Hockey helmet

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Bauer ice hockey helmet with shield

A hockey helmet is worn by players of ice hockey and inline hockey to help protect the head from potential injury when hit by the puck, sticks, skates, boards, other players, or the ice.


Hockey helmets grip the head from inside by cupping the back of head, or the occipital protuberance. Helmet manufacturers will have a chart that relates their helmet sizes to head measurements.

Most helmets have tool-free adjustments, but on older models, the helmet size is adjusted by loosening the screws on the side to slide the front portion forward or back.

The shell of a hockey helmet is generally made of a substance called vinyl nitrile that disperses force from the point of contact, while the liner may be made of either vinyl nitrile foam, expanded polypropylene foam, or other material to absorb the energy, to reduce the chances of concussion.[1]

Helmets in the National Hockey League[edit]

Former Dallas Stars forward James Neal wearing a helmet and visor (March 2009)

In August 1979, then president of the National Hockey League (NHL), John Ziegler, announced that protective helmets would become mandatory in the NHL. "The introduction of the helmet rule will be an additional safety factor," he said. The only exception to the rule are players—after signing a waiver form—who signed professional contracts prior to June 1, 1979. Essentially, this grandfather clause allowed established NHL players to choose whether or not they wanted to wear helmets but forced all new players to wear them.

The first player to regularly wear a helmet for protective purposes was George Owen, who played for the Boston Bruins in 1928–29. The last player to play without a helmet was Craig MacTavish who played his final game during the 1996–97 season for the St. Louis Blues. In 1927, Barney Stanley presented a prototype of a helmet at the NHL's annual meeting. It was quickly rejected. Other than George Owen a year later, the helmet didn't appear again until after the infamous Ace Bailey–Eddie Shore incident on December 12, 1933, as a result of which Bailey almost died and Shore suffered a severe head injury. After that, Art Ross engineered a new helmet design and when the Boston Bruins took to the ice in a game against the Ottawa Senators, most of the players donned the new helmet. The next game, though, most of the Bruin players didn't wear it. Eddie Shore was one of the players who did wear it, though. Shore would wear a helmet for the rest of his career.

In the 1930s, the Toronto Maple Leaf players were ordered to add helmets to their equipment. A few minutes into the first game with the new helmets, King Clancy flung his helmet off. The fans, media, and other players berated players who did wear helmets. A few players, such as Des Smith, Bill Mosienko, Dit Clapper, and Don Gallinger all ignored the stigma and donned helmets. Even Maurice "Rocket" Richard and Elmer Lach briefly wore helmets. Jack Crawford wore a helmet to hide his bald head and Charlie Burns and Ted Green wore them to protect the metal plates in their heads. Paul Henderson famously put on a helmet in the 1972 Summit Series after being hit in the head. All of the Russians in that series wore helmets. Helmets did not have the same stigma in European leagues that they did in North American leagues.

It was not until the death of Bill Masterton that the stigma started to change.[2] On January 13, 1968 in a game between the Minnesota North Stars and Oakland Seals, two Seals' players, Larry Cahan and Ron Harris, hit Masterton, sending him flying. Masterton's head hit the ice hard. With blood running from his nose and ears, he was rushed to the hospital. Four doctors worked for 30 hours to try to save him, but were unsuccessful as he died of "massive brain injury". Eleven years later, the NHL mandated the use of helmets. By that time, 70% of players were already wearing them.[3]

Visors and shields[edit]

A visor or shield in ice hockey is a device attached to the front of a helmet to reduce potential of injury to the face. Visors cover the upper half of the face, while full face shields cover the entire face. A series of eye injuries, most notably that to Bruce Fogarty, have led to a call from many to enforce their wearing. As of 2009, 60% of NHL players wear visors.[4] Many other leagues around the world mandate the use of visors. Visors and shields, made of a high impact-resistant plastic, offer better overall vision than the wire cages available, which can obscure vision in certain areas. The face shield provides excellent straight ahead and peripheral vision, but does not provide as good air flow as a cage.

The American Hockey League, the top minor league in North America required all players to wear shields prior to the start of the 2006–07 season. The NHL "strongly recommends" the use of visors. The National Hockey League mandated visors in 2013, with an exception for players having 25 games experience.[5]

The first player to wear a shield was Ronald Fogarty in 1973, after he had lost his left eye due to an opponent's high stick.[6]

Full facial protection[edit]

Two NCAA players wearing helmets with full cages.

A cage in ice hockey is a device attached to the front of a helmet to reduce potential of injury to the face. It consists of a metal or composite mesh that covers the entire face, although some half cages do exist (to protect the eyes while allowing full airflow). The bars, or cage, are spaced far enough apart to allow seeing through to the action but are close enough to stop pucks and sticks from getting through to injure the face.

Some manufacturers now offer the best of both designs—a plastic face shield to protect the eyes and upper part of the face, and a cage to cover the lower jaw and to add ventilation. Full facial protection is mandatory in many amateur leagues and in North America, full face cages, full shields, or shield & cage combination are mandatory in high school hockey, college hockey, and for all players under the age of 18.

Facial protection research[edit]

In 2002, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study identifying the protection offered against concussions between the half-face shield and the full face shield.[7] The use of a full face shield compared with half face shield significantly reduced the playing time lost because of concussion, suggesting that concussion severity may be reduced by the use of a full face shield.



  1. ^ "The effects of impact management material in ice hockey helmets on head injury criteria". Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part P: Journal of Sports Engineering and Technology 223 (4): 159–65. 2009. doi:10.1243/17543371JSET36. ISSN 1754-3371. 
  2. ^ "Helmet Wins New Friends"; in The Vancouver Sun; January 17, 1968; p. 19
  3. ^ "N.H.L. Rules New Players Now Must Wear Helmets"; in New York Times; August 6, 1979
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hybrid icing tops list of rule changes for 2013-14. Retrieved September 30, 2013.
  6. ^ Jim Jamieson (2011-04-09). "Visors should be mandatory in the NHL, says Greg Neeld — and he should know". Vancouver Province. Retrieved 2011-05-16. 
  7. ^