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Pens display evolution of goalie mask

by Nicole Jelinek / Pittsburgh Penguins

Over the course of 50 years, a lot has changed in hockey. One notable change was the masks worn by goalies. Some were more protective than others, and some looked as though they should be in a scary movie.

As a way to help celebrate the Pittsburgh Penguins' 50th Anniversary, a vintage helmet collection was on display for Tuesday night's game against the Nashville Predators.

The collection of masks belong to Penguins equipment manager Dana Heinze, who started his collection five years ago when he showed interest in Jim Craig's goalie mask.

"After I got the Jim Craig goalie mask--and working with the Penguins--I thought it would be neat to go back and visit what the Pittsburgh Penguins wore from 1967 to 1995," Heinze said. "It started a long journey and it was a lot of fun."

The display shows that masks have come a long way. Some of the earlier masks were so thin they look like you could snap them in half. In fact, Heinze had Al Smith's mask displayed, and said that as Smith's mask broke more and more, he would take it off after wearing it, fold it in half and toss it in his hockey bag.

General manger Jim Rutherford's mask was one to note. When Rutherford came to Penguins in 1971, he wore a red mask from his time with the Detroit Red Wings. But when he arrived to Pittsburgh, they painted it white.

Rutherford was a friend of mask-maker Greg Harrison, who painted Rutherford's mask blue to make it "different." Greg then painted it white when Rutherford went to play with the Red Wings. Heinze says that is where art started to come into the vintage goalie mask.

Fans have Heinze to thank for a little piece of history. Everyone, young and old, was astonished by the collection and eager to give their input.

"It looks like Friday the 13th on this first half," joked Penguins fan Carol Nelan. "Now, they are fabulous!"

"There is so much history here," Doug Cox from the South Hills area noted. "I hate to date myself, but I can remember seeing games where Gump Worsley wore no mask. I remember a lot of these. It brings back memories and shows great franchise history."

The vintage-style goalie masks ended with Michel Dion in 1985. Today, technology is so much better and the masks have turned into a safer trademark piece of the netminder. There is now padding, they have learned how to deflect a puck off the helmet and they have their own flare to add to the game of hockey.

"Besides providing protection over time, it is cool to see how it has evolved aesthetically: looking like something an axe murder would wear to now being a work of art," Chris Cox, Doug's son, said. "They are artist creations now and not just a measure of player safety."

 

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