50th Anniversary of the Goalie Mask: A Celebration of Goalie Artwork

November 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the first time a goalie, Jacques Plante, wore a mask in an NHL game.  Not quite the same as Willie O’Ree breaking the NHL’s color barrier, or even the addition of the forward pass – a rule cursed by goalies ever since – but a landmark event in hockey history.  Plante went on to revolutionize the mask from his original solid fiberglass cutout to the version worn by many pros in the 70’s.  Along the way Doug Favell painted his mask for Halloween and in the process an art form was born.


On November 1st 1959 Jacques Plante became the first NHL goalie to wear a mask in a game after being cut for seven stitches.

The focus of any list of best-ever goalie masks typically is about the artwork, not the actual mask.  And that’s fair, after all nobody would put the helmets of Bob Sauve or Chris Osgood on any sort of Top Ten list even though they’re both more protective than any mask worn in the 60’s or 70’s.  The single best mask ever worn was the one donned by Plante 50 years ago.  His coach had forbade him from wearing it outside practice.  But after receiving seven stitches to repair a huge gash from a puck Plante insisted he would not return to the ice without his mask.  Goalies everywhere have been in his debt since then.

TendersLounge is marking this anniversary by providing a purely subjective list of the greatest goalie masks in history, albeit from an artistic perspective.  The 70’s weren’t incredibly kind to the music world (disco anyone?) but the era did wonders for goalie mask artwork.  Many would argue that nothing good came of the 80’s (Wall Street yuppies?) and the same could be said of mask artwork as most goalies made the switch to the boring-but-protective helmet/cage combination.   The birth of the fiberglass/cage combo restored the canvas required for goalie art and the age of air-brushing  elevated goalie art to a new level as goalies expressed more of their personalities by what they wore on to protect their heads.

It seems unfair to compare the full-face fiberglass painted by brush to the smaller, airbrushed canvases of today so the list is split in two: fiberglass masks and cages.

The Originals (Full Faced Fiberglass)


Ken Dryden's mask was the epitome of simplicity and class, much like the Canadiens' jerseys and Dryden himself.


Gerry Cheevers' mask was the ultimate in originality. Every hockey fan knows it so there's not much we can add except to say that even Dryden called it the best mask of the time.


Mike Palmateer's mask was designed by an ten-year old kid who sent him a drawing! There are a few Leafs masks on this list but to me this is the Leaf mask.


Bunny Laroque may have played in Dryden's shadow in Montreal but when he got to Toronto he stood out with a mask that was intimidating from the front but included clean lines and a clever use of the Playboy Bunny logo on the sides.


Gilles Gratton had a short stay in the NHL but his mask became a legend in the hockey world and its life-like animal characteristics have since been emulated by roaring bears (Andy Moog), chomping sharks (Brian Hayward) and snarling wolves (Curtis Joseph) .


John Davidson's mask was a simple design but the combination of bold colors and narrow holes for the eyes and mouth (not to mention Davidson's physical stature) provided plenty of intimidation.


Jiri Crha had a very short NHL career after coming to the Leafs from Czechoslovakia. His first mask looked like something made in a Lada factory but his second mask was a unique and modern take on the Maple Leaf. I've always loved this mask.


Murray Bannerman's mask was the Chicago Black Hawk. A number of Hawks goalies have since copied the headdress and facial painting motifs but Bannerman's full fiberglass canvas allowed for a unique and complete recreation of the Hawk's logo.


Wayne Thomas' mask in Toronto wasn't very creative in its design, but the crossed rows of Leaf silhouettes was as classic as any Leaf mask.


Gary Bromley's mask is the skeletal equivalent of Gratton's lion mask. The anniversary Plante's debut of the mask comes the day after Halloween, a perfect time to remember Bromley's scary visage.


Bernie Parent's mask was not flashy but it certainly was intimidating. While other goalies became more colorful with their mask designs Parent actually went from his flaming Blazers mask in the WHA to the stark white model with the Flyers. When wingers were baring down on Parent they saw nothing of cartoonish personality, just ghostly intimidation.

The Cages (Helmets and Combo’s)

Vladislav Tretiak may have been the most famous helmet/cage wearing goalie, standing out from the crowd when all other goalies were wearing fiberglass throughout the 70’s.  Mike Palmateer switched to a helmet cage combo just before he retired in the mid-80’s.  Even Gilles Gratton, of the famous roaring lion mask, switched from his legendary fiberglass mask to a helmet and cage.  But the plain helmet with wire face mask was boring; very few goalies made an attempt to spruce them up.  The art of the goalie mask was reborn when Dave Dryden was the first to wear Greg Harrison’s fiberglass/cage combo, providing the protection of the cage with the relatively smooth canvas of fiberglass.


Kelly Hrudey was one of the last NHL goalies to migrate from the helmet/cage era to the modern era, wearing the one-piece Jofa helmet early in his career on Long Island and in Los Angeles before making the switch to the combo. What set Hrudey apart during his helmet-wearing days, besides his uniquely tight stance, was his decorative helmet. Not as elaborate as the "Hollywood" combo mask that followed but a standout amongst the helmet/cage crowd.


Dominek Haskek did everything differently from other goalies. So it should be no surprise he not only favored a helmet but even used the CSA-approved cage instead of the more popular cats eye cage. Even though Hasek's helmet looked like the standard Cooper issue it was actually very similar to fiberglass masks in that it was a one-piece mold made specifically for him. The roaring engine on the side would have looked good on any mask but makes our list because of its uniqueness on a helmet.


Curtis Joseph didn't start his career with the Cujo mask but eventually became known for it, to the point that only Eddie Belfour's mask comes close to Cujo's in terms of branded identity.


Martin Gerber will probably be remembered for two things in his career: standing on his head to shut out Canada at the 2006 Olympics and his Darth Vader mask. I don't understand why nobody painted Vader on their mask during the full fiberglass days... oh, maybe this is why.


Stephane Fiset, I believe, was the first goalie to incorporate the "brick wall" theme into his mask design. A number of others followed, most notably Nikolai Khabibulin's Bulin Wall mask, but Fiset's wall of igloo blocks was a perfect fit for Quebec and has become a lasting image of les Nordiques.


Patrick Roy's mask in Montreal was the modern equivalent to Ken Dryden's. Simple. Iconic. Canadien. Very few masks have had a poster created for them but this one did and somewhere in my attic I still have mine.


Andrew Raycroft's career has not gone as expected after he won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in Boston but his Leafs mask was a beautiful tribute to Maple Leaf Gardens and the stars who made it the most famous building in Canada.


Jeff Hackett's pond hockey mask could really only work with geography and color schemes of two teams and the Canadiens were definitely one of them (sorry, the Bruins weren't even though Hackett kept the design when he went to Boston).


Patrick Lalime was one of the first goalies to adapt the persona of a cartoon character, in this case Marvin the Martian. I will admit some bias here as I was a Marvin fan long before Lalime's mask so I copied the idea for my own mask.


Stephen Valiquette's Spiderman mask is not only a natural fit for a goalie mask but it's a great fit for Peter Parker's hometown of New York.


1 Comment

  1. […] great illustrations showing the story of Plante donning a mask.  Especially now that we’ve celebrated the 50th anniversary of this historic event it’s a great way for young goalies to discover the history of their position.  2) the young […]

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