Know your mask cages! The following are some typical, and atypical mask cages and their design purposes:
The certified straight bar cage:
Certification implies that no puck, stick blade or butt end can make it through the cage to your eyes. Most mask makers put their own distinctive spin on the classic straight bar, in an attempt to maximize sight lines, even though there is always some impediment on direct line sight with this style. Due to certification, this is the overwhelming type of cage used in any level of the game that requires it (anything college & below, for the most part).
the certified cat eye cage:
In an attempt to gain a clear front line of sight while maintaining certification, mask makers created the certified cat eye cage. Of course, a result of this is poor peripheral sight lines. Because most developing goalies are used to the certified straight bar, this cage style isn't used too much. Although Eddy masks do have their own certified cat eye that tries to hybridize straight bar elements with the cat eye cage to try and take advantage of the strengths of each cage type while attempting to minimize their drawbacks. Never used one, so I'm not sure how successful it is. This is what it looks like:
It's hard to even find a picture of the certified cat eye in action, mostly just beer leaguers using this style, like this guy:
now on to the non certified cages
The pro cat eye-cage:
By sacrificing protection (a stick blade can get through, a butt end definitely could get through, and a puck needs to be a perfect shot to make it in, not that that hasn't happened) this design is overwhelmingly used at higher levels of competition because of its clear direct line of sight. Peripheral sight is still a bit compromised, but most goalies don't think it is enough of a difference to worry about. Note the nice sight line in the pics below:
remember what i said about pucks needing to be a damn near perfect shot to get through? It happens, just ask Eddie:
The non certified straight bar cage, aka the cheater cage:
Remember how I said most goalies don't mind the peripheral sight lines from the cat eye cage? Yeah, well Tim Thomas isn't most goalies. He felt like he was losing some pucks on his peripheral vision, so he opted for the cheater cage:
Front sight lines are clear...
And peripheral sight lines are pretty darn good too:
Of course, he isn't protected any more from an errant stick or puck just like any of the other non certified designs.
And then you have a guy like Marco Streit and you just get all sorts of creative:
It looks like maybe a butt end could get in there, but otherwise this design seems all but certified.
Marco's dad hand machines these cages and before you continue laughing, this cage is actually structurally stronger than any of the previous cages we have seen. Why? Being machined out of a single piece of metal, this cage design does not rely on any welds to stay strong. I can only speculate on the sight lines. Not that you are going to see its widespread use in the NHL any time soon, tho.
Now for the old school stuff.
Back in the day, as we all know, masks weren't even mandated. You'd be surprised to learn one of the earliest forms of mask was the Louch mask, which was basically a clear plastic wrap. Here is Delbert Louch rocking the hell out of his handiwork:
Looking at that bad boy, all you can think of is, look at the sight lines! Alas, the Louch mask (only used for practice purposes, and not in a game) would fog up quicker than the windows at a brothel and suffered from light reflection. For real, tho, if your neurons fire about the possibilities this type of mask could have for modern goaltenders, just count how many times the equipment managers wipe down shields for forwards (who also benefit from constant ventilation while skating) and then think about how that would work for a mostly stationary goaltender (who is constantly on fire underneath all that equipment). Unless you can fit powered fans inside of your mask (possible) along with windshield wipers on the inside (probably possible, but not really feasible) then it ain't gonna work. And if you figure out how to make it work, I'll go 60-40 on it with you. Me 60 you 40.
Although not the first to don a mask, one day Jacques Plante took a shot off the face during a game, and would not step back onto the ice unless he could wear his practice mask (a pivotal moment in mask history). At the time, teams did not carry a backup goaltender, so his coach relented and graciously allowed him to wear a mask. Plante won the game, and continued to innovate mask technology. From his desire for adequate face protection, the glass fibre mask was born. This type of mask in its many permutations dominated usage in the league for many years, and went on to become a defining part of the goaltenders image. All those super cool face molded masks are its decendents.
The Plante fiberglass style mask (not his first mask, but probably his most popular):
for more info on Plante and the journey of the mask, check out this cool post from Habs eyes on the prize
An important thing to note about these old fiberglass masks is that they were pure face molds and didn't include much or any foam for additional energy displacement if you took a puck to the face. If you did have significant foam on these molded masks, you would lose peripheral vision, as it would raise the mask from your face and shorten those corner sight areas. To compensate for that, you would have to enlarge the open eye area, and that might as well leave your eye balls as vulnerable as not wearing a mask at all. These masks gave good protection against lacerations and extra protection against devastating shots to the face, although not near the level of protection we expect from today's masks. But wait a minute, we are talking about cages here not mask history.
Russian goaltending czar Vladislav Tretiak had rocked the helmet cage combo during many highly publicized international hockey events during this time:
But despite this, most nhl goalies stuck with the fiberglass mask.
Enter Bernie Parent (that guy in the Time cover page above). Wearing a molded mask, he took an errant stick to the eye, and his hall of fame career was over. This moved goalies toward the helmet cage combo. Before I get into this, I gotta throw a shout out to Tony O. for his experimentation with the molded mask/cage combo:
So enter the helmet cage combo with the straight bar cage:
and eventually leading to the cat eye set up:
Although you do have to contend with the wires in your sight lines, the helmet cage combo gives better face ventilation as well as superior direct shot protective qualities compared with the molded fiberglass mask. Although this is less so in comparison with the modern mask cage combo. Pucks tend to hit flatter against the helmet area in this set up, whereas the modern mask cage combo is a bit more glancing, as well as having weaker protection to the throat/neck area (Osgood is attempting to compensate for this with the dangler). The chin sling on this model also transmits more direct energy to the jaw on a cage shot.
From here, the mask cage combo took over, with its various cage styles. And I think we can all agree with Terry Sawchuck when we say that the eyes, cheek bones, teeth and faces of goalies today are better for it.