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.
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)
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.