Hockey Time Machine: Stories behind the scariest goalie masks in NHL history

You’ve got to admit, Jacques Plante’s early masks were pretty creepy on their own.

With their utterly blank expression and austere cutout designs for the mouth, nose, and eyes, and easily chipped paint, it’s just plain eerie. 

To the modern fan, they bear a close resemblance to Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s mask in “Silence of the Lambs,” which happens to be the creation of a long-time fiberglass goalie mask maker named Ed Cubberly. He claims he had the whole thing designed it 10 minutes — it was just the bottom half of an old goalie mask design with some metal bars added over the mouth.

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It wasn’t the only design considered for the movie, however. There are clips of Anthony Hopkins screen-testing a straight bar and a cat’s eye cage, though how anyone could consider anything but the obvious perfection of the half-face fiberglass version is beyond me. 

As masks evolved, their creepy factor died out pretty quickly. Quickly, that is, until Gerry Cheevers came along. Cheevers hated practice, and was always looking for an excuse to get out. One day in 1969, he took a shot to the mask and took a dive.

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“It wouldn’t have hurt a canary, but I went down in a faint,” Cheevers later recalled. “I had to make believe something was wrong.”

Coach Harry Sinden wasn’t buying it, so Cheevers had Bruins trainer Frosty Forrestall draw stitches on the mask with a black permanent marker where Cheevers would have been hit without the mask, and a star was born out of a joke.

As “scary” as Cheevers’ mask is, it’s much more terrifying when you realize all those stitches could represent real injuries. 

Speaking of terrifying goalie injuries, you know that Terry Sawchuk’s “THIS IS THE FACE OF A REAL MASKLESS GOALIE” photo that makes its way into your Twitter and Tumblr and everywhere else? It’s a fake. Well, not a fake so much as an exaggeration. Sorry to disappoint.

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Some of the scars on Sawchuk’s face are indeed real; you can see them in many other photos of him. The rest were created and added by a Hollywood special effects makeup artist after a collaboration with Sawchuk. Once made up, Sawchuk was posed under lights angled to highlight all of the makeup, and the result was published in Life magazine.

It’s an immensely popular picture … without its caption.

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The first painted goalie mask was a time-honored tradition: a Halloween prank.

In 1971, the Flyers’ Doug Favell happened to be the starting goalie on Halloween. During the morning skate, he casually mentioned to team trainer Frank Lewis, “Wouldn’t it be fun to have an orange mask to go with the orange jersey on Halloween? Could look like a great big pumpkin.”

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Lo and behold, Lewis decided yes, this would be a good idea, and with the help of a player or two, painted Favell’s mask bright orange and left it for him to find in his stall before the game. Favell played in his bright orange mask and a new tradition was born.

Once goalies discovered airbrushing masks was a thing they could do, there was no stopping them. And that’s how Gary Simmons, whose nickname was “Cobra,” decided on his new mask. The artist, Greg Harrison, based the full-sized mask design on a Hot Wheels cobra, but added a rattlesnake tail by mistake, something Simmons never let him forget.

The mask became slightly less creepy after a crown was added to the snake’s head during Simmons’ time with the Kings, but only slightly.

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And then, of course, we have Gilles Gratton and his iconic tiger mask. He’d been in a slump, you see, and changing masks to see if they’d help. They didn’t. Then one day on a team flight, he fell in love with a picture of a tiger in National Geographic, so he stole the page and sent it to Harrison (mentioned above), who painted his new mask. That tiger mask didn’t help his game, but it did help the game. He left it behind with the Rangers, quite literally. He left all of his gear in the dressing room one day and never looked back. 

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Then, of course, there were two skull masks, worn by Gary Bromley and Warren Skorodenski. Bromley had always been skinny, and so for a man nicknamed “Bones,” it made sense for a bone-themed mask. Even the back had his nickname spelled out in bone-shaped letters. Talk about dedication to the theme.

Although there’s no official explanation for Skorodenski’s X-ray skull of a mask, odds are it was for similar reasoning. Skorodenki was 5-8 and 165 pounds. 

And then, dear readers, we have the modern, wacky, creepy masks. Need I remind you of Carey Price’s tribute mask that was literally a mask-sized face or Steve Shields’ Cheevers full-sized tribute mask, complete with painted on ears and hair?

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Perhaps you remember Mike Dunham’s demon head mask from his time in New Jersey. Even Pekka Rinne had a full-size demon face mask, though his was an actual creepy-cool concept. Vesa Toskala’s was voted “most likely to find on a Harley gas tank.” 

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Pop culture horror has made an appearance multiple times over. Perhaps you’ve seen Jason Bacashihua’s Jason/”Friday the 13th” mask? Lightning owner Oren Koules made Olaf Kolzig and Mike Smith wear “Saw V” masks. Fred Braithwaite had Freddy Krueger on his, while Steve Mason wore an “Evil Dead” mask with a Civil War twist.

Corey Hirsch displayed the house from “Psycho” during his Canucks days, which he thought was perfect with their orange-red-black scheme (it also had a hidden, deeper meaning, which you can read in his Players’ Tribune article ).

Meanwhile, Roman Turek was such an Iron Maiden fan that he included the band’s “mascot” Eddie the Head on his masks in various sizes and ways throughout his career. He even named his son Eddie.

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