Sunday, 19 July 2015

Righting A Wrong

It's not often I get an email from a player who wants to clear up some confusion that I have written or others have suggested, but I was going through my email and I figured I needed to write about this. The man to the left is Warren Skorodenski. He didn't have a long NHL career, but he has one distinction that puts him in the history books. The skull mask worn by Skorodenski was the first skull mask seen in hockey as he beat Gary "Bones" Bromley by a few years! While Skorodenski wasn't the first netminder in the NHL to wear it, Skorodenski debuted his skull mask in a different league, and may actually be responsible for the trend at that time!

According to Mr. Skorodenski's email,
"This photo [Teebz: photo is below] was taken in the mid 70's at the Calgary Corral while playing with the Calgary Wranglers. Bones did not wear the Bones Mask until later on when Harrison made his different style mask and the Bones mask was born. And if that doesn't do it for ya just ask Greg Harrison who made my Harrison Skull Mask as well as the one for Bones. George Light from Selkirk, Manitoba made my 1st masks and the Skull Xray was painted by Norm Guziak in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I hope that clears up any misconception about the 1st Skull Mask."
Clearly, there's a little fact-checking to do here, but I'm fairly certain Mr. Skorodenski is correct in his timeline. Adding to the awesomeness of Mr. Skorodenski's email is the fact that he's from Winnipeg, and it's always super-cool when a guy from my hometown is making hockey history.

The image referenced above by Mr. Skorodenski is on the right of him playing in Calgary. That timeline would have him with the Wranglers in the WCHL and WHL from 1977 through 1980. We now have a timeline as to when Mr. Skorodenski wore the skull mask, and we can start piecing together a timeline as to who was first to wear the skull. Let's take a look back into history as to when Gary Bromley started wearing it.

1977 saw Gary Bromley playing with the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA. Gary was fresh off a season with the WHA's Calgary Cowboys where he played 28 games behind Don McLeod. In Winnipeg, he split time with Joe Daley for the majority of the season, but his mask, as seen in the photo to the left, is completely white. The only problem? Mr. Skorodenski's photo of him in Calgary isn't dated. We must press on!

As an aside, the Jets logo in the Bromley picture above is a little off from what I remember. See the jet in the logo? I don't recall it ever being white. It's not shown on the 1977-78 image on nor does it appear on any other year of the Jets' WHA existence. However, there are photos of Joe Daley and Markus Mattsson from the 1977 year that shows the white jet as well. Further to that, Gary Smith, who played for the Jets in the 1978-79 season, also wore a white jet in a game! Does anyone recall this white jet era for the Jets? How long did it last? And why was it changed when the Jets entered the NHL?

Anyway, back to the task at hand. In 1978, the Canucks signed Bromley and it was in Vancouver where "Bones" debuted his mask to the world. The problem? He didn't start off with the skull mask in Vancouver, instead wearing a plain white mask like he did in Winnipeg as seen to the right. That program, compliments of an eBay search, is from November 3, 1978 meaning that Bromley wore his all-white mask while backing up Glen Hanlon for at least part of the season. In other words, Mr. Skorodenski has a two-season head start on Bromley when it comes to wearing the skull mask, and Mr. Skorodenski has named names when it comes to having witnesses on this. I'm going to say that there's a better-than-good chance Mr. Skorodenski is right at this point.

Of course, Bromley was in the NHL two seasons before Mr. Skorodenski got there, and Bromley's hockey career ended in the AHL the season that Skorodenski played his first NHL game with the Blackhawks. It seems logical to suggest that Bromley was the first goaltender to wear the skull mask in the NHL, but it seems that Mr. Skorodenski is entirely right in saying that he was the first to wear the design in a documented hockey game. Skorodenski wore it while in junior while Bromley didn't have it for at least a year and a half later while playing with the Canucks.

According to one website, Mr. Skorodenski emailed a member of their forum about who created his mask, writing,
"George Light in Selkirk Manitoba. George worked in the casting department at the Selkirk Mental Hospital. He made Glen Hanlon and Karl Friesen's masks as well. I use to tell people that as a joke, as it turned out I asked him what Hospital he worked at the last time we spoke a few years ago and he told me the Mental Hospital. I had to laugh and tell him my story. He had a good laugh as well. My last mask was a Harrison. Not sure if Bones had his skull mask first or not. All I know is my skull was painted in the late seventies when I played for the Wranglers and I didn't know who bones was until we played against each other in the AHL in the eighties. Bones did not play in Vancouver until 78-79. I had the skull Mask in Calgary playing junior when Bones was with the Cowboys and he wasn't wearing the Bones Mask then."

There you have it, folks: Skorodenski should be credited with the first skull mask in history while Bromley should be credited with the first skull mask in the NHL. While some may say that this distinction matters little, I know it matters a lot to the man who played just 35 career NHL games. After all, it's his legacy and mark on the game!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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