Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Greatest Goalie Mask Ever

We are going to have a bit of a departure today and feature not a jersey, but a mask, which feels appropriate with today being Halloween.

Yes, tomorrow is the 50th Anniversary of Jacques Plante wearing the first full face goalie mask in an NHL game, so everyone on The Internets will be talking about his mask tomorrow, so we've decided to beat everyone to the punch by a day and talk about a different mask - worn by a very different individual.

In our opinion, the Third String Goalie Award for The Greatest Goalie Mask Ever goes to Gilles Gratton's mask from 1976 when he was with the New York Rangers - The Lion.

Or is it a Tiger?

It depends on who you ask. The guy who created it, or the guy who wore it!

Gilles Gratton mask

Drafted 69th overall by the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, Gratton began his professional career with the Ottawa Nationals of the WHA in 1972 and finished with an above .500 record (25-22-3) for a team that finished below .500. He would move with the franchise when they relocated to Toronto, and renamed the Toros, and post a 56-44-4 record over the next two seasons. Gratton was a member of Team Canada in the 1974 Summit Series which pitted the WHA All-Stars against the Soviet National Team.

The 1975-76 season would see him make his NHL debut for the St. Louis Blues, but only appear in 6 games after he left the team and attempted to rejoin the Toros.

It was in 1976 that Gratton would unleash The Greatest Goalie Mask Ever while playing for the New York Rangers.

Gratton, known as "Gratoony the Loony" for such things as refusing to play when the moon was in the wrong part of the sky and another time claiming pain from an injury he suffered as a solider in a previous life! Among the past lives he's claimed to have lived include a 15th century Spanish conquistador and a Mayan priest. Released by the Rangers, he quit hockey at the age of 24 and spent three years in India and the next 20 or so moving around Europe.

Gerry Cheevers is credited with starting mask decorating with his iconic "stitch marks" mask, but it was still essentially a plain white mask decorated with nothing more than a permanent marker. At the time Gratton came to the Rangers, masks were generally painted with simple designs, not usually more elaborate than stripes in team colors or designs based on elements of team logos.

Artist Greg Harrison's design skills began to become more bold and ornate, as evidenced by Gilles Meloche's Cleveland Barons "Coat of Arms" mask, Gary Simmons "Cobra" mask and Gary Bromley's frightening "Skull" mask, but the peak of the goalie masks was reached with Harrison's mask for Gratton in 1976.

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Some say the mask is of a lion, including Harrison who designed the mask, but Gratton insists that it is a tiger. Either way, it was years ahead of it's time for 1976 and influenced many subsequent mask designs, such as Andy Moog's Bruins "Bear" mask, Curtis Joseph's "Cujo" mask and Brian Hayward's "Shark" mask. It was so revolutionary, so striking and so unlike anything else that had come before in it's realism that it even made Time Magazine on it's debut.

It's also one of the last of it's kind, as in 1977 Dave Dryden came to Harrison with the idea for the hybrid mask, a mask with a large facial opening covered by the wires from a cage. The combo mask would be perfected by 1979 and quickly became the standard, altering the canvas for mask painting forever by forcing the artists to work around the now gaping hole in the center.

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Here is a nice documentary video on players from the WHA, which begins with Gratton and goes on to discuss many other players of the WHA, including of course the players who were the inspiration of the Hanson Brothers of the movie Slap Shot.


Bonus Jersey: You just knew that somehow, someway we were going to find an excuse to post a jersey today.

Today's Bonus Jersey is a 1974 Team Canada Gilles Gratton jersey from the second Summit Series between the WHA All-Stars and the Soviet National Team.

Similar to 1972 when Team Canada's jerseys all read "CANADA" on the back where you would normally find the player's name, in 1974, since players in the WHA were now being signed from Sweden and other European countries in addition to the Canadians and Americans, the jerseys for the WHA All-Stars in 1974 all had "INTERNATIONAL" across the back.

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