Who Was That Masked Man?
Gerry Cheevers photo © Pete Mocca
He had the most recognizable mask in the history of the NHL.
And, from what I have been able to research, Gerry Cheevers was the first goalie to decorate his goalie mask.
Gerry Cheevers was with the Boston Bruins from 1965-66 through 1971-72, jumped to the World Hockey Association (WHA) to play for the Cleveland Crusaders for four seasons, and then returned to the Bruins in 1975-76 and retired after the 1979-80 season.
Supposedly Cheevers was not enamored of the all white fiberglass mask, and one day a seemingly unremarkable incident triggered an alteration to the mask.
The distinctive stitch pattern that was to become Cheevers trademark began in the late 1960’s when Cheevers was hit in the mask with a puck during a practice. Even though he was not hurt Cheevers wanted to get off the ice to take a breather. In the locker room, Bruins trainer John “Frosty” Forristall drew a big stitch mark on the mask to show where Cheevers would have received stitches had he not been wearing a mask to demonstrate to the coach the “seriousness” of the blow Cheevers had taken.
The rest of the Bruins thought it was hilarious and Cheevers kept the stitch mark. Cheevers liked the decoration so much he began adding more stitches to the mask season after season every time he took a puck to the face. Cheevers made one other innovation to the mask that was adapted by most goalies in the 1960’s and 70’s, and that was to widen the eye slots so he could see the puck better.
Amazingly, Cheevers says he primarily used that one marked up mask for his entire career. The mask now is on display at the home of his grandson.
After his playing career was over, Cheevers coached the Bruins for four and a half seasons before he was fired in 1985.
Cheevers didn’t just have a great mask, he had a great career posting 230 wins with just 102 losses and a 2.89 goals against average. Cheevers was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985. In what might be Cheevers greatest achievement, he went undefeated in 33 consecutive games in 1972, setting a record that still stands today.