Masked Men


Uni Watch, in a fit of youthful reminiscence, recalls wanting to grow up and be a hockey goalie. Why? Because goalies got to wear those cool masks, of course. Flashy airbrushed graphics notwithstanding, today’s goalie masks all look the same, because they’re all based on the same standardized structural template. But Uni Watch remembers when each mask was unique, when the arrangement of eyeholes and airholes formed a goalie’s visage—from Gilles Villemure’s sad clown to Rogie Vachon’s happy clown, from Ed Giacomin’s cold-eyed cyborg to Ken Dryden’s skeletal zombie.

The first goalie mask is usually credited to Jacques Plante of the Canadiens in 1959, although an earlier Montreal netminder, Clint Benedict, experimented with a primitive mask for two games in 1930. Masks were originally all-white or all-gray, but this began to change in the ’70s, thanks to pioneers like Boston’s Gerry Cheevers, who drew scars and stitches on his mask whenever it was hit by a puck, and Philadelphia’s Doug Favell, whose teammates once painted his mask orange as a Halloween prank. The big change, however, came in 1976, when Glenn Resch of the Islanders allowed art student Linda Spinella to paint his mask. The resulting design, which incorporated elements of the team’s logo and colors, triggered a new wave of mask stylization.

Alas, old-fashioned full-face masks became an endangered species in 1978, when Edmonton’s Dave Dryden wore North America’s first “birdcage” design, which had initially caught NHLers’ attention in 1972, when it was worn by Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak in the Summit Series between Russia and Canada. The birdcage’s open-faced construction spelled doom for the traditional mask’s unique facial countenances and full-face paint jobs. When Detroit’s Sam St. Laurent replaced his old-style mask with a birdcage model in 1984, the full-face era came to a close (well, except for Friday the 13th movies).

Those who share Uni Watch’s fascination with this subject will no doubt enjoy the Painted Warrior Web site, which features photo galleries of current and vintage masks. But let’s not have any wiseacres signing the guest book “Jason,” okay?