NHL goalies battered faces before masks became the norm

The face of an NHL goalie before masks became the norm in the sport of ice hockey

Terry Sawchuk played 971 regular season games in a 14 year NHL career. Often injured, he battled through and gained the respect of his peers.

He played in an era where you didn’t wear a mask… and it cost him. To the tune of some 600 stitches

His aggressive style and crouching stance dared shooters to fire the puck at him. He started wearing a mask in 1963 (a full 4 years after Plante donned his) and it without a doubt kept the stitch count down and lengthened his career. 

 A Life magazine article in 1966 called “Hockey Goalies: Their Bludgeoned Faces and Bodies” took one of Sawchuk’s photos and embellished the stitches to make the picture more effective in demonstrating the punishment a goalie takes.

Contributing to his moodiness and self-doubt was the pressure of playing day in and day out despite repeated injuries — there were no backup goaltenders. He frequently played through pain, and during his career he had three operations on his right elbow, an appendectomy, countless cuts and bruises, a broken instep, a collapsed lung, ruptured discs in his back, and severed tendons in his hand. Years of crouching in the net caused Sawchuk to walk with a permanent stoop and resulted in lordosis (swayback), which prevented him from sleeping for more than two hours at a time. He also received approximately 400 stitches to his face (including three in his right eyeball) before finally adopting a protective facemask in 1962. In 1966, Life Magazine had a make-up artist apply stitches and scars to Sawchuk’s face to demonstrate all of the injuries to his face over the years. The make-up artist did not have enough room for everything.

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