On This date in History: Today, hockey players all wear helmets and goalies all wear masks. In fact, many goalies have developed masks with creative designs on the front. However, masks and helmets were not always the norm. It wasn’t until the late 70′s or early 80′s that players were required to wear helmets and even then, veteran players who began playing before the rule was put in place had the option. Gordie Howe played hockey until he was 51 years old and he never had his head covered. Goal keepers were a little ahead of the game and it wasn’t by rule. On this date in 1959, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante first wore a mask in a game. Prior to that, goalies did not wear a mask and routinely they were hit in the face by a puck flying at what, up to 100 mph? Maybe faster. And those pucks are made of hard rubber. I’d say that a flying puck left a mark or two. I suspect that goalies in the NHL at that time did not have hottest girlfriends on the team. But Plante wasn’t the first to try a mask. The first was Clint Benedict of the old Montreal Maroons who wore a partial leather mask in the 1930′s for a brief time but he said it obscured his vision so he stopped using it.
Now, Plante had used a white fiberglass mask in practice all season but his coach wouldn’t let him wear it in a game. But, in a November 1, 1959 game, he got hit in the face as a puck screamed across his nose and mouth. The blood poured. He went to the locker room for stitches. It took more than 20 minutes, which was a long time for stitches in a hockey game. Seems that the delay was not due to a slow doctor but instead was a result of Jacques arguing with the coach about his returning with a cream colored mask.(not sure why it wasn’t the white one) He told the coach either he wore the mask or he didn’t play. Later, Plante explained, “I already had four broken noses, a broken jaw, two broken cheekbones and almost 200 stitches in my head,” he pointed out. “I didn’t care how the mask looked.” See, Plante was so good that he could do just about whatever he wanted. He even knitted his own underwear….hardly a manly, tough goalie sort of thing. But he said it calmed his nerves.
It seems pretty courageous for anyone to go into the goalie box without a mask. And Plante did just that. But, it took perhaps even more courage to enter the box wearing a mask. He was jeered and mocked by other players and the fans for years. I’m sure “sissy” wasn’t the only word that he was called. But, after a few years, other goalies thought it might be a pretty good idea and since one of the best did it, why not? The practice of wearing a mask became the norm across the league and today goaltenders embrace the mask as they put all sorts of wild designs on the apparatus to express their personality or show loyalty to the team.
Jacques Plante: A profile in courage. You don’t suppose that the other goalies decided the mask was a good idea when they saw Plante, after wearing the mask, with the best looking dates in the league?
Weather Bottom Line: Look for a big change for the end of the week as a big fat area of high pressure comes down from the north driving Arctic air our way with perhaps a little hurricane moving up off the east coast to help drag down the cold air. I could argue that a couple of models want to give us snow on Thursday…but I won’t make that argument now. No weather excuse not to vote though…should be seasonal with a fair amount of sunshine on Tuesday.