– The first day of November is more than All Saints Day on the calendar. This year
also marks the 50th anniversary of the day that Montreal goalie Jacques Plante wore the first full-facemask in an NHL game.
But it was nearly three years after Plante’s landmark decision to preserve his health that a Red Wings’ goalie made a similarly wise decision to don facial protection.
It was October 11, opening night of the 1962-63 season when legendary Red Wings goalie Terry Sawchuk -- who had won four Stanley Cups and eventually finished his illustrious career with 103 shutout victories – wore a full-facemask.
Sawchuk had experimented with the mask, which had been designed by Red Wings trainer Lefty Wilson, during training camp a month earlier. Until that opening night in 1963 at Madison Square Garden, Sawchuk had played his entire NHL career without a mask, logging more than 43,000-minutes in 723 games. And he certainly had the facial scars to prove it.
While Sawchuk was the first Wings’ goalie to wear a mask, he wasn’t the club’s first to wear a goalie mask in a regular-season NHL game. That distinction belongs to forward Claude Laforge. He was called up from Hershey where he had recently suffered a fractured cheekbone in an AHL game. So Laforge played for Detroit in a 2-2 tie against the Blackhawks at Olympia Stadium on Dec. 28, 1961.
Wearing the mask seemingly didn’t hinder Sawchuk’s ability to see the puck. He won his fourth Vezina Trophy in 1965 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
In the Red Wings’ 83-year history, 85 goalies from Ralph Almas to Ken Wregget have stood in the crease, and while the majority of them wore some form of head and facial gear, several guys went au natural. Of course, that was in the era of wood sticks and before Stan Mikita made the curved blade popular among the league’s sharp-shooters.
At least 33 percent of the Red Wings’ past goaltenders did not wear full-facemasks at some point – if not their entire – careers. Guys like Hank Bassen, Gilles Boisvert, Roger Crozier, Glenn Hall, Harry Lumley, John Mowers and Normie Smith risked chicklets and cheekbones for team goals prior to the 60s.