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On November 1, 1959, a flying hockey puck broke the nose of goalie Jacques Plante. Thereafter, he insisted on wearing a face mask, a decision that signaled a broader introduction of safety equipment into North American ice hockey. This paper examines how head and facial protection became a standard requirement for playing hockey in North America at amateur and professional levels of the sport. During the mid-twentieth century, national governing bodies confronted growing safety concerns amid rising participation in organized hockey. Yet in the absence of league-wide mandates, players generally did not sustain helmet use. From the 1950s through the 1970s, masks for goalies and helmets and facial protection for skaters were mandated to protect against injuries. In the context of contemporary concussion concerns, the history of debates over hockey head and face protection illustrates the array of social, cultural, and organizational factors behind measures to protect athletes’ health.
The author is with Public Health, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA, USA.