The first time an ice hockey goaltender fashioned a mask for protection came in the late 1920s, although there is debate exactly who was first. The Hockey Hall of Fame in Canada supports the notion it was a North American playing in Switzerland who wore a baseball catcher’s mask to set a new standard. There is also, however, a photograph of female Elizabeth Graham employing a fencer’s mask for Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontrario, circa February 1927.
Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons was the first goalie to appear in the National Hockey League wearing a customized mask with his return to action on February 22, 1930. Six weeks earlier, Benedict, after dropping to his knees during a game, had had his nose and checkbone broken by a fierce shot from Montreal Canadiens superstar Howie Morenz.
Benedict’s mask was made of leather - reinforced by wire inside – and covered his forehead, nose and mouth but, obviously, not his eyes.
The protruding piece on the mask protecting the netminder’s nose obstructed Benedict’s vision, however, and so it was scrapped in short order.
Soon enough, a mask for Benedict became a moot point. On March 4, 1930, the goaltender was again struck by a hard shot from the Canadiens’ Morenz, this time in the neck. And with that, Benedict was effectively persuaded to put away his pads for good.