face the face
Above his locker in the Penguins’ Civic Arena dressing room, Andy Brown has neatly tucked two face masks, one white, one blue. Brown, it seems, is prepared to don a mask be it at home or on the road.
But it’s only a cruel hoax that Andy Brown is playing on his face. The masks might as well be green and gold because the only time they’re used are in practice.
“I just don’t like to wear one,” said Brown, who at age 29 has finally become a No. 1 NHL goalie. “I never got used to it. I never like it. I don’t wear it just to prove something [sic]. It’s just that I don’t like it.”
• “Face In Crowd (Of Pucks),” Mike Smizik, Pittsburgh Press, January 27, 1974
With his face bared to any puck that came his way, Andy Brown of the Pittsburgh Penguins was playing in his fourth and final NHL season that year, 1973-74, and when it came to end in early April, so too did an NHL era: Brown was the last goaltender in that league to (intentionally) go maskless.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario, on Tuesday, February 15, 1944, he’s 79 today. His father was Adam Brown, a stalwart NHL winger who played in the 1940s and ’50s for Detroit, Chicago, and Boston.
The younger Brown wasn’t all alone in ’73-74: the Minnesota North Stars’ 44-year-old goaltender Gump Worsley started the year playing without a mask, as he’d done throughout the previous 20 years of his career. In fact, the previous season, ’72-73, had seen Worsley and Brown go (unprotected) head-to-head in what would turn out to be the last encounter between two maskless goaltenders in league history. Brown was with the Detroit Red Wings at that point; the game ended, for the record, in a 4-4 tie.
Brown was traded to Pittsburgh a couple of months later. He and Worsley did meet again, the following season, in March, but Worsley had by then taken to wearing a mask. This time, Pittsburgh and Minnesota tied 3-3, to the Gump’s chagrin: the North Stars had been up 3-0.
“I couldn’t have played a good game,” Worsley griped afterwards. “How could it have been a good game when I let in three goals and we didn’t win? Now put that in your paper any way you want to.”
The Grumper’s career was almost at its end: he played in three more (masked) games and, once the season ended, called it quits.
When Brown played his last NHL game that same April in ’74— his Penguins lost 6-3 in Atlanta to the Flames — it was the finale for maskless goaltenders in the league — though not in professional hockey.
Brown jumped to the WHA the following year, continuing to ply his mask-free for the Indianapolis Racers. He played three seasons for the Racers before his career came to its end in November of 1976 when he wrenched his back pre-game in a warm-up, which led to surgery and the end of his playing days.
That makes him almost (but not quite) the final pro goaltender to purposefully go maskless. In December of ’76, Gaye Cooley did so for the Charlotte Checkers of the Southern Professional League. The last of the breed (so far as we know) was another WHA goaler, Wayne Rutledge of the Houston Aeros, who relieved starter Lynn Zimmerman on February 17, 1978 in a game against the Cincinnati Stingers. Rutledge only seems to have played three minutes, but he did make a pair of keys saves. It was the only occasion during his six-year WHA career with Houston that he played without a mask.
While Andy Brown was the last NHL goaltender to make a choice not to wear a mask, several of his brethren have, since 1974, lost their masks during games and carried on for short stints (perhaps not so calmly) without them.
There’s no complete record of those chaotic occasions (that I’ve seen), but they include (as Jean-Patrice Martel, a distinguished member of the Society for International Hockey Research, has noted) Montreal’s Ken Dryden in Game 4 of the 1977 Stanley Cup Final. The Canadiens goaltender lost his famous mask just before Boston’s Bobby Schmautz scored in the first period of the deciding game: you can watch it here (starting around the 22:55 mark), though you’ll be hard-pressed to see just how Dryden lost his mask.
According to Rule 9.6 of the present-day NHL code, a goaltender losing his mask when his team controls the puck calls for an immediate whistle. In the case that the opposing team has the puck, play will “only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity.”
That wasn’t the case in 1980 when Montreal was playing the Blues in St. Louis. With the third period ticking down in a 3-3 tie, Canadiens’ goaltender Denis Herron found he needed repairs on his mask. As per the rule at the time, there was no holding up the game: Herron’s choice was to be replaced, play on with his damaged mask, or go maskless. He went with the latter, and the Blues’ Brian Sutter scored to win the game.
“It didn’t scare me,” Herron said afterwards, “and it didn’t make any difference on the goal. I’d never played in a game without a mask before, but it didn’t bother my concentration. In fact, I might have seen the puck a little better. I was watching [Bernie] Federko behind the net. When he passed it out front, it was too late by the time I turned around. Sutter really got some wood on the shot.”
For his part, St. Louis’s goaltender on the night, Mike Liut, thought it was madness. “I’d never play without a mask,” he said.” “It’s stupid. One shot and there goes your entire career. What’s the point? I have no way of knowing whether it would affect my play, because I’ve never played without a mask and I never will.”
Jacques Plante played 398 games in the NHL over seven long bare-faced years before he donned his famous mask after a wicked shot from Andy Bathgate cut him on the Sunday night of November 1, 1959. Born in Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, on a Thursday of today’s date in 1929, Montreal’s goaltending great had suffered head traumas before that, along with nearly every other goaltender who braved the ice in the NHL’s agonizing early decades. Masks would have made sense throughout that time, of course, but the prevailing wisdom among the hockey cognoscenti (including Plante’s coach, Toe Blake) was that masks interfered with a goaltender’s view of things, showed weakness, not worth the trouble.
A maskless Plante was felled, above, for instance, in Boston in a Stanley Cup final game in April of 1957, when Vic Stasiuk crashed into him, or clipped him with his stick, or shot the puck in his face (contemporary accounts vary). He recovered that night, and finished the game.
In November of 1954, Plante didn’t start the game he was supposed to, which was at the Forum, against the Chicago Black Hawks. The image below shows the aftermath of a nasty friendly-fire incident in the pre-game warm-up when teammate Bert Olmstead caught him with a high shot. “Plante went down like a log,” Baz O’Meara reported in the Montreal Star, “with a scream strangling in his throat. His outcries could be heard as high as the standing room section, before they were stilled by a surge of unconsciousness.”
Called in as Plante’s emergency replacement was Andre Binette, 20 years old, a practice goaltender for the Canadiens and the QHL Montreal Royals. In his one-and-only NHL game, Binette helped Montreal down the Black Hawks by a score of 7-4.
At Montreal’s Western Hospital, Plante was found to have a fractured right cheekbone. In his absence, Binette would cede the net to Claude Evans and Charlie Hodge. He was back in the Montreal net in a matter of weeks, unmasked, stopping 29 shots in his mid-December return to help his team beat Gump Worsley and the New York Rangers 5-1.
“Plante came back brilliantly, had to make some nomadic rushes out of the net to save goal,” O’Meara reported, “did so with the fancy flourishes which have been his hallmark all through his career. … Plante showed no ill effects from his recent accident, gave a distinguished display.”
moe betters blues
Kenny Mosdell’s big night came on a Saturday night in February of 1955, when the Montreal Canadiens honoured the service their trusty 32-year-old centreman, then in his eleventh Hab season, with a pre-game shower of gifts. Ahead of a Forum meeting with the New York Rangers, teammate Elmer Lach (he was out of the line-up) did a turn around the ice at the wheel of a gleaming new Oldsmobile 98 before handing the keys to the man they called Big Moe. Mrs. Mosdell, Lorraine, was on hand, along with the Little Moes, Wayne and Bonnie, who were presented with a Collie puppy.
“Kenny is a great worker,” Canadiens captain Butch Bouchard announced when he took the microphone, “he gives us his best, and we appreciate him very much.” Mosdell stepped up to offer emotional thanks. “I hope I’m with Canadiens another 11 years,” he said. Canadiens won the game 10-2, with Boom-Boom Geoffrion scoring five goals and Doug Harvey chipping in with five assists. Gump Worsley was the long-suffering Ranger goaltender. Mosdell couldn’t buy so much as an assist on the night. He ended up playing in parts of three more seasons with Montreal, taking a turn, too, with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Kenny Mosdell died on a Thursday of this same date in 2006. He was 83.
(Images: Fonds La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)
a rest is as good as a change
pause for patchwork
no greater new york brydge
Born in Renfrew, Ontario, on a Sunday of this date in 1898, defenceman Bill Brydge first took to NHL ice in 1926 in Toronto, when the team was still the St. Patricks. So far as I can tell, the scar that’s apparent here dates to that season: in January of ’27, in a game against the Rangers in New York, he caught an errant stick in a scramble in front of the Toronto net, suffering cuts that were closed with eight stitches.
The image here dates to 1933, when Brydge was 35. A lyric of John K. Samson’s comes to mind, from his 2007 song “Elegy for Gump Worsley:”
He looked more like our fathers,
not a goalie, player, athlete period.
From Toronto, Brydge went to Detroit, traded for Art Duncan. He played a year, 1928-29, on the Cougars’ blueline, and was subsequently sold to the New York Americans for $5,000. He played seven seasons for the Amerks. Bill Brydge died in 1949 at the age of 51.