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Chris Osgood’s retirement also marks the likely end of his distinct mask

Jul 30, 2011, 7:29 PM EDT

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Ever since Jacques Plante defied the NHL’s He-Man culture by donning a mask, people have taken notice of a netminder’s headgear. From the inventive stitching scheme worn by Gerry Cheevers to Gilles Gratton’s out-there tiger mask, many goalies are remembered for the creative designs that adorned their masks.

Artwork is really the only way to spot much personality in a goalie’s mask anymore, which seems fitting since most netminders share the same butterfly techniques on the ice. You can’t really blame goalies going with the modern framework of masks, however, because the bottom line is that they provide unprecedented (though not perfect) protection from the vulcanized rubber that can travel toward their heads.

Chris Osgood will be remembered for notching 401 wins and being the on-and-off starter for the dynastic Detroit Red Wings, but his retirement could also mean the end of his old school helmet. That’s something that the Toronto Star’s Denis Grignon discussed in this interesting story.

“We’d look at our reflection in the glass and think, ‘yeah, this is cool,’ ” reminisces Osgood about his time playing junior in Medicine Hat, about wearing the helmet and cat’s eye cage combo, which morphed into Bauer and Winwell versions in later years.

(snip)

“I was always laid back,” said Osgood. “(Other goalies) would get their masks painted. I never wanted any attention on myself. And that’s what my helmet represented.”

Former Maple Leaf Glenn Healy, who wore The Helmet for his entire career until he retired in 2001, concurs.

“We weren’t one of those guys who gets his fancy little mask airbrushed with your superheroes on it,” says Healy, now a colour commentator with Hockey Night in Canada. “Dressing yourself up like some kind of rock star . . . you got KISS on your helmet? Give me a break. Just play the game.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of preference, but the article reveals that this particular fashion choice came with some pretty painful disadvantages. Grignon explains that while modern headgear is shaped to make pucks deflect off the head and face, Osgood and Healy’s preferred style absorbs the full impact of a shot. Healy admitted that he dealt with more than a hundred stitches because of that choice, while Dan Cloutier – one of its last proponents – said that Los Angeles Kings management asked him to change his mask for “insurance reasons.” (Cloutier’s career ended soon after anyway, but his problems weren’t related to his choice of headgear.)

Beyond “The Helmet” being a preference that produces extra pain, the nearly-obsolete model follows the path of other things that go out of circulation: replacement parts are hard to find. That created a “constant quest” for Healy and other users, who were forced to “scrounge” for parts at beer leagues and other atypical outlets.

Osgood apparently had a little better luck as he received masks and spare parts for various benefactors, with the Red Wings’ play-by-play guy Mickey Redmond even asking fans to help out. That being said, Osgood’s equipment situation was still a bit unusual.

And when the team masseuse remembered he had two HM30s in his garage back home in Moscow, Boyer promptly had them shipped.

“Yeah,” saids Boyer. “Ozzie finished his career with a helmet from the Red Army.”

While Craig MacTavish is known for being the last NHLer brazen enough to play without a helmet, Osgood might be the final high-level practitioner of “The Helmet.” It’s a bit sad to see something that unique go away, but considering the safety risks involved with wearing that type of mask, it might be better off as a relic of the past.

(H/T to Kukla’s Korner.)

  1. spizzjr - Jul 30, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Dipietro had to wear one at the end of last year he said he really liked the feel and there was a chance he’d keep it

    • icelovinbrotha215 - Jul 31, 2011 at 5:53 PM

      If it improves his game I’m sure he will keep it. What does he have to lose?

  2. polegojim - Jul 31, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Looked very old school, gritty, non-flashy, and tough. Represented the Wings perfectly.

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