Thursday, 15 February 2007

All I Want Is A Couple Days Off

I'm sure you've noticed that this blog hasn't been updated in a couple of days. I've been busy with my own hockey schedule lately, but I've still been thinking about what I'm going to write. It was actually my own personal hockey schedule that brought me to this topic today: goalie masks. In particular, what are the reasons behind the artistic designs on the masks of goalies? Some use team logos, some use designs that change with team colours, some use Hollywood imagery... but all are distinctive and unique in their own rights. And it doesn't seem to be limited to just North American goalies or men. European goalies and women's hockey goalies are also painting their masks as a reflection of their personalities. I believe this facet of the game is one of the coolest elements in any sport as it allows such freedom of expression that the league doesn't control.

First, some history on the goalie mask. Jacques Plante is regarded as the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game. 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. He had witnessed Plante getting hit in the forehead with a puck, resulting in a 45 minute delay in the game while he was being stitched up. While at work the next day, Burchmore was looking at a fibreglass mannequin head when he realized the he could design a contoured, lightweight fibreglass 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 by putting a woman's stocking over his head, covering his face with Vaseline, and allowing him to breath through a straws stuck in both nostrils while his head was covered with plaster. Burchmore layered sheets of fibreglass 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 the late 1970's, with goalie injuries calling attention to the shortcomings of the fibreglass design, the Canadian Standards Association ruled that the full fibreglass masks were unsafe. Thus, many goalkeepers switched to the helmet-and-cage combination first introduced by Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak, commonly called the "birdcage design". This style was popular in the 1970s and early 1980s for goalies. Chris Terreri and Chris Osgood still wear masks that look similar to this style.

Dave Dryden, brother of Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden, felt the helmet-and-cage design was flawed because it protected the head more than it protected the face. By cutting out a space in a fibreglass mask and covering the hole with a cage, he created a hybrid mask of the fibreglass mask and the birdcage. His innovation would take about ten years to catch on, but it's now widely considered the safest version of goaltender facial protection available, and the most-widely used.

Masks today are still made of fibreglass and epoxy resins, but also make use of Kevlar and carbon fibre. Fibreglass 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 lightweight. Carbon fibre is similar to fibreglass, but it has higher strength and stiffness. It is also more expensive than fibreglass, therefore it used in limited amounts in goalie masks. Rubber and foam are used as padding inside the mask. The caging in masks is made of stainless steel rods or titanium.

The first goalie to decorate his mask in any way was Gerry Cheevers, who painted stitches on his mask where he had been hit with a puck or stick. The first mask in the NHL that had an artists' design applied to it was owned by Glenn "Chico" Resch of the New York Islanders. In 1976, Linda Spineela, an art student and a friend of the Islanders' trainer, was allowed to paint Resch's plain white mask. Masks are decorated by a combination of painting and/or airbrushing in various ways: team colors, images that reflect the team name, or where the team is from. For example, Brian Hayward's mask when he played with the San Jose Sharks has the head of a shark on his mask, making it a very unique design. 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.

In terms of the examination of the masks, I will present several masks that I have been fond of over the years. There have been many excellent designs, and a ton of interesting images incorporated into masks. I'll try to draw on some of these as well.

Kelly Hrudey, Los Angeles Kings: As you can see in Kelly's mask, he has incorporated the Hollywood sign on the Hollywood hills across his forehead. In the middle of his forehead are the marquee lights. He has the image of a filmstrip running around the mask across the throat protector. Around the edge of the mask is the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame: the sidewalk with the stars containing the names of Hollywood's elite. The entire mask is done in black, silver, grays, and white which were the colours of the team. Lots of Hollywood imagery + team colours = good mask.

Ken Wregget, Pittsburgh Penguins: Ken's new mask design coincided with the release of the Warner Brothers film, Batman Returns. In that movie, Danny DeVito plays the Penguin, and Ken opted to have the Penguin character depicted on his mask during his days with the Penguins. Since the character was already known for its white-and-black image, it matched the Pittsburgh Penguins colours exactly. Again, good Hollywood imagery + team colours = good mask.

In terms of imagery that has remained constant as a player moves between teams, Ed Belfour is probably the best example of this. He started with the Chicago Blackhawks, but was traded to the San Jose Sharks in the 1996-97 season. He left the Sharks at season's end, and signed on with the Dallas Stars. In 2002, Ed Belfour was named to the Canadian Olympic Team. In July of 2002, Belfour left the Stars for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 2006, Belfour signed on with the Florida Panthers. With each of the teams, the entire image of his helmet has not changed except some small changes on the eagle's head. The background colours have changed to reflect his current team's colours, but the overall design has remained unchanged. Eddie "the Eagle" Belfour's mask is quite recognizable regardless of what team has signed him.

Tomorrow: more mask designs I like. Until then, keep your sticks on the ice!

- a big thanks to Carrie Lystila from for some of the history. The article can be found here.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I've always love hockey masks as well! I wish there was a more comprehensive database of them... Nice update and can't wait to see more!! Keep it up Teebz!!
~Erich @