(Photo: 1929-30 Montreal Maroons, Wiki)
In today’s game of hockey, goalie masks are not only expected but are also often works of art. In fact, they play such a critical role for the goaltender, that a game is immediately halted when the goaltender’s mask comes off. However, the goalie masks are less than 75 years old, with Jacques Plante attributed with truly making the mask a part of the goaltender’s equipment.
Even Plante would take some lip for wearing a mask, and over the years as the mask has morphed it’s been quite an interesting journey. The first actual mask though was worn by Clint Benedict, otherwise known as “Praying Benny” of the Montreal Maroons, when he wore protection in playing on February 20, 1930.
Benedict had suffered a couple of head wounds earlier in the year beginning with a Dit Clapper shot on January 4 that knocked him out cold. He was able to return to that game, but three days later after a puck off the stick of Montreal Canadiens Howie Morenz, Benedict’s nose was broken and it ultimately required him to go to the hospital for repair. While he returned to the Forum to catch the end of the Maroon’s 2-1 win, he would be unable to play for roughly a month.
As reported in the Victoria, British Columbia Times Colonist “Early in January he was struck in the face by a hard-driven puck from the stick of one of hockey’s hardest shooters, Howie Morenz, of the Canadiens. He received a broken nose and serious cuts about the face, and it was reported that he was through for the season and probably for good.”
But Benedict was back between the pipes when the Montreal Maroons took on the New York Americans in New York on February 20, 1930. He was wearing the protector that looked like it had been made partially out of leather and it covered much of the front of his face. The mask itself was manufactured by a Boston sporting company and was sometimes compared to a football face guard or boxer’s sparring mask.
Not much was really said of the mask on that first game back by The Gazette in its recap of the game against the Americans. “The game was featured by the return of Clint Benedict, Maroon goalie, who has been out of action a month with a broken nose and other injuries received when he was hit by a flying puck. He wore a large protector over the upper part of his face, but was not hampered by it turning in a fine game.”
When the Maroons returned to the Forum to take on the Black Hawks on February 25, 1930, the mask had a slightly more prominent place in the game’s description by The Gazette, perhaps because they lost or perhaps because it was a home game. “Clint Benedict came back to Forum games last night to make his local debut after nearly six weeks’ absence wearing the famous new mask that has been designed specially to protect his broken nose. Clink looked as if he had stepped out of the Dumas novel, ‘The Iron Mask,’ or in the more modern manner, was appearing as a visitor from Mars. The mask, made of thick leather, covers his face almost completely, leaving only two holes over the eyes. Benny played as if he were still unaccustomed to the thing. On a couple of occasions he seemed to lose sight of the puck completely, but on the whole the contraption seemed to fill the bill.”
For Benedict, the season would end a few weeks later, when once again a Morenz shot would make contact with his head—this time his throat. In his final season, Benedict played just 14 games and though he didn’t come right out and say so, it turned out it would be his last year between the pipes.
In the meantime, there is a possibility that George Hainsworth of the Montreal Canadiens may have worn something to protect his nose roughly a year before. He apparently had what may have been a plaster or bandage to protect his face while he was healing from a friendly fire incident. However, as things stand now what Benedict wore is much more of a true mask of sorts.
- Jim Hynes and Gary Smith, Saving Face, The Art and History of the Goalie Mask, rev. ed. (2015), Kindle Edition
- “The Man in the NHL’s First Mask: Not Clint Benedict” on PuckStruck
- Mike Commito, Hockey 365 (2018), Kindle Edition
- The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), February 26, 1930, p. 16
- The Gazette (Montreal, Canada), February 21, 1930, p. 18
- Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia), February 21, 1930, p. 11