Gopher Hockey: Stories Behind the Masks

Go Gophers! Murray McLachlan was the goalie for the 1969 WCHA champion Gophers.
Go Gophers!
Murray McLachlan was the goalie for the 1969 WCHA champion Gophers.
Go Gophers!

Q&A With Goaltender Kent Patterson

By Edwina Reckel (Story) and Annie Favreau (Video)
GopherSports.com

"Goalies never wore any equipment... It was a baptism by fire." - Gopher legend Jack McCartan

As unthinkable as it may seem today, McCartan was right. Players and goalies alike wore few, if any, pads back when players first started skating around with a puck and sticks. 

Goalie masks were thought to be unnecessary, a hindrance to vision and players were weak for wearing them. Now, goalie masks have not only become part of hockey's story and protect players, but also provide a place where they can express their individuality, team history and even personal stories.

Digging through Gopher athletics photo archives, it appears that legendary Gophers McCartan, Marty Falk and Tom Karakas -- all of whom played in the early 40's and 60's -- did not wear any masks or protection for their faces.

The first goalie to don a mask in a regular season game at the professional level was Montreal's Jaques Plante on Nov. 1, 1959 after he had been hit in the face by the puck in the previous game.

After Plante debuted his mask, so did other goaltenders and a soon a Terry Sawchuck (iconic goalie who played most of his career for Detroit) style of mask was introduced in NHL and college leagues across the nation. These fiberglass masks were custom-made to be snug against the goaltender's face. The Gophers' own Steve Janaszak also wore one of these masks.

In the mid-1970s, we see the first attempt of artistic expression of a mask, as Boston Bruins goaltender, Gerry Chevers, started adding stitches on his mask to mark every spot he got hit by the puck.

The art on the masks continued to improve and much can be created to legendary artist, Greg Harrison. By the late 1970s, nearly 80 percent of NHL goaltenders wore his design.

Style of the masks can also remind us of fads and trends of the time as we see masks from Adam Hauser in the 2000's, Rob LaRue in the 1990's and Robb Stauber in the 1980's.

In the video above, we spoke to the Gophers' current goalies, Jake Kremer, Mike Shibrowski and Kent Patterson as they take us through the meaning behind the designs on their masks, which include everything from vintage Goldy's, fishing scenes, high school nicknames and even ribbons and initials to recognize loved ones.

Masks will continue to evolve, but will forever now give goalies a way to express themselves without saying a word. No matter how memorable the goalies that wear them, these masks will forever own a place in Gopher history.