He Wore Hockey’s First Goaltender Mask
Hard to believe, but there was a time when NHL goaltenders didn’t wear masks or helmets. Incredible when you think of the speed of the game and how badly you can get hurt if you get hit by a puck. But that’s the way it was until Montreal Canadien goaltender Jacques Plante became the first to wear a full facemask.
He’d been practicing with a white fiberglass mask all season, but Canadiens head coach Toe Blake wouldn’t let him wear it in games. But that changed during a game against the New York Rangers. Three minutes into the game, Plante got hit in the face with a puck that split his lip open from the corner of his mouth up to his nostril. There was blood everywhere.
He was gone for 20 minutes while he was getting stitched up, but when he returned, he had his mask. The coach was furious, but Plante stood his ground. He said, "If I don’t wear the mask, I’m not playing."
Up to that point, he broke his nose four times, and he had a broken jaw, two broken cheekbones and almost 200 stitches in his head, and said "he didn’t care how the mask looked." And the truth is that Plante was such a good goalie that it almost didn’t matter what he did. He won the Vezina Trophy, the NHL award for top goaltender, seven years in a row. He was the NHL MVP in 1962. He was named to the All-Star Team seven times, and his team won six Stanley Cups.
A goaltender wearing a face mask in a game? Unheard of until this date, November 1, 1959.