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July 24, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Off Balance: Special Report, Part II

Same Sport, Different Position, Different Standards

by Kevin Moore/Special to CHN

The vulnerability of ice hockey goaltenders is unlike almost anything in sports. Hockey goalies are confined to an 8-foot by 6-foot blue crease in a contact sport with the expectation that they will not be hit; if a goalie is hit, players fight.

Unlike other sports, they also wear more equipment than their teammates making them less mobile, despite their lateral quickness. On top of the inherent risk of taking 100 MPH slap shots off the mask, goalies are susceptible to head on collisions when they cover the puck.

Players are told to drive the net hard and to battle for loose pucks. This leaves the top of the goaltender’s head as the primary point of contact if there is a collision. Also, if a goalie is knocked over from the side, many times a goalie’s helmet can be popped off, exposing their head to contact with the ice or goal posts.

Goaltender masks are constructed to absorb impacts and spread the shock throughout the mask so that the energy is dispersed away from the goaltender's head. A mask is constructed into three parts; the stainless steel cage, the aramid and fiberglass shell that the cage is screwed to, and the floating back plate that is connected to the shell by elastic straps. The floating back plate makes goalie masks different than any other helmet in sports because they are not a solid sphere; up to three-fourths of an inch of the back of the players head can be exposed.

The National Hockey League does not have restrictions on what type of mask goaltenders wear, allowing them to effectively go on the ice wearing whatever they want. Last season NHL star goaltender Ryan Miller was concussed when Milan Lucic hit him while Miller played the puck outside of his crease. That prompted former NHL goaltender Kelly Hrudey to use his analyst job at Hockey Night in Canada to criticize goalie mask safety, one of the first to publically do so.

“Goalie masks are not taken and tested by the NHL," Hrudey said. "Player helmets are, but not goalie masks. This hits me in the heart, because I had one of my friends Mike Richter, March 27, 2002 … a shot fractured his skull. Mike had a crappy mask too; I told him when I played with him, ‘Get a better mask.’ This was it, career over.”

In the United States any youth goaltender playing in a league sanctioned by USA Hockey must wear a mask certified by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council (HECC). NHL goaltenders do not have to wear masks that are HECC certified and many NHLers either modify HECC certified masks or choose not to wear them completely.

According to the HECC’s website, as of September 16, 2011 all NCAA goaltenders were required to wear a mask with a HECC certification sticker “so long as the required markings are visible to a referee upon inspection without removing the face mask from the helmet.” This would come into effect on all products manufactured on or after June 1, 2011. Referees rarely inspect the masks, however.

Former UMass goaltender Jeff Teglia wears a helmet made by hockey equipment giant Bauer. Teglia’s Bauer Profile Pro 960 mask is a HECC certified mask despite not having the HECC sticker visible on the back plate. Three of UMass’ goaltenders wore this style mask during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons without the sticker, including myself.

Teglia and current sophomore Kevin Boyle both were recipients of concussions in 2011-12. Teglia switched to a pro-style Vaughn mask last season because of issues with the sight lines in the Bauer, not because of protection; although he admits this helmet fits him much better than his previous mask. Boyle also suffered another concussion last March that prematurely ended his season.

UMass’ other goaltender, Steve Mastalerz, wears a mask that was created from a custom head mold by Middleton, Mass., company Pro’s Choice. Pro’s Choice has produced helmets for NHL goaltenders for over 20 years. Currently Tukka Rask of the Boston Bruins and Mike Smith of the Phoenix Coyotes are clients. According to HECC.net these masks are not HECC certified, although they are a custom mask maker for Vaughn, a company that produces HECC certified masks.

Many people assume that wearing a mask created off of a head mold is safer because it fits your head perfectly, but there has been no sufficient research to prove this. Head molds are not the first option provided by the equipment staff for UMass goaltenders.

In interviews with both Teglia and Kevin Boyle, both goaltenders said that masks produced from head molds were probably something they were going to look into due to their history of concussions. When asked informally weeks after being interviewed if they had made any headway on the custom fitted masks, they both reluctantly said that most likely they were going to wear a mass-produced pro style mask from either Bauer or Vaughn. In the end, neither followed through with getting a custom molded helmet.

“I think [the equipment staff] should definitely be more sensitive to it. I personally didn’t even know about a head mold goalie helmet, I don’t even know what that is, but I think every trainer should be educated in this big time,” said Jeff’s mother Debbie Teglia. “They can get it, it’s just a matter of doing it, spending the money on it.”

Coming Thursday: Part III: Pressure

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