Many people think of Jacques Plante and his historic donning of a fibreglass facemask on November 1st, 1959 as the first time an NHL netminder wore a mask. However, history tells a different story. On January 7th, 1930, the legendary Howie Morenz fired a shot at the Montreal Maroons net and Clint Benedict took the full force of the shot in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbone. When Benedict returned to the Montreal net, he was sporting a makeshift mask. Primarily made of leather, it resembled a boxing face guard. The experiment only lasted two games; Benedict had great difficulty seeing around the thick nosepiece and he discarded it.

The famous story of the introduction of the mask to the NHL, however, belongs to Jacques Plante. Plante was already an established star in the NHL, a past winner of the league’s MVP and Top Goaltender award when he broke ranks and tradition by appearing in a NHL game wearing a mask. After he was cut by an Andy Bathgate shot, Plante defiantly announced he would not return to the ice unless coach "Toe" Blake allowed him to don his mask, which he had used in practices. Blake was unenthusiastic but without a back-up goaltender, he had little choice. Plante put on a mask he had made himself and returned to the Montreal nets where he led his club to victory. His story is historically remembered as the "first" because he continued to wear it.

The mask was met with great opposition, surprisingly from other netminders. Many thought wearing a mask meant the goalie was frightened. Others disliked the mask because they felt it was restrictive in terms of their field of sig ht, or that it was hot. However, a high-profile goalie like Plante introducing it certainly had some weight and eventually goalies around the league began wearing them.

The facial protection for goaltenders would continue to evolve. Once masks became common, the next step was decoration. Boston Bruin Gerry Cheevers started a trend when he decided to paint stitches on his mask each time he was struck in the face by a puck or an errant stick. The stitches represented every cut the mask spared him, but the mask soon filled with stitches and became a decorative design. The popularity of this mask touched off a chain reaction around the league and soon most goaltenders sported painted masks.

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