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23 Intently Staring Goalies

DIPietro’s injury: How can we avoid these in the future?

Who had "concussion" and "before first regular season start" in the DiPietro pool? Di Pietro is down for the count just over a week into the regular season. Two items that caught my eye—that DiPietro is 30 (has it been that long?) and that he’s the last one standing, with Osgood’s retirement, wearing the older style "cage and helmet" mask. 


Here’s what the New York Times had to say about DiPietro’s concussion:

Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro sustained a concussion in practice this week and is out indefinitely, the team said Friday.

DiPietro was hurt Wednesday at Nassau Coliseum when a hard slap shot by his teammate Brian Rolston struck his helmet, near his temple, cracking the headgear. He fell to the ice and stayed there for about 15 seconds before heading to the training room. He underwent baseline neurological testing Thursday.


I’m really rather surprised that the NHL hadn’t "grandfathered" out the use of this mask style—yes, they were a good upgrade to the Fiberglas/plastic polycarbonate masks of the 70’s through early 80’s, but the full face masks in use today are a superior product.

Now, what would be interesting is to provide a way for DiPietro to have the padding inside his mask more easily replaceable, so he wouldn’t have run into the initial problem—that his face was swollen and tender after being in the fight with Brent Johnson. That’s when he switched to the cage and helmet. A foam with a different core density that could have lifted away from the pressure points might have made a different there.

(warning! engineering type stuff to follow!)

The problem is, foam isn’t foam isn’t foam. The stuff that keeps your new computer from getting munched in transshipment might turn to mush underneath a mask. And there are open and closed cell foams that would provide the structural integrity but are caustic as all get out when they get damp.


I was reading "Ron Santo: A Perfect 10" last month. One of the pieces was from the prosthetics maker who provided for artificial legs for Santo, post-amputation. One of the issues with prosthetics is that the part where they attach undergoes a lot of structural changes post-surgery. This can cause rubbing and pain. The new prosthetics avoided this issue with a new foam technology that molded better to the leg, while providing support.

Walking on a prosthetic leg doesn’t equal the force of a flying puck, but it’s a good approximation. It would be interesting to see if this technology could be adapted to goalie masks—it could save future goalies from shock injuries, and keep them in their masks.

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George Malik's avatar

It’s highly likely that DiPietro was using a composite version of the old SK 2000 instead of a 20-to-30-year-old mask off the shelf with stiff VN foam, and I would guess that that’s the reason the mask failed—the composite helmets sometimes fail when taking an impact like that—but it’s the shot placement, a hit to the temple, that tells the tale.

Whether goalies are wearing helmet-cage combos like the Osgood Cooper SK2000/Bauer HM30 model or Hasek SK2000/HM50, Tim Thomas’s “mage” or more common masks, goalies who take shots to the temple and other areas where the mask offers a flat blocking surface to the puck and is close to the face (like the jawline parallel to molars and the middle of the forehead), whether it’s by a puck or an elbow, they tend to suffer concussions.

The temple of a goalie mask will yield “ringers” where goalies say that the mask as well as their ears ring after taking shots off the sides of their mask, and goalies wearing helmet-cage combos tend to suffer pressure cuts.

There are alternatives to the closed-cell VN (vinyl nitrile) foam that some Bauer and Vaughn masks use, offering three or four different kinds of foam and gel inserts (Phil Maltese was the first goalie equipment guy to offer gel padding for masks) in those high-contact areas on the chin, forehead and temples, and more often than not, the best masks in terms of all-round protection and absorbing impacts on flat spots and areas tight to the face are either a little heavier or use more than just graphite—Fiberglas and especially the old impact absorption standard, Kevlar, are designed to dissipate energy—but some goalies are like the players who want to use sticks made of pure graphite for lightness’ sake because those sticks will snap like twigs when slashed (Sergei Fedorov was notorious for those kinds of sticks)....

And when it comes to lightness and tighness, pro goalies in particular are big offenders when it comes to wanting the lightest mask whose padding is as thin and close to their faces as possible for better sight lines.

Just as players are no longer allowed to shave down the foam on their helmets, it might be wise for the NHL to impose some restrictions on the thickness of foam on goalie masks, and as no mask with a cateye cage meets CSA, HECC or CA certification standards, it’s up to the mask manufacturer to decide whether to test a mask’s strength to take a puck and not break. The NHL could ask mask-makers to test their masks to a particular standard of impact absorption as well, or even go to the unpopular step of banning masks that only have VN foam…

But I’m not sure that goalies will ever be fully protected from shot-to-the-temple concussions as long as they’re going to keep going to the lightest and tightest mask they can wear, or, in DiPietro’s case, the helmet-cage combo of their choice.

I find it somewhat ironic that only one mask had a reputation of being all but bulletproof, the old Armadilla masks that John Vanbiesbrouck used to wear, which were extremely unpopular because they were big, heavy and blocky, and the helmet-cage versions of the old Jofa 390 bubble helmet that Teemu Selanne used to wear, mostly because the helmets were spherical, dispersing every impact across the entire surface of the helmet, and because the Jofa goalie combos almost always employed cages that covered goalies’ temples and clips that dispersed impacts when the cage was pushed back onto the mask.

Sorry for the essay but I’m one of those old goalies who plans on investing in an old Tommy Soderstrom cage for my Jofa 390 when I return to the crease. smile

Posted by George Malik from South Lyon, MI on 10/15/11 at 09:17 PM ET

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About 23 Intently Staring Goalies

23 Intently Staring Goalies comes from the 23 close-up photos of goalies that used to line the walls of my office.

On the good side, it kept down interruptions, but it also made sure I had to leave my trash outside my door if I wanted it picked up.

I've been watching and analyzing goaltenders for going on 40 years. Some of that was spent drawing goalies on my grade 8 math homework. Then it was taking my card decks and printouts to Indianapolis Racer games. Luckily, the Internet took off, and by 1991 I was half of the duo that would ultimately become the Plaidworks hockey mailing lists. I wrote "Handicapping the Goalies' for the San Jose Sharks mailing list, and took a lot of photos of goalies in action. I have around 5000 slides of mostly goaltenders in action from 1989 through 2001 from the WHL, IHL and NHL. Since I've gone digital, I've added about 10,000 more images to the library. During summers and when the league went dark, I was reading through multiple SF By area news papers, tracking ice hockey from the 1917 recreational leagues up through the California Seals.

We'll be talking about goalies and goaltending. We'll talk about whats going on now, who's in the system, and when the doldrums hit, I'll haul something out of the big bag of history, or something from the photo archives. We'll talk about who's hot and why, and who's not and what they can do to get back on track. We'll take a look at the trends in scouting goalies, and why a style may work for one team but not another. I'll battle with my dictation software to get it to understand Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky.

It should be interesting--hope you want to come along for the ride!