someone with more sense than bravado: clint benedict, conn smythe, and the 1929 mask mandate that never was

Benny In The Nets: After playing seven NHL seasons (and collecting three Stanley Cups) with the Ottawa Senators, Clint Benedict joined the Montreal Maroons in 1924.

This is the first of a two-part series on the NHL’s original masked man, and how in 1929 the NHL almost (but not quite) came to mandate protection for all its goaltenders.

Olive Benedict might have blamed herself when her husband Clint went down in Montreal that January night in 1930, but it was mischance — and a puck Howie Morenz fired — that actually felled the 37-year-old goaltender for the Montreal Maroons and precipitated the painful end of his long and illustrious NHL career.

That came, the end, nine weeks later when, on a Tuesday, 92 years ago this past week, Benedict played the 390th — and final — game of his Hall-of-Fame career, during which he played in five Stanley Cup finals, winning four of those, three with the (original) Ottawa Senators and another with the Montreal Maroons.

In hockey history, that final game of Benedict’s is also annotated as the end of the goaltender’s desperate two-week experiment with the first face-mask in league history. Five games that lasted. It would be 1959 — 29 years later — before Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante donned his famous mask in an actual game, jump-starting a new era in the NHL.

Why was the NHL (and hockey generally) so slow in adopting masks to protect the well-being (and faces) of goaltenders? Institutional conservatism, I guess. Hubris would figure in as a major factor, too, I might say, even if Clint Benedict wouldn’t. Asked in 1964 about the possibility of any such stigma having been attached to goaltenders erring on the side of self-preservation, the old goaltender (he was 71) wasn’t having any of it. “Nah,” he told an inquiring reporter, “we took such a beating anyway that nobody would have thought it sissified. No, it was just a case of not developing one that was practical.”

Even before Benedict tried out his mask, the 1929-30 campaign looked like being a pivotal one for goaltenders, with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ owner, coach, GM, and force-of nature Conn Smythe in a leading role. Not much has been made of this, over the years, but that fall, mere months before an infant Jacques Plante celebrated his first birthday, there was an effort afoot to require the league’s goaltenders to wear masks.

From the start, the 1929-30 season was a challenging one for Clint Benedict, who was playing in 13th NHL season, the 18th, if you felt like counting his years in the NHA, too. In November of ’29, just as the season was getting going, he left a game in Ottawa after the first period after what was described as “a violent attack of indigestion.” Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to play: reported to have been ailing all day, he took the ice “in a weak condition,” as Montreal’s Gazette described it.

Flat Walsh replaced him that night, and went on holding the fort as Benedict recovered, as it was subsequently reported, from a case of ptomaine (food) poisoning. Something he ate in Boston, he said. He lost eight pounds, missed eight games.

Benedict was back in December, but in his second game of his return, he went down again. Painful as it sounds, he got back up on his skates in short order, this time. He was playing brilliantly, by all reports, frustrating the Boston Bruins at the Forum, when he sprawled to stop Dit Clapper and took the puck full in the face. “Benny dropped,” the Gazette reported, “and lay still as if he had been shot dead.” He was unconscious on the ice, revived, repaired to the dressing room. With no concussion protocol or common sense to keep him there, Benedict returned to finish the game.

He was back in action three nights later, on January 7, at the Forum, against the Canadiens. This was the night his wife, Olive, was looking on from a seat just behind his first-period net, a reluctant witness who’d travelled from her home in Ottawa. It was the first game she’d attended in six years, and one of just a dozen or so she’d ever been to in the course of her husband’s lengthy career. It may have been, as one Montreal newspaper suggested, that she thought she brought him back luck, but it might just as well have been that she preferred not to see the dangers he faced every night on the job.

On this night, the game wasn’t yet a minute old when Howie Morenz swept onto Maroon ice and fired the puck. “A smoking shot,” the Montreal Star’s reporter called it; “got him straight between the eyes and smashed the bridge of his nose,” the Gazette detailed. “The impact of the drive could be heard in the far reaches of the building,” the Star said. Players from both teams carried Benedict to the dressing. There was a great mess of blood.

Damage Report: The Montreal Star headline for the game on January 7, 1930. Canadiens’ sporting gesture was tnot to rush sickly substitute Flat Walsh as he suited up in Benedict’s place.

While Benedict’s wounds were being tended, the Maroons dispatched a taxi to retrieve Flat Walsh, who was home in bed, recovering from a bad bout of flu. He arrived at the Forum wearing an overcoat over his pyjamas, changed into his gear, pulled on a cap. “He was almost tottering on his pins,” said the Star, “with his grave face showing a grey pallor beneath his upturned visor. Unsteadily he braced himself for a few practice shots, and then went on to stardom.” After a half-hour delay, that is, hockey resumed, with the Maroons winning by a score of 2-1, and thereby taking over first place in the Canadian side of the NHL standings from their Montreal rivals.

The Star checked in next day at the LaSalle Hotel, just east of the Forum on Drummond at St. Catherine, where Benedict was resting under his wife’s care. “An examination today revealed his nose badly broken with a V-shaped cut that required five stitches, and the flesh is torn all the way down the nose.” The next day, the couple left for Ottawa, where Benedict would spend his convalescence.

He’d miss 15 games this time, over the course of six weeks, with Flat Walsh and (for one game) Abbie Cox, lent by Montreal’s IHL farm team, the Windsor Bulldogs, standing in his stead.

Neither of them saw fit to protect their faces in the wake of Benedict’s injury. In the wider hockey world, discussion of the need for and practicalities of masks had been going on for years. Goaltending in the NHL has never been an easy way of making a living, but in the 1920s and 1930 it was particularly dangerous. Battered by pucks, scythed by skates, run into and over by barrelling opponents: the men who volunteered to man the nets were constantly being jarred, cut, knocked out.

They came to, groggily acknowledged their surroundings, were patched up: mostly, they finished a game they’d started. It happened all the time, in those years.

“I remember at least four times being carried into the dressing room to get all stitched up and then going back in to play,” Benedict said in 1962. “There were some other times, too, but I don’t remember them.”

Much of the mayhem has faded away from modern memory. For its part, the NHL doesn’t, at the best of times, display a nuanced or even particularly reliable memory of its own history, and when it comes to unflattering aspects of the historical game — extreme violence, concussions, other grievous injuries — it’s not as if the league is interested in curating … any of it.

When it comes to early NHL goaltenders, the league will occasionally highlight agony-adjacent events. The emergency foray that New York Rangers coach Lester Patrick made at the age of 44 into the New York Rangers’ net in April of 1928, for instance, is a polished gem of popular hockey history, even if the details of how he was called to duty aren’t always so well remembered. A shot from Nels Stewart of the Maroons caught the regular Ranger goaltender, Lorne Chabot, in the face that night. It was several days before doctors were satisfied that he wouldn’t lose his left eye. Guarding the goal for Montreal that night: Clint Benedict.

Was Canadiens goaltender George Hainsworth, in fact, the first NHLer to don a mask in January of 1929 after his nose was broken by his teammate Aurèle Joliat in a pre-game warm-up? I’ve delved into that possibility to some depth here; the short answer is probably not.

But something was building around that time. I’m not sure you can call it momentum, given how slowly the evolution of hockey masks progressed in the game’s early years. My friend Eric Zweig, hockey historian extraordinaire, has written about Ev Marshall in Calgary in 1899, who is (to date) the first documented goaltender to mask up.

There were others after that, though not many. Some who sought protection did so to safeguard the glasses they wore, and glass-protectors were common in amateur hockey (and in particular on U.S. college ice) through the years of the First World War and into the 1920s. (Not all historians allow that these qualify as masks.) In any case, as with hockey helmets, there was no organized effort to develop a purpose-built hockey mask.

In 1920, the Ontario Hockey Association did add a rule permitting goaltenders to wear masks. It’s possible that some judicious soul took advantage of that provision as soon as it was passed. What we do know with certainty is that during the 1926-27 season, Lawrence Jones did. A stopper of pucks for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Upper Ottawa Valley Hockey League, he was noted (in Ottawa’s Journal) as “one of the few net guardians in the sport who wears a baseball mask.”

That same year, suiting up for the women’s team at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, goaltender Elizabeth Graham famously donned a fencing mask.

In the unprotected NHL, pucks kept on hitting goaltenders in the face, which was bad for them, generally. More specifically, if they were injured seriously enough that they ended up missing games, that was bad for their teams which, in most cases, didn’t keep a full-time back-up on the roster.

Something had to change, and almost did, two months before Clint Benedict went down with the injury that ended up, finally, shifting the balance. Playing protagonist again in November of 1929 was Lorne Chabot. He was with the Toronto Maple Leafs now, gearing up with his teammates to open the season against the Chicago Black Hawks. The Globe described the mishap at the Leafs’ final pre-season practice at Arena Gardens:

The big goal-guardian was struck in the face by one of Charley Conacher’s terrific drives and was practically knocked unconscious. He quickly recovered, however, but it was necessary to put four stitches in the wound that was opened up in his cheek. He will play tonight, however, although he may present a bandaged appearance.

And so he did, helping his team to a 2-2 tie on a night that Conacher was making his NHL debut (and scoring a goal). Leafs GM and coach Conn Smythe, meanwhile, was working on a plan.

That same fall, the NHL had adjusted its “anti-defence” rules, hoping to speed up the game, increasing scoring opportunities and thereby, goals. To open up play (and specifically confound the packing-of-the-defence scheme perfected by Pete Green and his Ottawa Senators with their “kitty-bar-the-door” strategy”), the new rule stipulated that only three defenders (including the goaltender) were permitted in the defensive zone when the puck was elsewhere. This meant that forwards couldn’t precede the puck into their own zone: they had to wait to enter with the play.

Another rule barred goaltenders from holding pucks that came their way. Previously, they’d been permitted to hang on to a puck for three seconds before casting it away to a teammate or a corner. Now, they had to release the puck instantly, or pay the penalty of a punitive face-off ten feet in front of their net, with no defenders allowed on the ice between the goal and the puck-drop.

What all this meant for goaltenders, Smythe said, was more shots and more danger. (The league seemed to acknowledge this in its amended rules: where previously goaltenders were allowed ten minutes to recuperate from an on-ice injury, an extra five minutes was now added in the case that the goaltender had to be replaced.) The Gazette in Montreal explained Smythe’s position: “To prevent a serious accident,” Smythe wanted to mandate that goaltenders “be protected as much as possible by headgear and especially constructed masks.” To that end, he had a proposal he was going to present at the next meeting of the NHL’s governors that would compel all goaltenders to wear masks.

According to the Gazette’s report, Smythe had the support of “several managers in the NHL.” The problem was one of social stigma as much as anything else: goaltenders themselves were reluctant to be the first to take up a mask. “If all teams were compelled to do so,” the dispatch concluded, “it would be quickly adopted.”

Bright Idea: A Montreal newspaper reports on Smythe’s modest 1929 proposal.

There’s no reason to believe that Smythe didn’t follow through on this effort. If he did, details of the discussion didn’t filter out to the newspapers, and no decision on mandatory masks was taken. NHL President Frank Calder did oversee a meeting of league governors in mid-December in Chicago, but no mention of masks or mandates surfaced in the press that week. And Smythe, it seems, was in Montreal anyway, coaching the Leafs in a 3-1 loss to the Maroons and earning himself a fine of $50 for haranguing referee Dr. Eddie O’Leary.

As urgent as Smythe’s push for a mask mandate had seemed, it … evaporated? Maybe he did present his proposal to the league and failed to rally enough support. Could he have been persuaded in the interim that the goaltenders themselves didn’t like the idea? We don’t know.

And so the mask debate faded away into the background again … for a month. “Some day the league will authorize masks for netminders as baseball does for its catchers, and these accidents will be avoided.” That was the Gazette, in its original report of Morenz’s shot and Benedict’s resulting distress in January of 1930.

Baz O’Meara weighed in the following day in his Montreal Star column. “So far no mask has been made which gives the maximum of protection, and the minimum of discomfort,” he wrote. “Still someone with more sense than bravado will come out some night and set a new fashion in protection to eyes and noses — but it won’t be till someone invents a better mask than any that can be utilized at present.”

Masked Man: Clint Benedict poses with his mask in 1930.

Benedict was on the case, of course, commissioning a sporting goods firm to make him a sensible apparatus with which he could return to the Maroons net. The record hasn’t, over the years, had much more to say in the way of specifics than that.

According to several accounts, the firm was in Boston — that’s what Jim Hynes and Gary Smith report in their book Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask (2008), though they don’t list a source. Another history, Douglas Hunter’s lavish A Breed Apart: An Illustrated History of Goaltending (1995), mentions Boston, but also notes a second possibility: that the Maroons’ trainer (not named, but it would have been Bill O’Brien) “modified a black leather face mask boxers wore in sparring by riveting a thick black bar across the front to protect Benedict’s nose and cheekbone.” Again, no sources are listed.

The Hockey Hall of Fame’s Benedict mask.

There is this famous contemporary photograph of Benedict showing off his mask. As Hunter points out, the Hockey Hall of Fame has in its collection another mask of a slightly different design that it says belonged to Benedict. Is that one a prototype, then, or an alternate mask? In 1932, Benedict announced that he was contemplating a hockey comeback with the aid of a whole new mask — maybe that’s what the Hall has?

One photograph I hadn’t seen until I came across it recently in the pages of a Montreal newspaper from February of 1930 must have been taken at the same time as the one above. Benedict has the same distant gaze in this new one, but his cap is off: you can see the head-strap that held the mask in place, or not — in at least one of the games in which the mask served, the strap failed and had to be taped.

Even more interesting than the photograph is the short article that accompanies it. It may not solve any of the small puzzles associated with Benedict’s mask — indeed, on a point or two, it stirs up new questions. There’s insight here, too, though, into the makings of Benedict’s mask that I haven’t seen before in my scourings of archival records.

That’s for another post, though, I think, on another day. Stand by.

 

old bonesy

“He always looked like he had no chance to stop the puck,” was Tony Gallagher’s (sort of unkind) appraisal a couple of years ago, writing in the Vancouver Province. “Virtually every save he made looked like a fluke — or in some cases, a miracle — and yet he won championships in every league save the NHL.”

Goaltender Gary Bromley, born in Edmonton on a Thursday of this very date in 1950, is 72 today, so maybe an apology is in order for floating Gallagher’s faint praise to the fore. Sorry. Maybe can we focus on the championships? Bromley played on an Eastern League-winner with the Charlotte Checkers in the early 1970s, won a Calder Cup with the Cincinnati Swords in the AHL, and (in 1978) shared the Winnipeg Jets’ net with Joe Daley and Markus Mattson on the way (alongside Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg) to a WHA World Trophy.

It was in Charlotte that he picked up the nickname that stuck with him, Bones or Bonesy: his perceptive teammates noticed that he was lean. About his style of stopping the pucks that came his way? “I just kind of was nonchalant,” Bromley told Gallagher, “and tried to stop the puck that way.”

Bromley’s NHL career started with the Buffalo Sabres, then took a pause while he detoured to the WHA. In the spring of 1978, he signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks. The mask up above was the one he wore to begin with on the west coast. Over the course of the three years he spent in Vancouver, he was the starter for just the first year, backing up Glen Hanlon and Richard Brodeur after that.

His famous skull-mask, below, dates to 1980. “I think that mask has been way more important than me,” Bromley told Tony Gallagher in 2015.

Embed from Getty Images

 

(Top image, from 1978: Derik Murray)

sight plan update: of glasses-protectors and early (unpopular) mask statutes

School Days: The Exeter Academy team from the winter of 1920, featuring goaltender Bill Cantillion and his glass-protectors.

Having ventured to wonder earlier in the week that this might be the earliest known photograph of a hockey mask, I’m back today knowing that … it’s not.

That’s the proof, above, on the face of Bill Cantillion, the captain and star goaltender for Exeter Academy, the august New Hampshire independent school, who’s posed here with his teammates in the winter in 1920 wearing an apparatus that, even in this fairly murky image, looks almost identical to E.W. Gould’s get-up from Thursday’s post.

Cantillion, I can report, was a son of Joe Cantillion, the Major League Baseball manager and umpire. The Exeter team the younger Cantillion played on 1920-21 was a good one: in February, they overcame the previously unbeaten Harvard freshman team by a score of 3-1. On the defence for Harvard: George Owen, a future captain of the Boston Bruins. Bill Cantillion himself would attend Harvard, where he played hockey and baseball … maybe with his mask? I haven’t found a photograph of that. In the mid-’20s he played for the Los Angeles Monarchs of the amateur Pacific Hockey League.

I guess we can surmise, then, that E.W. Gould’s mask wasn’t one that he pioneered. Also (almost definitely) that Bill Cantillion wasn’t the first to wear this half-face model. I’m guessing that these rudimentary masks were common up and down the U.S. east coast, on high-school and college rinks as well as on basketball courts and football fields.

Eyes Front: George Mahoney guarded goals for the Harvard University Crimson in 1936-37.

Gould isn’t shown wearing glasses, but (I’m fairly confident) Cantillion is, and I think that was the original point: these rudimentary masks were manufactured to safeguard spectacles in the sporting rough. If they are masks. Can they, in the specific context of the evolution of hockey protection, be considered in same conversation as, say, the custom-made tackle that Clint Benedict wore in 1930? I’d say they can, but not everybody thinks so: hockey historian (and president of the Society for International Hockey Research) Fred Addis holds that the glasses-protectors we’re talking about here belong in a separate category.

Either way, they do seem to have been popular, particularly on New England rinks, and show up more and more in photographs as we get into the 1930s.

While NHL goaltenders continued bare-faced through the 1920s, goaltenders in lesser leagues were resorting to the fuller fortification of a baseball catcher’s mask in these earlier years, often on a temporary basis: Iver Anderson, for instance, who played for the USAHA Duluth Hornets, donned one in February of 1922 for a game against the Cleveland Indians after having had several teeth knocked out in an earlier contest.

A few months earlier, in December of 1921, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association had stepped up to try to aid the health and well-being of goaltenders by adding a goal crease to the rules of its rinks. (The NHL didn’t follow suit until the 1933-34 season.)

While a proposal stipulating that no-one but the goaltender could enter the new crease was rejected, some sovereignty was established. “This arc shall be the goaltender’s territory,” the CAHA’s language went. “No player shall come in bodily contact with the goaltender while the latter is within his own territory, and any goal scored by any player while the goaltender is being charged shall not be counted.”

A further 1921 amendment permitted a goaltender to wear a mask, “to protect his face and head.”

This was at least partly in response to the tragedy of a 23-year-old amateur goaltender, Edgar Hawthorne, who was struck in the temple by a puck in January of 1921 during a game in Toronto and died of a blood-clot the following day.

Checking in a few months after this last new CAHA rule took effect, the Globe found that in Ontario it appeared “to be a useless provision, and unpopular, to say the least.”

Few, if any, goalkeepers have availed themselves of the privilege of equipping themselves with ‘bird cages.’ Referees throughout the Province report an utter absence of the paraphernalia in league games.”

Hawthorne’s case was a terrible accident, the consensus seemed to be; it had more to do with poor lighting in the arena in question than with any lack of a face-guard.

“Goalkeepers prefer not to have their vision hampered by the use of masks,” the Globe concluded. Of a recently introduced papier-mâché baseball catcher’s mask with wider eye-openings, the Globe reported:

The new mask is light, strong and easy to see through, but, as the fashion gazettes are wont to remark, “are not being worn.”

I’ll assume that the glass-protectors of the sort that Gould and Cantillion were sporting were available in Canada, too, in the 1920s, though the earliest visual evidence I’ve come across showing they were in use in the north are from the 1930s. Roy Musgrove had a set when he was guarding goals for the University of Manitoba in 1930-31. (And wore them in England, too, later in the ’30s, playing for the Wembley Lions.)

In 1933, you could order a pair for from the Harold A. Wilson sporting goods company in Toronto, for $3.10 delivered: “carbon steel wire, electro welded, outside wires are padded and covered with leather,” the catalogue promised.

Shop Now: On sale in Toronto in the winter of 1933-34, as per Wilson’s Winter Sports Catalogue, Number 115. (Image courtesy of Fred Addis)

That’s all (for now). Well, one more update: thanks to another diligent member of SIHR, Connor Mah, we know that E.W. Gould was Edward Wanton Gould, Princeton class of ’22. Born in Staten Island, he was schooled as a boy at hockey hotbed of St. Paul’s in New Hampshire, which maintains a claim as the site of the first organized hockey in the U.S. (in 1870) and was Hobey Baker’s alma mater. Ed Gould went into the oil business in New England after he left Princeton. A memorial following his death in 1978 noted that he continued his interest in swimming and skating throughout his life — and that he was also interest in horticulture.

 

 

 

sight plan: picturing a mask, one of hockey’s earliest

Eye Test: Princeton’s E.W. Gould shows off his headgear (said to be of his own design) on December 21, 1921.

First hockey goaltender to wear a mask?

It’s a question that has diverted many a hockey researcher, including some here on the Puckstruck campus. This is well back beyond NHL pioneers Jacques Plante and Clint Benedict we’re talking now, before Elizabeth Graham and Corinne Hardman, pre-Eddie Giroux. The 2020 findings of hockey historian Eric Zweig, who’s done the digging, are as definitive as you’re going to come across. He settles us on Ev Marshall, of Calgary, who did the sensible thing and masked up in a game in 1899.

Next question: where to look if we’re seeking the first photograph of a hockey mask and the player who wore it?

While we do have images of both Hardman and Giroux, from 1916 and 1907 respectively, they show goaltenders only, no masks.

So this might well be it, hereabove, from 1921.

The thing is, this isn’t a goaltender we’re facing: E.W. Gould was a defenceman for Princeton University’s hockey team. I haven’t tracked his university record or found much in the way of a civilian biography, but his hockey file is … also thin. I haven’t even been able to glean a full first name. He may only have played a single season with the Tigers, over the winter of 1921-22, when he seems to have seen duty mostly as a substitute.

Gould’s mask got some play that winter, even if he didn’t: this photograph appeared in newspapers across the United States that winter, mostly as a standalone, the novelty of the mask was enough, no need for a whole story. While (to me) it looks like it might be a baseball mask, contemporary captions explain that Gould invented his rig himself.

As it turns out, Gould wasn’t the only one wearing a mask that year: his teammate (and captain), Princeton goaltender Gene Maxwell, sported one of similar design. That’s him above, in 1922, and then in the back row of the team grouping below from Lake Placid, with Gould and his mask kneeling up front.

While Gould may well have donned his mask as a measure of prudent protection, Maxwell wore glasses behind his. He had recent precedent to draw on in this regard: in 1915, Boston A.A. goaltender Ollie Chadwick used what looks like — see an artistic impression below — a pair of motorcycling or aviator’s goggles.

I guess they did work, insofar as Chadwick could have been even more painfully injured if he hadn’t been wearing them. Playing against Hobey Baker and his New York St. Nicholas team in March of ’15, Chadwick took a stick to the eyes. “The Boston goal tender plays with glasses,” the Boston Daily Globe detailed; “these broke and the player was badly cut.” He was patched and returned to his goal — without the glasses.

(Sad to say, Chadwick was killed in action at the age of 28 in 1917, while serving with the Lafayette Flying Corps over Belgium. Baker was with the U.S. Army Air Service when he died in a crash in France just over a year later. He was 26.)

Since we’re skating American ice, it’s worth noting that Chadwick wasn’t the first to wear headgear there. In February of 1911, New York A.C. captain Riley Casselman hit the ice against Crescent A.C wearing a baseball catcher’s mask — “much to the bewilderment of the fans,” as one local newspaper noted.

Casselman, who hailed from Morrisburg, Ontario, was no goaltender, either: in the old seven-man game, he was a free-wheeling rover. Those fans in New York came around to his way of seeing things, I guess: “Some said,” the report continued, “they didn’t see why all the players weren’t equipped with masks, especially when a rough game for the amateur league championship was on tap.”

Whether Gould’s 1921 half-mask was of his own design or not, it does seem to have made a lasting impression, to the point that the apparatus that Franklin Farrell wore a decade later while tending goal for the 1932 U.S. Olympic team — images here — looks like it could have been the very same model.

 

creases, they’re for crashing

The Chicago Cougars were blue in February of 1975, in a bleak place. I’m not referring to Toronto here, though that’s where they were geographically, on another stop on the WHA’s schedule. The funk that the Cougars were in related to the losing streak they rode into Toronto (they’d won just 3 of 16 games) as well as the team’s uncertain financial future. Before this, their third season in the upstart WHA, the original owners of the Cougars had sold the team to three of its prominent players, Ralph Backstrom, Pat Stapleton, and Dave Dryden. By February, with the new (playing) ownership having trouble finding further financial backing, there was talk that the Cougars might be upping skates and leaving Chicago — that, or folding entirely. 

Toronto was a balm, actually, in the face of all this: the Cougars ended up beating the local Toros, 4-3 in overtime, on a goal by Rosaire Paiement. Reporting for The Globe and Mail, Jeff Goodman wrote that the Toros helped in the effort as best they could: his account of the game at Maple Leaf Gardens features the phrase erratic passing and the word sleepskating

Pictured here in the fearsome mask is Chicago owner Dave Dryden, in the company of Toros defenceman Steve Cuddie and (in back) Chicago’s Darryl Maggs. “This win was something we needed badly,” said Chicago coach Jacques Demers when it was all over but the flood. “Things just weren’t going good. The players were depressed because they didn’t know where they stood.”

The Cougars finished the season, but the franchise didn’t live to see another one. After failing to make the WHA playoffs in April of ’75, the Chicago Cougars were dissolved. Many of the players (Maggs included) ended up with a new franchise, the Denver Spurs. They didn’t last long: by December of that same year, they’d folded, relocating to Ottawa, where they played out the season (but not beyond) as the Civics. 

The Edmonton Oilers claimed Dryden in the draft that dispersed the Cougars, and he played there for five seasons, four of them as the WHA wound up and one as the team debuted in the NHL. He took his mask with him, apparently. A friend in Chicago by the name of Bob Pelkowski was an artist and painted its ferocious face, according to Michael Cutler’s 1977 book Hockey Masks and the Great Goalies Who Wear Them. Dryden told Cutler that he had made the mask himself in 1965 at a cost of $10, and it as the only one he’d ever worn during his pro career. When he got to Edmonton, he had Pelkowski repaint it, with drops of oil dripping down over the eyes. Did he subsequently change it up? Certainly this one, below, seems like a different model, with a different array of ventilation holes.

Oil Patches: Dryden with his mask ca. 1977-78.

masking up, 1979 edition: what would ted lindsay do?

Ted Lindsay was 53 in 1979, with his left-winging NHL heyday firmly behind him: 14 years after he’d last turned out in a competitive game for the Detroit Red Wings, he was on the job as the team’s GM. He did still get in on a regular Monday-night pick-up game at the Detroit Olympia, alongside a motley non-Hall-of-Fame crew of friends, sportswriters, and Zamboni drivers. “Jeez,” said one of those scrimmagers as he watched Lindsay do his middle-aged thing one night in April of ’79. “He must have been unbelievable when he was 24.”

The mask? No, there was no pandemic on the loose in Michigan that spring. The tuque, Lindsay explained to an interested onlooker, was for style, while the mask was to help warm the rink air as it went into his lungs. “It’s the same skiing,” Lindsay said. “The cold air is rough on me.”

what to wear

Trending Twitterwise this morning (with a little help from his friends), Ken Dryden’s  reminder, here below, to (keep on remembering to make sure you) wear a mask — even if it’s over your other, famous mask.  Above, showing how not to do it, Dryden pauses at practice at the Montreal Forum in the early 1970s.

 

(Top image: Antoine Desilets, Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec)

see me, feel me

Sight Visit: Photographer Antoine Desilets takes a through-the-mask goalie’s point of view at a Montreal practice circa 1973-74, and catches — how about that — a pair of Canadiens netminders passing by. That’s Wayne Thomas on the left, Michel Larocque at right. (Image: Antoine Desilets, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec)

wear a mask (or two)

Toronto digital artist Stephen Cribbin is the man behind a suite of one-inch buttons that accessorize some beloved old-time goalie masks for our 2020 times. “Original Sicks” is what he’s calling the series of six buttons, which feature masks made famous shielding the faces of Mike Palmateer, Ken Dryden, Terry Sawchuk, and Bernie Parent. For information on acquiring a set of your own, you can send an e-mail to cribbin@subtle.ca, or contact him via Instagram, @cribbin13.

just paid all this money for goalie equipment, you can’t stop now

Denis Herron was five when his father bought him goalie gear and made him a promise: you’re going to be good. This was 1957, when nobody was wearing a mask, not even Jacques Plante. Herron’s brother and his dad did what you do when you’ve got a padded-up goalie standing before you in the net: they shot pucks at him. “The second day they knocked out my eight front teeth, Herron later recalled. “I didn’t want to play any more, but my dad said, I just paid all this money for equipment, you can’t stop now. They were just baby teeth, and new ones grew in. But I lost them too playing hockey. Masks came too late to save them.”

Born in Chambly, in Quebec, in 1952 on a Wednesday of this very date, Herron turns 68 today. He made his NHL debut in 1972 at the age of 20 when he turned out for Pittsburgh. He was masked by then, though not all the Penguin goalers were that year: along with Jim Rutherford and Cam Newton, Herron shared the net that year with Andy Brown, the last of the league’s maskless men.

Herron’s mask that year wasn’t the one depicted here, in a rendering by artist Michael Cutler. While he seems to sported several in those early Pennsylvanian years, the one that he seems to have favoured featured  … well, possibly was the design he wore high on his forehead meant to suggest the profile of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena? One New York sportswriter seems to have taken it for “a yarmulke-like cap.”

It was when he was traded to the Kansas City Scouts in 1975 that the maskmaker Greg Harrison painted the chevrons seen above on Herron’s mask. He kept them when, after two seasons, he returned to Pittsburgh. Another trade took him to Montreal, where he kept the Canadiens’ net for three seasons wearing a red-and-blue variation on the chevron’d mask. In 1980-81, he shared a Vézina Trophy with Montreal teammates Michel Larocque and Richard Sevigny. He and Rick Wamsley won a Jennings Trophy the following season for allowing the fewest goals against. Denis Herron played his final four NHL seasons back in Pittsburgh before retiring in 1986.

Embed from Getty Images

 

(Top image from Great Hockey Masks, Michael Cutler’s 1983 collection of hockey-mask art)

 

department of throwing stuff: bernie parent’s mask

Fling a waffle to the ice in Toronto in the early decades of this parlous young century of ours and chances are you’ll end up kicked to the Bay Street curb and banned for ever more from the premises. Lobbing a catfish you happen to have been carrying around in your underwear in Pittsburgh may well get you arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, possessing instruments of crime, and disrupting meetings and processions.

Maybe, in Pittsburgh, the charges won’t go forward. The outrage associated with the waffle and what it represents will, in time, fade away, even if the ban persists. The overall message, though, is clear: today’s NHL (or, I guess, yesterday’s) has decided that the time has come to break hockey’s vivid tradition, long and lustily favoured by fans, of expressing themselves by hurling whatever they might have at hand at the ice.

Fans were throwing stuff well before 1917, but it was in the NHL that the practice truly evolved into (a messy, disruptive, and often dangerous) art form. In Montreal, fans used to toss toe rubbers by the dozens to express their approval of the all-conquering Canadiens; in Chicago, live rabbits, dead squirrels, whisky bottles, and a life-sized dummy of Toronto’s Frank Mahovlich used to rain from the upper balconies of the old Chicago Stadium. Cataloguing hockey’s debris is an ongoing effort — evidence of my attempt to keep is in my 2014 book, Puckstruck, and peppered across this site, here and here and over here. And if, at some point, it becomes clear that the stuff that’s thrown sometimes goes the other way, from the ice to the stands? I think we have to look into that, too. Why not now?

Today is, after all, Bernie Parent’s 75th birthday. Born in Montreal on a Tuesday of this date in 1945, Parent had just 26 back in 1971 as his Toronto Maple Leafs headed into an opening-round playoff quarter-final against the New York Rangers.

Parent had already been a Philadelphia Flyer at this stage of his career. A trade had brought him to Toronto in February of ’71. He stay another season in Toronto before decamping to the WHA’s Philadelphia Blazers and, thereafter, back to the Flyers. It was in this second stint in Philadelphia that Parent was instrumental in the Flyers’ Stanley Cup triumphs of 1974 and ’75, as he won (let’s not forget) Vézina and Conn Smythe trophies in both those years.

But back to the Leafs in ’71: Parent was sharing the net that year with a 42-year-old Jacques Plante. It was Plante who started the first game of the playoffs early that April at Madison Square Garden, a 5-4 loss. Parent got the call for the second game the following night, and in that one, the Torontonians roared back to even the series with a 4-1 win.

Both teams were feeling sourly on the night. In the second period, New York left winger Vic Hadfield roughed up Toronto defenceman Bob Baun, and vice-versa. Hadfield and Leafs forward Jim Harrison were penalized for punching each other, too. In the third, when those two clashed again, they started a brawl in the Toronto zone, at the Seventh Avenue end of the rink. In the foolery that followed, Parent made his way into the melee, where he got a hold of Hadfield, if only briefly — Rangers’ goaltender Ed Giacomin was quick to attend and haul Parent away.

At some point during these proceedings, Hadfield got hold of Parent’s mask and donated it to the Garden crowd.

“Hadfield ripped off my mask,” Parent said in the immediate aftermath, “and threw it into the crowd.”

That’s now how Hadfield recalled it.

“He jumped me from behind,” he said. “Then I saw the mask sitting there, so I just threw it. But I lost a glove, too. Somebody threw a glove of mine into the stands.”

Initially, Parent stuck to his story. “Hadfield took the mask off my head and threw it in the seats,” he insisted. Somewhere, somehow, the goaltender relented. “When things settled down,” Parent writes in Bernie! Bernie! Bernie!, his exclamatory 1975 autobiography, “Hadfield picked up my mask and threw it in the stands.”

On the night, MSG police did their best to recover the mask, but the fans weren’t interested: it was, as The New York Times noted, “passed along, bucket-brigade style, around half the Garden. Appeals for its return rang from the arena PA. “But,” as Dick Beddoes reported in the Globe and Mail, “exuberants among the demonstrative 17,250 fanatics chanted ‘Don’t give it back! Don’t give it back!’”

The Leafs’ 68-year-old vice-president, King Clancy, thought he might be able to help with the search, though he soon found himself in hostile territory, and ended up retreating to his seat near the Toronto bench.

“Hadfield throwing the mask away was the most childish thing I ever saw,” Clancy said. “Those things cost $150 and the Rangers have to pay for it.”

Parent did have a back-up mask, but it was at home, in Toronto.

“I wouldn’t continue in the game without the mask,” Parent wrote in his autobiography.

His coach, Johnny McClellan, didn’t blame him, even if others did. “Parent has played with a mask since he was a 12 years old,” he said after the game. “He has never been in the net without a mask in 13 years, so you’re not going to send a guy into the net without a mask. He could get a shot in the face and that’s it.”

So in went Plante, who knew what that was like — though, of course, in 1959, the Andy Bathgate shot he took in the face just before he donned his mask for the first wasn’tit. This time out, he was only called on to play the final 4:42 of the game, stopping two shots and preserving Toronto’s win.

Another brawl ensued 30 seconds after he’d stepped in, when the Leafs’ Jim Dorey engaged with New York’s Ted Irvine. Going to teammate Ron Ellis’ aid, Plante (by the account of the New York Daily News’ Dick Young) “skated over and began banging on [Glen] Sather’s head.” That brought Giacomin back: “skating the length of the rink and taking a flying leap onto Plante.”

Giacomin, for what it’s worth, wondered at the time that Parent didn’t continue bare-faced. “That’s what I would have done,” he said. “Hell, for four minutes, why let Plante credit?” Though, of course, Plante didn’t get the win; that went into the books as Parent’s.

“Some writers actually suggested I was a coward for not playing without the mask,” Parent recalled in his book, take up Johnny McClellan’s line. “This one New York writer even said I’d never be the same goalie again. In other words, this writer thought I was chicken. Bull. If I got hit not wearing a mask, I might really never be the same again. A goalie is putting his life on the line out there.”

 

Danger Close: Having tossed Bernie Parent’s mask over the boards on April 8, Vic Hadfield added insult to injury on April 13 by scoring on Parent (and his new mask) at MSG.

With the series set to shift to Toronto, Leafs’ GM Jim Gregory put out an appeal. “If a guy who’s got a mask returns it, I’ll get him two tickets for Saturday’s game and pay his way to Toronto.”

In Toronto, meanwhile, NHL president Clarence Campbell visited a CBC studio to catch up on what had gone down in New York. The fact that the footage didn’t show Hadfield with the mask didn’t concern him too much: he said there was a standard $50 fine for throwing equipment overboards. “I wanted to get a general impression of what this affair looked like to the people who saw it there and on television,” Campbell said.

Upon further reflection, Campbell fined each team $5,000 — to that point, the largest bad-behaviour tax ever to be levied in the NHL. Further individual fines to players from New York added up to $3,300, including $400 to Giacomin for twice departing his crease. Toronto’s players were punished to the tune of $3,250, including $200 each to Plante and Parent for straying from their creases.

The missing mask was the one Parent had started using when he arrived in Toronto from Philadelphia. It was very comfortable — and happened to have been made by Fibrosport, Jacques Plante’s company, based in Magog, Quebec. The back-up Parent didn’t have in New York when he needed it was his old Flyers’ mask, which he’d used for about two years previously.

He didn’t have to revert to that one, as it turned out: with his connections, he relied on Plante getting on the telephone the morning after the night to call his Fibrosport partner, Marc Andre Beaudin, in Montreal. He in turn called in a couple of employees from their Good Friday holiday and got going on crafting a new model in time for Saturday’s game.

“The three of them would have to work all day to make the mask,” Plante said. “They would have the mold already, but there is a lot of work to making a hand-crafted mask.”

Saturday morning it was handed to an Air Canada pilot for the flight from Montreal to Toronto — the pilot, no less. Howard Starkman from the Leafs was there to retrieve it when it landed — he later went on to serve as PR director for the baseball Blue Jays — and he delivered it to Maple Leaf Gardens. Parent put it to use that night in helping defeat the Rangers by a score of 3-1.

The Leafs’ momentum didn’t last, though: with Parent and Plante and their respective masks sharing the net, the Rangers won the next three games to take the series and advance to play the Chicago Black Hawks.

That’s not quite the end of the story. There’s the part, too, about Vic Hadfield scoring a hat trick against Chicago at MSG towards the end of April, his first in the playoffs. Picking up one of the hats that landed on the ice in his honour, Hadfield put it on before skating to the boards and flinging it to the fans.

“I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time,” he said. “I felt so good about scoring all those goals, I wanted to show my emotion. It was a tremendous feeling, one of the highlights of my career.”

As for Parent’s mask, Leafs’ VP Harold Ballard said he was invoicing the Rangers. “We should send the bill to Bill Jennings,” Ballard said, “but I guess we’ll send it to [New York coach and GM] Emile Francis — it’s his department.”

I can’t confirm whether any such paperwork was submitted. But Jennings, who was the president of the Rangers, did send a bill of his own to the Leafs in the amount of $175 — for Vic Hadfield’s bespoke glove, said to have been manufactured and specially sewn in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Francis’ hometown.

Ballard took it for a spoof. “At least,” he said, “I hope Jennings isn’t serious.”

The story might end there, which is to say right here, except for, no, sorry, there’s more.

Towards the end of that same April, the Chicago Tribune made fleeting mention of the mask’s having been returned to Parent by a 7-year-old boy. “It was mailed back to Bernie in a shoe box,” was how that story went, but no further.

That seems to be fanciful. In 2006, the mask did show up in a sports memorabilia auction, and then again in 2012, when a buyer, unnamed, decided the time had come to get the goaltender and his mask back together. Greg Wyshynski reported on this at the time for Yahoo! Sports — you can read about that here.

The old goaltender knew the mask he’d once worn the moment he set eyes on it, 41 years after Hadfield absconded with it. “Life is full of surprises,” Parent said. He only got to visit with the mask briefly, apparently: the owner’s plan was to keep it for himself, then donate it, posthumously, to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

In Phil: Bernie Parent in Flyer kit + mask in the mid-1970s.

 

born on this day, in 1929: hockey’s headgear icon

Unmasked: Jacques Plante poses in December of 1959 with the mask he first donned in an NHL game a month earlier. (Image: Weekend Magazine/Louis Jaques/Library and Archives Canada)

In Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Quebec, not far from Shawinigan, Jacques Plante was born on a Thursday of this date in 1929. He remains, of course, an icon of hockey headgear, renowned for tuques and masks that his coaches (Dick Irvin and Toe Blake, respectively) didn’t want him wearing on the ice. In The Jacques Plante Story, a 1972 memoir he collaborated on with Andy O’Brien, the goaltender is quoted telling an interviewer, “My business is getting shot at.” By the end of the 1970-71 NHL season, O’Brien suggests, the 42-year-old Plante had faced 28,545 big-league shots in 865 games. “That does not include the ‘friendly shots’ — possibly 100,000 of them — fired at him in practice,” O’Brien writes, “but they can’t be ignored be ignored because they twice put him in hospital.” Add a few thousand more to the final tally: beyond the book’s telling, Plante played a further two seasons in the NHL, along with a final year with the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers. He died in 1986, at the age of 57.