CBC’s Glenn Healy slams mask makers and NHL goalie safety
Concussions have dominated the National Hockey League news cycle all season, so it was only a matter of time before the talk turned to goaltenders taking 100-mile-on-hour slap shots off the noggin became a talking point in the mainstream media.
That’s exactly what happened on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast of Thursday’s game between Ottawa and Montreal, when ex-NHL goaltender Glenn Healy teed off on a couple of mask makers during the After 40 Minutes segment between the second and third periods.
The debate opens with the topic of Ryan Miller’s current injury and the possibility it may be concussion related. The CBC talking heads, led by another ex-goalie in Kelly Hrudey, fully admitted such talk was speculative given reports out of Buffalo now indicate he’s out with a collarbone injury, and they certainly aren’t the only ones guilty of engaging in it. According to two sources, the Sabres have asked for more information about Miller’s mask and independent testing done on it (more on that below), furthering talk of concerns about a possible head injury.
Despite the uncertainty, however, Healy went on about Miller’s mask, which is made by long-time builder Gary Warwick of Warwick Masks:
“Here’s what I do know, and I’m going to get on my mask soapbox. I do know that Miller got hit in the head in Chicago. I do know that he didn’t look right. And I also do know that he has one of the worst masks in the NHL. It’s poorly constructed. He takes a risk every practice, every game. Goalie masks are not taken and tested by the NHL. Player helmets are, but not goalie masks. This hits me in the heart, because I had one of my friends Mike Richter, March 27 2002 … a shot fractured his skull. Mike had a crappy mask too; I told him when I played with him, ‘Get a better mask.’ This was it, career over…”
Healy is correct when he says the NHL doesn’t test goalie masks, an oversight that also involves a visor-like, freedom-of-choice resistance from the Players’ Association he used to work for, and an issue InGoal Magazine will soon expand on in a feature story. But that doesn’t mean Warwick masks, worn by Ed Belfour, Marty Turco and several other NHL goalies, don’t get tested at all.
Tony Calabro, whose company, OTNY Enterprise LTD, supplies the wire cages for Warwick, Eddy Masks, Sportmask and Bauer, does his own testing of both the masks and the cages using a puck cannon he built himself.
“I get it calibrated every year,” Calabro told InGoal Magazine. “I like to know what I’m making and I do tests to know where I stand. I feel comfortable when I go to bed, let’s put it that way. If I didn’t test, I’d always be wondering. I don’t have to wonder any more. Warwick brought me a helmet once and it was so light I thought to myself ‘wow this thing is light, it can’t be very strong.’ But darn it, I couldn’t break it.”
Warwick has posted video samples of testing by another company (Editor’s note: in the interest of full disclosure, InGoal ran a mask giveaway contest in partnership with Warwick Masks last year):
If Healy’s point is the NHL and NHLPA need to do more testing, it’s well taken. But he may have picked a bad example given how quickly past users of Warwick masks defended the product.
“I have worn the Warwick mask the better part of 15 years and never suffered any head injuries,” Ed Belfour wrote in an email to InGoal Magazine on Friday morning. “The mask was much lighter on the head and took strain off the neck. My son (Dayn) also has worn it for 10 years and has had good luck with it.”
According to Gary Warwick, Miller has already ordered a new mask for the playoffs.
“Ryan Miller is not blaming the mask for his problem,” Warwick said. “Ryan took five big shots to the head in three games. I talked to Ryan Miller today and he is very supportive of me and the masks. He said that he had many shots to the head from some of the hardest shooters in the NHL. I have made him a new mask and it will be ready for playoffs.”
Warwick masks are also no longer certified by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council, the governing body in the United States. As the recall notice on the HECC website notes that was because of counterfeit stickers, not failed tests, though it does mean they no longer test Warwick masks.
“Decertification had nothing to do with safety or any injuries that I am aware of,” Warwick added late Friday afternoon. “I choose not to have my masks retested ever year and not to make small ,medium and large masks. Most of my masks are made in the large size and padded to fit the goalies to their specific size. This is the safest and best method and the way my goalies want the mask to be made. I was HECC tested and passed all of their tests with no problems. I had to have my back pad tested twice to get the HECC approval. I have all of my papers to prove what I am writing to you. Some people have been given the incorrect information on my masks. They are the best that can be made and I know they will stand up to any test that all of the other masks will undergo.”
Healy also brought up Jonas Hiller’s current injury, diagnosed insistently by the Ducks as vertigo, and suggested his mask, made by by Alec Voggel of Airxess, was a problem:
“Let’s take a look at Hiller. He gets his mask made by a guy in Switzerland in his basement. Say what you want, he played two games after this [getting hit in the head at the All Star game in February] and then didn’t play for a month. Some of the masks are good, some of them you’ve got great quality, some of them aren’t, some of them you get cut like a stuck pig (as he spoke CBC ran a clip of Anaheim’s Curtis McElhinney, who also wears a Warwick mask, suffering a pressure cut from a shot high, hard shot that caught him flush through a screen).
They (the NHL) don’t look at these goalie masks, it’s time to buckle down and pay attention, because if Miller goes down with a concussion it’s major dollars…
Again, Healy’s last point is valid, and both the league and the player’s union needs to address it. (InGoal will soon in another article). But without following up with Voggel or his mask maker, it may not have been fair.
“Fact is Hiller is not injured. He has a health problem, vertigo,” Voggel wrote from Switzerland. “Working in a basement is ridiculous. We have our proper shop, and we worked with a company in Switzerland that did digital measurements of Hiller’s head scan data from a CT machine. His mask has three layers of carbon, four layers carbon kevlar used in an exact way that the crossing of the woven layers are perfectly matched. Reinforcements on the forehead and chin area distribute the force acting on the mask evenly. These parts have up to 14 layers at the end. A helmet in Formula1 has up to 19 layers, and is made the same way.”
At least Healy admitted the poor quality of the Cooper helmet-cage combination he wore in his playing days (ironically there was no mention of Rick Dipietro going back to a similarly unsafe set up with the New York Islanders recently), which ended in 2001:
“I’m not one to talk,” Healy admitted. “I wore the worst bucket in the league.”
~ Please feel add your comments below, and look for a complete examination of the mask testing issue in Monday’s FREE weekly InGoal Magazine newsletter.
~ with files from InGoal Managing Editor Kevin Woodley