Buyer’s Guide: Picking the Right Goal Mask

Buyer’s Guide: Picking the Right Goal Mask

To this day, goalies are often labeled as “weird” and “crazy”, but I mean why not?  After all, we are the ones willingly standing in front of galvanized rubber disks traveling at speeds often faster than that of a car.  It seems as though these labels stem from the “old days” of goalies wearing no masks or even a simple wire shield around their face.  Yes, even I, a goalie of 15 years, would label them as crazy.

Andy Brown

Andy Brown, here shown with the Pittsburgh Penguins, was the last goalie to play in the NHL without a mask when he played against the Calgary Flames on April 7, 1974.

 

However, as with all hockey and goalie equipment in general, goalie masks have taken leaps and bounds to be not only better fitting, but more protective for today’s fast-paced game.  So with that, I still get the comment: “Why do you chose to be a goalie and get hit with pucks? You’re crazy!”  My answer is simple: “The players are the crazy ones, trying to block shots! I’m the one with all the pads on!”

Martin Jones Mask

The modern ‘combo mask’ (Shell with metal cage) has revolutionized the game, keeping goalies safe at all levels of play.

 

But in all seriousness, this protection can only be successful is a goalie is equipped with the proper gear.  Far too often I walk through the rink, checking out the goalies on the ice before my game and see either improperly fitting masks, to the extent of them no longer protecting as they should or lower end masks being used at higher levels of play.

So with this blog I would like to first outline some of the proper fitting techniques and what you should look for when choosing a mask, taking into consideration the style of mask, construction, and your level of play.

Here is our GoalieMonkey.com Mask Buyer’s Guide.

The most important part of a mask protecting a goalie’s head is the fit.  Without proper fit, the protection of a high end mask could be significantly diminished, resulting in a greater chance for injury.

Now, as it may be, many goalies don’t have the opportunity to visit one of our GoalieMonkey Superstores and try on masks themselves.  As a result, they are left with measurement guides online, which often don’t tell the whole story.  Most goalies will receive a mask and immediately begin playing in it, without any adjustment.  It is a very rare occasion that I see a mask off the shelf fit a customer perfectly without adjustment.

The harness should be tightened snugly, so that the mask does not shift upon impact.  A good test of this is to grab the cage and while holding the head still, try to turn the mask to the left and right, as well as upward and downward.  If the mask stays in position and tries to move the head with it, it is fitting properly.  Similarly, the chin cup should be tightened snugly against the chin, leaving no room for movement.

Loose mask

An easy test for a proper fitting mask: Holding the head still while grabbing the cage and shifting it in various directions. A properly fitting mask will not shift on a goalie’s head.

 

Additionally, this adjustment will go hand-in-hand with visual indicators as well.  A properly fitting mask will be snug and the foam will be pressed up along the cheeks all along the window opening.  A gap is a good indication of the mask either a) not being tightened enough, or b) too big of a mask.  There should not be a gap in between the backplate and the shell.  This could leave the risk of a stick making contact with the goalie’s head and indicates a mask that is too small.

Good Mask

A good visual indicator of a properly fitting mask is a snug fit around the window opening with the foam pressed gently along the cheeks.

 

Improper Backplate

Visual indicators such as a gap in the backplate show that a mask is too small or not tightned enough.

 

 

Adjustments

Upon receiving a mask, all five harness points should be properly tightened along with the chin cup adjustment (which will vary in style from model to model).

Similarly, a goalie that is wearing a mask that is too small or too narrow can leave a gap in between the front of the forehead and the sweatband.  This is a result of the shell pinching the temple area, not allowing the face to sit properly in the mask.

A properly fitting mask will generally sit right at or slightly above the goalie’s eyebrows with clear vision straight ahead through the cage.  Some goalies will often be seen wearing the mask too far up on their head, leaving the neck exposed and compromising many of the design features that make a mask protective in the first place.

Jake Patterson Improper Mask

A mask sitting too far above the goalie’s eyebrows can leave the neck exposed and compromise the protective design features of the mask.

Got it? Good.  Proper fitting mask is the key to being protected out on the ice.  But mask construction also comes into play, after all, there must be a difference between a $150 mask and an $850 mask, right?

Yes, absolutely. Let’s take a closer look.

We can first break masks down into two major categories: polycarbonate and composite.

Polycarbonate masks will make up your lower end models, generally from the $120 to $300 price points. These are made out of a plastic, aka, polycarbonate shell and while durable, they tend to flex upon impact.  The idea behind mask protection is that a mask take the majority of the impact and disperse it away from the goalie’s head.  As polycarbonate shell masks are not as rigid as their composite counterparts, more of the energy tends to be directed towards the goalie’s head, thus increasing the risk for injury at higher levels of play, compared to composite masks.

Within the polycarbonate shell category, different models will feature unique combinations of foam styles, each designed to absorb energy in a particular manner.  Higher end masks within this category will also often feature dual or even triple density foams to make up for the more flexible shell.

CCM 7000 and Bauer NME3

The CCM 7000 (left) and Bauer NME3 (right) are two polycarbonate masks at the entry-level price point.

 

With polycarbonate masks, we like to recommend these suitable for lower level youth ice hockey and low to mid-level inline hockey.  They are great beginner masks however should be upgraded once the goalie starts to see intermediate and advanced level shots.

Composite masks open a whole new world in terms of construction.  With the introduction of composite materials into masks, companies have pushed the limits in weight and protection within goal masks.

Generally, masks will begin with a base of fiberglass and employ either polyester or epoxy resin.  This creates substantial thickness to the shell while providing good stiffness (protection) and durability properties.  From there, manufacturers often add more exotic materials such as aramid (Kevlar) fiber and carbon fiber to the fiberglass base to create the ideal ratio of stiffness, durability, and protection.

NME and CCM Pro

The CCM Pro (left) and the Bauer NME10 (right) are two masks at the high-end price point. The CCM Pro is constructed of a full fiberglass shell with a full layer of aramid fiber throughout. The NME 10 features a fiberglass base with a 12k carbon fiber outer layer for added stiffness and strength.

Being that these materials are much more expensive than fiberglass, within the composite mask price points (~$350-$850+) lower end masks will feature mostly fiberglass construction (such as the CCM 9000) and as we work our way to the higher end masks, they will begin to receive aramid and/or carbon fiber reinforcement.  A good example of these differences can be seen throughout the Profile series of masks from Bauer.  The Bauer 940, priced at $350 will feature full fiberglass construction and moving up to the 950 at $550, aramid fiber reinforcements will be added to the high impact areas of the forehead and chin.  Lastly, the pro model Bauer 960 ($850) will feature fiberglass construction with a full layer of aramid fiber throughout the shell.

Materials

Three major materials used in goalie masks: On the left, most masks generally begin with a fiberglass base and can be reinforced with a combination of carbon fiber (middle) and/or aramid fiber (right) to create the ideal balance of protection, weight, and cost.

 

Aramid fiber is heralded for its good strength properties and exceptional durability while remaining relatively lightweight.  On the other hand, carbon fiber exhibits unsurpassed stiffness properties, yet is brittle under extreme loads.  Due to these contrasting materials, manufacturers have each developed their own mask ‘recipe’ that exhibits the most ideal properties when laying these materials together in certain formation.

For the most part, foam choice within a mask model will be purely based off comfort level, as all types of foam are seen across the different price points.  No one type of foam corresponds to a low end mask and vice versa.  It can be seen however that some higher end masks will include gel pads or comfort foam areas to help improve overall fit.

The last thing I would like to touch on is the differences between certified, certified cateye, and pro cateye cage styles.  There is often misconceptions of which can be used at different levels of play.

The main point to take away is that the choice is at the discretion of the league in which you are playing in.  Goal masks with certified straight (straight-bar) and certified cateye masks will come from the factory with HECC and CSA certification stickers.  Pro cateye masks, while often the same shell, are not certified due to the dimensions of the cage.  These stickers MUST come from the factory and cannot be purchased or obtained separately. Purchasing a non-certified mask and mounting a certified cage on it, while likely the same makeup as the equivalent certified mask, still does not constitute a certified mask as it did not come from the factory with certification stickers.

Cage Styles

Certified straight (left), Certified Cat-Eye (middle) and Pro Cat-Eye (right) style cages.

 

It all comes down to measurements of the cage.  While labeled as “non-certified”, pro cateye cages simply do not meet the measurement requirements of HECC and CSA certifications.  A puck CANNOT fit through the cage, but in some instances a stick blade can.  As you see nearly every NHL goalie wearing this style, the benefit is improved sight lines over a certified cage.

HECC CSA

HECC and CSA certification stickers

 

Please refer to your rink or league director for more information on which styles of cages are permitted in your league.  And take a look at our extensive selection of replacement cages here.

While often a glorified piece of equipment with flashy paintjobs and bright colors, the sole purpose of a mask is to keep your most important body part protected, allowing you to safely return home at the end of the day.  It is important to know the different options when purchasing a mask as the choices can often become confusing an overwhelming.  Be sure to conduct proper research on type, fit, construction and all the other factors when purchasing a new goalie mask.

If you feel like there is something we missed here or simply have a question on purchasing a mask, please comment below and we will address it!


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