September 11, 2008

Saving Face: The Art And History Of The Goalie Mask

One of the most anticipated books of the season is Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Maskby Jim Hynes and Gary Smith, published by Wiley.

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Hockey goalies tend to be amongst the most popular athletes in all of sports, partly because of the strange equipment they wear. No piece of goalie equipment is more revered than the mask, which nowadays is more often than not a piece of personalized art work that only adds to our love of goalies. For many it is the face of hockey, quite literally the saving face.

With about 150 images of goalie masks through the ages, this book is sure to be a hit. It would make an awesome coffee table book, encouraging discussion as guests flip through the photographic evidence of the evolution of the goalie mask, conjuring up old memories of years gone by.

There are some amazing early pics of primitive masks that never even made it to the NHL. Clint Benedict's and Jacques Plante's early masks head of the chronological evolution of the mask. Then there was the pretzel masks, the Fibrosport masks, the bird cage masks, and who can forget the "Jason" masks. Nowadays almost every goalie uses a combo mask featuring the specially fitted fiberglass helmet with the cage for vision and breathing. The most famous and most colourful masks are all on display in great, close up form.

But this book is far more than just a coffee table photo book. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a thorough text of the history of the hockey mask. Extensive research honors the key innovators, creators and painters over the years, including Bill Burchmore, Ernie Higgins, Greg Harrison, and Dave Dryden. Over a dozen key contributors are fully featured.

The book documents some of the dreadful injuries goalies suffered in the old days. The great Terry Sawchuk received as many as 600 stitches in his face thanks to hockey. He even had his right eyeball sliced by a stick. Legend has it doctors removed the eyeball, inserted three stitches and returned it to his eye socket. No wonder Sawchuk was such a wreck!

The authors go on to detail the goaltenders' fight for the right to use the mask. Though it may be unbelievable nowadays, wearing a mask in an actual game was a very controversial idea, very much disliked by the hockey establishment, hockey purists and even many goalies. Acceptance of the use of a mask was a long time coming. Fortunately for goalies everywhere Jacques Plante proved to be the perfect pioneer.

The authors then examine the craze of personalizing masks and adorning them with art work. Gerry Cheevers may have inadvertently started it all when jiffy markered stitches onto his plain white mask every time the puck hit him, but soon after virtually every goalie not wearing the bird cage mask was quick to embrace the expression of art.

My only beef with this book, and perhaps this is nitpicking, is that there is not a lot of imagery of current goalies and their masks. The current era seems almost under-represented in comparison to other generations featured in the book. Perhaps this is an unfair criticism, though, as too many of today's oft-moving goalies could date the book prematurely.

I also would have liked to have seen more goalies talking about their masks and chosen art work in first person. Gerry Cheevers does that in the book's foreword, and it is a real treat. The authors do do a good job of explaining the significance behind many of the masks featured in their text.

All in all, this is a very good book that does not disappoint. It will be a big hit with hockey fans of all eras. Everyone loves goalie masks, and everyone will appreciate this book.


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