On This Day In History: The Mask

On November 1, 1959, for the first time in an NHL game, a goalkeeper wore a mask full time. 

Jacques Plante's first mask

Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante was known for roaming the crease for loose pucks.  As a result, he suffered two fractured cheekbones in practice prior to the 1959 - 60 season.  He began wearing a specially designed mask during practice and asked coach Toe Blake if he could wear the mask during games. Blake rejected Plante's proposal.  On November 1, in a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers' Andy Bathgate sent a stinging backhand towards goal.  Plante was screened and didn't see the shot, but felt it tearing into his cheek and nose.  He left the ice needing seven stitches before he could return.  Teams only carried one goaltender at that time so the game was halted for 20 minutes while Plante was cleaned up.  When Blake asked his superstar goalie if he was ready to go back in, Plante told him that the only way he'd return to the game would be if he was allowed to wear the mask.  Blake had no choice.  The Canadiens went on to win the game 3 - 1 and Plante continued to wear the mask, against the wishes of Coach Blake and other Canadiens officials.  The Canadiens went on an 11 game unbeaten streak as Plante wore the mask so it was hard to complain.  Still, people did.  Many labeled Plante as a coward and both players and fans scorned him for being "soft."

Plante was a man on a mission that season, leading the Canadiens to a 40 -18 - 12 record and leading them to their fifth consecutive Stanley Cup title and earning his fifth consecutive Vezina Trophy. The mask could stay.

Reflecting on his insistence on wearing the mask, Plante had this to say:

"I already had broken four noses, two broken cheekbones and almost 200 stitches in my head.  I didn't care how the mask looked.  The way things were going, I was afraid that I would look just like the mask."

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