All Hockey Masks Have Downsides, but None are as Bad as Facial Surgery.Mar 27, 2004 (Updated Oct 5, 2005) Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in Sport and OutdoorThe Bottom Line Price and personal preference are most people's determining factors. The only bad choice is to not protect yourself at all.
Ah, the facemask, seventeen-year-old hockey players are counting the days until they no longer have to wear this infernal piece of equipment. Eighteen-year-old players who have taken a few stitches to the face are often running out to buy a new one. I wouldnt be on the ice without one myself. Most of us have seen at least one grisly replay of an NHL player having a jaw broken by a slapshot or nearly losing an eye to an errant stick. Brain Berrards exceptionally nauseating eye injury a couple years ago caused many a diehard NHL tough guy to start wearing a mask.
So why is there any facemask controversy at all? It goes beyond just looking cool. Every facemask has a downside. The goal of this article is to introduce you to the basic types of masks and shields and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of all of them.
The cage is the most basic type of facemask. As implied in the name, the cage is a wire grid unit that generally covers the entire face from forehead to chin. The cage is the longest lasting variety of facemask but also the one that most impairs the vision.
Cages come in three basic colors, black, white and chrome. While this might seem like a mere detail, the chrome has distinct advantages over black and white. Chrome tends to last a little longer. It is still intact when its counterparts are chipped and rusty. More importantly, the chrome cage is slightly less distracting. I actually found when switching between goalie helmets I was more likely to lose track of shots when using my black or white cages than with chrome. Other players have mentioned the same sentiment to me on cage color. Bauer recently introduced a gunmetal grey cage that seems like it might be even less obtrusive, but as it is very new to the market, durability is as yet undetermined.
One other option that might be a little helpful if you find the waffle grid in front of your eyes distracting is a cats-eye helmet cage. Itech makes a players cat-eye wire cage that many older players use. Unfortunately it is a non-certified cage so under eighteen year old players will not be able to use it in most leagues.
Wire cages are the least expensive option and still the most used in recreational hockey. A wire cage will cost about $20 and no more than $40.
The combo is a hybrid that uses a wire mask to cover from the bottom of the nose to the chin and a polycarbonate lens to offer unobstructed vision. There are a number of various options available in this configuration although Oakley and Itech dominate the market.
The safety level in polycarbonate is at least as high as that of a wire cage. Most lenses are made of Lexan, a high tech polycarbonate material that is virtually bullet proof. One manufacturers rep was telling me that testing included shooting a .38 at point blank range into the lens. Reportedly, the bullet made a huge dent and ruined the mask, but it never penetrated and the shield never broke. I am remaining slightly skeptical of his claim, but I have never seen a lexan shield break in hockey.
While safety is not an issue, there are certainly some downsides to a shield. Fogging is possibly the biggest problem. Several models have addressed this issue with anti-fog coatings, other lenses can be treated with AFR or Sports Crème to reduce fogging (both should be available at your hockey store). In fact, liquid hand soap works nicely in a pinch, just make sure that it is completely non-abrasive.
This brings me to the next problem with shields while the vision out of a shield is outstanding when they are new, improper cleaning and care as well as sticks and pucks to the face will cause scratching. Making sure to use only a soft optical cloth to wipe the lens is one of the most important things you can do to prolong the life of your shield. Most brands will come with an approved cloth. Paper towels are often abrasive enough to completely ruin a shield. Funny, they can stop a bullet, yet are vulnerable to paper.
Lastly, the price is prohibitive for many players. A combo shield will cost in the ballpark of $70. Some are a little cheaper, some a bit more expensive. The bottom line is that even if the price was the same as a wire mask, the shield will need to be replaced, at least once a year, probably more often. Check the prices of the replacement lenses when pricing a combo. They come separately and some are much cheaper than others are. It might be worth spending a few extra dollars initially if you will save it on replacements. A personal favorite is the Itech FX50. FX50 lenses are reasonably priced (available in one or two packs) and you dont need any tools to replace them.
The Full Shield
Made of polycarbonate, the full shield is a virtually impenetrable, clear alternative to a conventional cage. Itechs concept II is the only true full shield currently on the market. The Concept II has a ventilated top and bottom section formed from the same piece of polycarbonate as the lens. These can be used by players of all ages and are fairly inexpensive at about $35 to $40.
The downside to a full shield is that when it wears out, you have to replace the entire thing. With a combo you might be buying lenses for $20 or $30 each, you are dropping the $35 to $40 each time with the concept. Fogging and scratching is, of course, an issue just like with the combos.
Half shields offer protection to the eyes only and come in a variety of different designs. Under eighteen year old players would not be allowed to wear a half shield in most leagues (probably any leagues). Half shield have the same fogging and deterioration issues as the other polycarbonate shields and do not offer any protection to the chin, mouth and jaw. Some offer minimal protection to the nose. A half shield will cost $20 to $50.
Many shields, while offering a much clearer vision than a cage would, give little regard to optical characteristics. When holding one up to your face and looking out through the sides, this is often obvious. In a game this can be intensely annoying, somewhat like playing with your head in a goldfish bowl.
Itech and Oakley are the only manufacturers that are currently making optically correct facial shields. Further, they jointly agreed to share the Oakley trademark of the term Optically Correct in a weird act of corporate cooperation too complicated to understand without a law degree. All of Oakleys masks adhere to this standard. Itech makes some inexpensive shields that are not optically correct. Their Optech shields and some of their half masks are optically correct.
Most shields and cages will fit all of the major brands of helmets. Some might take a little extra work, but helmets are close to standardized for where the screws go. Some helmets older than five years might not work with new masks, but if your helmet is that old, its time for a new one anyway.
As far as sizing, the cage or shield size does not refer to what size helmet it will fit. A senior size small will actually fit any senior helmet be it small medium, or even extra large. Size on a mask actually refers to the length from the top of the mask to the chin. Since most shops will install a mask for free, it is a good idea to buy your mask and have it put on at the shop to make sure you have the right size. If you have an older helmet this could be well worth any slightly higher price as the screws are often rusted to the point of near impossible removal.
A Few Tips
A tip for making sure that those pesky helmet screws dont come loose, is to put a little lock-tite on all of them once you get home. Loosen the screws, put a drop on each backing, and then retighten. Just make sure to get the blue removable lock-tight. The other type is basically super glue and you will never get the screws back out.
If you buy a shield, get a helmet bag. Itech makes helmet bags that cost about $15. This will easily pay for itself by keeping your shield from getting scratched as it rubs against all the other stuff in your gear bag. Even a pillow case will offer a little protection if you dont feel like spending the money on a bag.
Dont panic if your shield fogs up when you sit down after a shift. As soon as you start moving again, the fog will lift. All it takes is a small amount of air moving over the shield to keep it fog free. Also, you might want to put a sweat band in your helmet. Some players (myself among them) have issues with sweat dripping on their shield. No amount of fog coating will fix that.
This is why goalies dont use visors. I retrofit a goalie helmet with a visor just to try it. In the first period of a game it was amazing how well I could see. By midway through the game it was fogging up and perspiration was dripping on it making it worse than a cage. I will say this, I looked cool . . . but then so do those guys with no mask at all, right up until someone accidentally hits them in the nose with a stick.
I wont tell you which type of mask to use. Thats a personal preference. But me, I wont go on the ice without one.
© Scott Noble Unauthorized use prohibited
Some of my other articles that you might find helpful:
Fitting and Selecting Hockey Protective Gear
General Buying Guide for Ice Hockey Skates
Hockey Stick Buying Guide
Oakley Aviator Visor
Itech FX 50 Facial Protection
Itech Helmet Shield Bag
|Write the first comment on this review!|