SUN Hockey Pool

Plante laid blueprint for today's goaltenders

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Pulling a skinny, old-looking faceplate out of the bench at his stall in the locker-room, Miikka Kiprusoff holds up the last of the new masks he's got hidden.

This one will never be used in a game -- it's a replica of Gerry Cheevers' mask, littered with stitches his face would have had to endure if not for Jacques Plante's innovation.

It was 50 years ago yesterday Plante returned to a game with a homemade mask guarding the Montreal Canadiens goaltender's face and nose -- broken by a wristshot courtesy of Rangers forward Andy Bathgate minutes earlier.

He wasn't the first to wear one, but he was the first to adopt it permanantly. Back then it was for protection. Now, they're equally about style.

"I think I was 14, 15 when I got my first (painted) mask," Kiprusoff recalled. "The style, we were starting to get those things back home (in Finland). I was whining so bad -- my parents have to buy me one. I thought it was the coolest mask.

"It was a pretty bad paint job, but back then, it was pretty nice."

The blue mask with white stripes and a star is a far cry from the skulls that adorn his latest addition. Debuting a helmet with the trademark flaming heads on each side, there was a nod to the throwback Calgary skyline logo the Flames have on their 30th anniversary patch.

The skyline runs from ear to ear along the jawline.

Another brand new mask sits beside the Cheevers replica under Kiprusoff's seat, but the colour of the creepy flames and skulls is too brown for his liking. He wants it to match the jersey he wears.

"For some guys, it's a personality thing," said Flames backup Curtis McElhinney. "Most guys just enjoy having the team side of it."

Ditching the zombie cowboy theme he had last year, McElhinney has a Dante's Inferno mask going now, with a cool gateway to hell version of the team's Flaming C logo.

Few realize the impact Plante had on the game.

It wasn't just the mask he refused to lose even after his nose healed.

He's also credited with coming out of his net to cut down angles, stopping dump-ins and stickhandling to teammates, and signalling icing calls with his arm up.

"Simple things you take for granted, I guess," McElhinney said. "It's fun to look back on it and think how long ago that somebody did the kind of things that he was doing. And the fact they've become so instrumental in today's game. As a goalie, you pretty much have to have every one of those assets."

None more important than the mask, painted or not.


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