The Windsor Review interviews hockey mask historian Fred Addis

By Heather Greene

plante-pic2 Featured in our upcoming Spring 2009 edition, Fred Addis has combined his love of history and hockey to create a presentation full of vignettes and memories from the rough, early days of goal-tending. His presentation covered the history of the goalie mask: it’s creation, introduction, and the controversy that surrounds facial protection in the league even today. Review staffer Heather Greene interviewed Mr. Addis after his reading on October 31st. When he’s not researching hockey masks, Fred Addis curates the Leacock Museum in Orillia.

Review: How did you get interested in goalie masks?

FA: It was as a response to all the bar-room bravado I heard growing up. There’s a lot of bullshit surrounding hockey that is accepted as fact, and I wanted to peel back the layers, to find the real story between the fact and the anecdote. For the fans, watching hockey can be like sitting in a theatre, and I want to shift the focus, to tell the story of the people who live the reality: the players. I want to separate the confusion of history with entertainment. During my research, I’ve met pioneering goalies, and I’ve found that knowing the stories really enlivens the statistics. Personalities like Don Cherry use a technique where screaming beats the facts every time, but I dislike that sort of buffoonery. You don’t need to take it to that level. It alienates the thinking fans, they tend to get overlooked.

Review: You presented with Randall Maggs, author of “Night Work: The Terry Sawchuck Poems”, and your topics went well together.

FA: Yes, and I was careful to leave his story alone during my talk. His writing is so full of emotion. The topics he covers have become mythologized; it’s really a marriage of story and history. I think poetry is the greatest vehicle for that.

Review: Goalie masks and Stephen Leacock – these seem like pretty disparate subjects. Any connections?

FA:      They’re both about creating alternate identities. And they both are very much about history, and literary heritage. You have to be a good listener for both types of stories, because emotions transform the facts. Leacock’s writing is like that, yet he hasn’t been put on a pedestal by Canadians. My interest in history definitely applies to both topics, and the goalie masks are a passion that I’ve pursued around my career.

Review: Could another link be that they are both uniquely Canadian stories?

FA: Hockey exists as a tradition in other countries as well, not just ours any longer. Especially European countries, whose hockey has informed and enriched ours today. But hockey was uniquely Canadian in its infancy. It’s like Canadian literature today – it has an audience all over the world.

Review: Were you involved in hockey yourself? As a goalie?

FA: I only played one season as a pee-wee goalie. Now I sometimes play with the old-timers.

Review: So why goalies specifically?

FA: I think because they’re flawed characters. You’re cheering for the underdog. One example is Don Simmons, who played goal for Toronto on January 18th, 1964, against the Boston Bruins. He was scored on eleven times, and was victimized because of it, yet he was brought in again for the next game. There’s no greater underdog than the goalie, and that appeals to people.

Review: With the amount of injuries goalies sustained, it seems they would have to be crazy to choose goaltending as a profession. Is there an amount of insanity inherent to the position?

FA: Injuries and stitches were an accepted part of the job. You may wonder “what type of person would show up for work if they expected that?” but that’s the way it was. It takes litigious situations, like those surrounding plexiglass shields today, to cause change. Shifts happen as soon as people start to get sued. Player facial protection shouldn’t be an issue – it’s a given for players like baseball catchers. But hockey has always been slow with innovations. So ingrained a culture makes change difficult. The switch to goalie masks only happened because the best guy, Jacques Plante, started wearing it. Youth who saw him as a role model could lose their fear of wearing a mask.

Review: Why such a stink about facial protection?

FA: Players like Mats Sundin and Steve Yzerman sustain eye injuries and it raises the discussion as if for the first time. But this discussion has been going on for decades. If this is my place of work, and I’m not given eye protection, I can sue someone. But there’s a sense of tradition in the game, a stubborn bullheadedness.

Review: What about a mask’s secondary purpose – for intimidation or disguise?

FA: I’m not a fan of the horror genre, I’ve never watched Hannibal Lecter, Jason, or Mad Max. But goal tenders do need to project fierce images. [Don] Simmons found it good to have a mask because every time he was scored on, he was despondent. But because his teammates couldn’t see his face, they assumed he didn’t give a shit, and it protected them. It was good that they couldn’t see his face because they couldn’t see how demoralized he was.

Review: So a mask helps because it depersonalizes the goalie?

FA: It robs the shooter of the ability to read the goalie’s face, and that’s an advantage for the goalie.

Review: What do you think of modern goalie masks, and that they’ve become so elaborate?

FA: Masks today enliven the game, they re-personalize it. This is a great thing for safety, because it means that masks have become an accepted piece of equipment. They’ve become entrenched; now nobody would dream of goaltending without one.

Review: A hockey mask historian seems unique. Are there others out there like you? Do you have any American equivalents, perhaps in the Society for International Hockey Research?

FA: I don’t think so. Masks are just one of my interests. I also research players from my hometown who have made it big. In the case of Randall Maggs and his book, poetry provides words and images that prose can’t deliver. Poems are better than reading a newspaper about Terry Sawchuck. I’m unique amongst even hockey enthusiasts, but it’s an easy uniqueness because of the limited time frame I research. One incident [Jacques Plante’s adoption of the goalie mask during the 1959 season] transformed the game so quickly; you could research it to death. But I have lots more to go – I’ve learned about one-eyed guys on the sidelines, and what players would do to hang onto their jobs; it really demonstrates their love for the game. It’s like a PhD thesis, the topic is so narrow that it’s easy to be an expert.

Review: Have you ever given this presentation to an American audience?

FA: Not yet, but I’m building towards that. Americans were responsible for improving a lot about goaltending, and spreading the information for free. [Jacques] Plante was Canadian, and so was the inventor of the fiberglass mask, but it was seen as a business opportunity here. Hamilton College [in New York State] has just woken up to their heritage. They’ve realized “this is huge” after reading Marty [Gervais] in the Windsor Star. But people working on the same thing at the same time, like the invention of the telephone, is always exciting; and that’s the exciting part of being a historian. The American game was filled with Canadians, 99% Canadians, so we have a shared history. Small-town America has a hockey tradition that they don’t get credit for even though it’s well-rooted. The question is “whose game is it?” and the answer is that it’s collective.

Review: When you give this talk to goalies, what is their reaction?

FA: People who have actually played the position have a deep appreciation. Each player has ten anecdotes for your one. My presentation is a cue to their memory, and they’ll go on for hours. Working at the Leacock Museum, I’ve learned that staying quiet can bring out the best stories. People find that the old house [Stephen Leacock’s former home, now a museum of his life] becomes a cue for their memory. My goalie mask presentation does the same: it brings memories out, especially using pictures.


One thought on “The Windsor Review interviews hockey mask historian Fred Addis

  1. I have been searching, years, for an epic poem I heard read on CBC in the 70’s. I believe the title was “The Last of the Barefaced Goalies”.

    Any clues?


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