Today’s ice hockey goalies are a far cry from their barely padded ancestors. In fact, the goalies of yesteryear were required to stand upright when stopping pucks. However, as the seasons rolled on and the game evolved, so did the rules and gear. Today, the National Hockey League (NHL) requires goalies to wear protective gear and padding. Goalies are decked out in cutting-edge armor, which is oversized but designed for optimal protection.
Let’s take a look at the history of goalie equipment and how it has evolved over the years:
In 1917, goaltenders in the newly created NHL were allowed to block shots with their bodies. However, their chest and shoulder areas had little protection. In fact, they were only covered in felt-filled canvas padding. Any padding with metal was not allowed, and some goalies wore elbow pads outside of their uniforms. Most leg padding was made of fine leather and susceptible to sweat and perspiration.
At the start of the NHL 1925-26 season, the width of leg padding was limited to 12 inches. These leg pads were made from kapok (furniture stuffing) and were very similar to padding utilized in cricket gear. Goalie chest protectors, however, became thicker and resembled those of baseball catchers.
In the mid 1940s, goalies began wearing baseball gloves on their catcher hands. In fact, it was Emile “The Cat” Francis of the Rangers who first wore these gloves on the ice. Many players and clubs then followed suit and emulated Francis’s gear.
A number of players began using curved stick blades during these years. This allowed for swifter shots into the net. However, goalies now had to don face masks due to the increased speeds of these shots. The NHL mandated goalies to wear face masks that would not obstruct their views as well. With this in mind, Montreal Canada’s goaltender Jacques Plante modified his fiberglass mask to include leather.
The evolution of goalie face masks continued well into the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, masks were now created with stronger carbon fibers, along with fiberglass and Kevlar. This made the masks more durable to withstand shots at higher speeds.
The 1990s and 2000s saw molded thigh and waist pads. The NHL deemed it necessary for goalies to have larger leg pads to cushion their landings. However, the League’s goalie gear has drawn criticism for restricting movement. With this in mind, the League reduced the height of the leg pads by 2 inches during the 2013-14 seasons.