Innovation and Saving Face – Lessons From The Goalie Mask
Posted by Plish on March 1, 2009
There is a great book out entitled Saving Face: The Art and History of the Goalie Mask . It is amazing to see the progression of how masks developed over time. (To see how my masks changed over the years click here)
Wearing a mask seems like a ‘no-brainer’, yet in the early half of the 20th century the reasons for not wearing masks went from, “It’ll obstruct vision” (and this was often cited by management not goalies themselves), to “Women hockey fans want to see the player’s faces.” (Again, this often came from management).
But there was another reason why goalies weren’t wearing masks.
The perception of courage
When it came down to wanting to protect your face (and career!) players didn’t want to be perceived as ‘sissies’.
It is no surprise that the first masks worn in professional hockey were worn after injuries to the face to protect the broken flesh. Early attempts at goalie masks were hot, cumbersome, and didn’t provide the greatest sight-lines. They could hinder the play of the goalie.
In 1929-1930, Clint Benedict sustained a broken nose and shattered cheekbone from a shot. When he returned to play he was wearing a strange mask. He didn’t like the sight lines and he got rid of the mask after one game.
On November 1, 1959, Jacques Plante returned to the ice after a 45 minute delay during which a tremendous gash he received early in the game was stitched closed. But instead of a bloodied face, fans saw a flesh-toned, fiberglass mask protecting the stitchwork.
There was no turning back.
Plante’s play didn’t suffer, neither did the team’s performance, and masks were here to stay.
There was still resistance to wearing protective headgear (mostly from the goalies themselves who felt their play suffered) and masks were not universally used until 1975!
An interesting sidebar is that while masks were not worn in the professional ranks, non-professionals were improvising.
Teiji Honma, a Japanese goalie wore a mask in the 1936 Olympics.
In 1927, Elizabeth Graham of the Queen’s University Women’s Hockey team wore a fencing mask.
Players often wore what looked like baseball catcher’s masks when they were young to protect their glasses (but wouldn’t wear them to protect their faces!)
So, lessons learned?
While Peer pressure is huge, Management pressure is huge-er: There are many obstacles to innovation, these are two. Gut Check: Do you fall into either group?
Big League Innovation isn’t for the big leagues: Those playing at the “amateur” level were willing to improvise and do what it took. The ‘professionals’ were behind the times. Lesson: Do what needs to be done-period!
Listen to the users! Goalies were constantly in the loop when it came to improving the masks. Lesson: Listen to the users!