Gérald Rigolet in the Pool B final of the World Championships on 13 March 1971. Photo: Swiss national museum / ASL photo agency

In the line of fire

Swiss goaltender Gérald Rigolet wrote ice hockey history in 1971 when he played out the Pool B final without a mask.

In 1971, Switzerland won the final of the World Ice Hockey Championships. Admittedly, it was the Pool B final – the top six nations play in Pool A. But on this day, 13 March 1971, Swiss ice hockey was turned on its head. It was a one-sided game; the opponent, the team from the GDR, was vastly superior, yet Switzerland won 3:1. The victory was down to the goalie, Gérald Rigolet. He parried 68 shots. In the dying minutes of the game, he lost his helmet after a clash with an opposing forward. But Rigolet didn’t give up; he played on without any head protection. With his face bleeding, he kept his net clean until the final horn sounded. In these final minutes before the triumphant victory a photo was taken that immortalised Rigolet in the ice hockey world and which is now part of the Swiss National Museum’s collection. Rigolet was named in the All-Star Team of the tournament, and in the dressing room he was congratulated by Federal Councillors Ernst Brugger and Ludwig von Moos.

Jacques Plante’s first goalie mask. Photo: Michael Pick

The long road to the goalie mask

Gérald Rigolet would have been wearing face protection had he not lost it during the game. In Rigolet’s era, masks had only been commonplace for a few years. Goalie masks similar to those of today were not around until the 1980s. Fibreglass masks that sat directly on the goaltender’s face were introduced in the 1960s. This made injuries unlikely, but even with this a puck to the face at 100 kmph was not exactly pleasant. At first, masks were taboo and were only allowed in training, if at all. The first goaltender to wear face protection regularly was Canadian Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens. Due to a facial injury, he also wore the protection during a championship game in November 1959. He was called a wimp in Montreal for doing so. However, the fact that he also won the game with the mask on appeased the superstitious hockey fans, and Plante wore the face protection in every game after that. Other goalies followed his example. The last goaltender to play in the NHL without a mask was Andy Brown of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even in his last game on 7 April 1974, the Canadian stood between the posts without any face protection.

The Evolution of Goalie Masks | Sports Illustrated

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Alexander Rechsteiner
Works at the PR department of the Swiss national museum and holds an M A in modern English literature and political science.

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