Goalie masks have rightfully taken their place among horror movie iconography. We may find the masks terrifying, but imagine how terrifying goaltenders used to find pucks flying at their unprotected faces. Two big moments in mask history came on back-to-back days perfectly timed for Halloween and All Souls Day. On November 1, 1959, Jacques Plante (of the Montreal Canadiens) became the first goalie to consistently wear a mask during games. Then a day shy of twelve years later, on October 31, 1971, Doug Favell (of the Philadelphia Flyers) first added color to his mask.
Plante paved the way towards mask usage in 1959. On the seventh anniversary of Plante’s first NHL game, the Canadiens came into their game against the New York Rangers on an eight-game winning streak after a Stanley Cup winning season. About three minutes into the game, Andy Bathgate, who had had a prior altercation with Plante, shot high so that the puck sliced into the goalie’s nose. Without a backup goalie, Plante left the ice to receive seven stiches and returned to the ice wearing the fiberglass face mask he had worn during practices. He had convinced Coach Toe Blake that he should wear the mask to protect his face.Although the audience seemed quite disturbed by the new look, Plante only let in one goal for a final score of 3-1. This was eerily similar to his NHL debut exactly seven years before when he defeated the Rangers 4-1. When Plante insisted on keeping the mask, Blake agreed as long as the team kept winning. Plante only ever played without the mask once more, and by 1974, no goalies played maskless in the NHL.
The goalie masks evolved over time – especially in design and color. On November 8, 1967, Gerry Cheevers played (against the Rangers) with marker-drawn stiches decorating his mask. Then during the 1970-71 season, Gary “Suitcase” Smith of the California Golden Seals had to wear a yellow mask to match the team’s yellow and green uniforms. Seals owner Charles O. Finley had some interesting ideas of how to outfit hockey players.
However, Favell has been credited as the first goalie to have his mask painted. After joking around with his teammates about dressing up for Halloween, Favell said he asked their trainer Frank Lewis, “Frank, with tonight being Halloween, why don’t we put orange on the mask? . . . Why don’t we paint it like a pumpkin tonight for Halloween?” Lewis did as requested, and Favell wore the bright orange mask to defeat the Canadiens 5-3. Favell, as superstitious as most hockey players, decided to keep the color since they won the game, and he hoped that the color would draw the eyes of his opponents taking their focus off the net behind him. His mask stayed a solid orange through the rest of the season, and Favell became known as “The Great Pumpkin.” The following season, he and his backup goalie, Bobby Taylor, wore masks that featureed starburst patterns in orange and black, respectively.
Now the buckets are as unique as the individuals wearing them. We have Plante to thank for the wearing of the mask and Favell for the decorative colors.
- Jim Hynes and Gary Smith, Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., Oct 6, 2015).