Bruins have had a number of good masks, but Gerry Cheevers' mask is still the most recognized mask today. The reason for the stitches? Every puck mark on his mask would have been a stitch in his face, so the equipment guys simply painted a new stitch for every new mark on his mask. Steve Shields, while playing for Boston, used his mask as a tribute to Gerry Cheevers' iconic look.
- Hannu Toivonen's mask in Boston was a tribute to one of Hollywood's greatest masks in Denis Lemieux. Denis Lemieux was, of course, the goaltender in Slap Shot. I love the addition of the ears and hair in the paint job.
- I still think Roberto Luongo's throwback mask is one of the best. Simple and a great design.
- While his "Marvin the Martian" theme has made him instantly recognizable, I am still a fan of Patrick Lalime's first mask with Pittsburgh. The little Penguin peering out from the igloo is innocent enough, but Lalime's record to start his career of 15-0-1 certainly spoke differently.
Let me hear about your favorite masks in the comments!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!