Good morning, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page, from St Patrick's Anglican church. Our daily radio devotionals this month, sponsored by the Hudson Bay Ministerial, take our images from the world of sports. Now, the world of team sports is full of images, things like drawings and logos and letter combinations that represent and symbolize a team. Things like the warrior head that the Chicago Black Hawks wear on their chests, or the S among grains of wheat for the Roughriders.
Hockey has a unique canvas for individual artistic expression through images. I'm thinking of the goalie masks. Almost every goalie in the league has a colourful and creative image on their mask, something that blends their team colours and logo with their own personalities or nicknames. There is nothing quite like it in any other team sport, is there? I mean, in football, the helmets all look alike, same as the hats in baseball.
Jacques Plante is credited with pioneering the hockey goalie mask. All through the early days of hockey, goalies generally played a stand-up style, and wore no protective gear on their faces. The pucks were just as hard then as they are now, so standing in net to block the puck, while wearing no protective mask, took either great courage or great foolishness, depending on your point of view.
Well, one day in November, 1959, in a game against the New York Rangers, Jacques Plante took yet another shot off the face. The puck broke the nose of the Canadiens's goalie, and he went to the dressing room for stitches. While there, he dug out his practice mask. See, Plante had been wearing a mask in practices since 1956, but Canadiens coach Toe Blake would not allow it during a game.
It was a crude, homemade fibreglass mask. Google it if you'd like to get a look at it. Well, coach Blake gave Plante a dirty look, but the goalie refused to go back on the ice without it. And for whatever reason, their backup goalie was not available that night. Plante promised the coach that he would only wear the mask until his nose healed.
But then a funny thing happened. Montreal won that game. And the next. And the next. Their unbeaten streak stretched to 18 games. This was a very good Canadiens team, that had won the past 4 straight Stanley Cups, and would win a record 5th straight at the end of this season. But even for them, this was a remarkable unbeaten stretch. When coach Blake insisted that Plante not wear the mask, they lost 3-0 to Detroit. To no one's surprise, the mask came back for the next game, and stayed ever after.
A puck in the face was a very real concern for goalies back then. I think of Bruins' goalie Gerry Cheevers, who famously added stitch marks to his mask every time a puck hit him in the face. He figured, he would have needed stitches without the mask, so why not add them to the mask. If you are not familiar with Gerry Cheevers' mask, you definitely need to Google it!
The masks serve an important purpose: they protect the goalies from potentially serious injury. You know, we, too, sometimes wear masks. Maybe not a literal fibreglass covering for our faces, but we put on imaginary masks when we deal with other people. Maybe we want to hide who we really are, what we're really like, what we really think. Masks help us disguise ourselves, so that no one can see the real me. That's a problem, isn't it? But God is not fooled. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”(1Sam16:7)
God, who sees through our masks, who knows our hearts, who sees us as we really are, wants us to be open and honest and even vulnerable. With God. With ourselves. And with each other. That's part of what it means to “love our neighbours as ourselves (Mt22.39)” - Being open, and truly caring for them carries the risk of some pain, a metaphorical puck to the face. That's partly why Jesus places so much emphasis on forgiveness. When we take off our masks, we might get hurt. But with God's help and with the love and forgiveness of Christ, we can share our lives with one another in the true and close fellowship that God created us to have. For St Patrick's Church, I'm the Rev'd Steven Page.