Behind the mask: How a social media post revived a senior hockey memory

This custom-made mask was assembled for Bert Brake by Elias Wheeler and Gerald Goosney of Corner Brook in 1962. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

Bert Brake would always remember his distress as he lay on the ice in front of the goal, his lungs filling with blood.

It was 1962, and the young goalie had just been hit in the face by a devastating slapshot. 

An opposing defenceman in the Corner Brook senior hockey league had fired the shot, and in an interview decades later, Brake could still remember a moment that could have ended his career — or worse.

“Gerald Goosney saved my life,” Brake said in an interview with Cable Atlantic in the late 1990s, referring to the team trainer who performed first aid on him and bandaged him up enough to get him to hospital. Surgeons worked seven or eight hours to save Brake’s sight and to repair his face.

After that, doctors wouldn’t let him go back on the ice, unless he was properly protected.

That led to a piece of hockey history in Newfoundland: Bert Brake would become the first goalie to wear a moulded face mask in the province-wide senior league. Goalies could apparently buy cheap, plastic masks back in the day, but nothing that would offer proper protection like a custom-fitted model.

Corner Brook Royals goalie Bert Brake played 75 Newfoundland Senior Hockey games and posted a 4.09 career goals-against average. He was inducted into Hockey NL’s Hall of Fame in 2012. (Hockey NL)

Brake went on to a Newfoundland Hockey Hall of Fame career with the Corner Brook Royals.

Brake died in 2012, but the story of his custom mask has resurfaced from time to time over the decades —  and it recently got a little nudge on Facebook.

In this case, the made a bit of a round trip — from Corner Brook, to Toronto, to anywhere you’ll find social media, and back to Corner Brook again.

How a story can move around

Last August, a Corner Brook man’s Facebook post showed photos of a goalie mask that’s been on display for years at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

In the early 1960s, that mask belonged to an up-and-coming teenage Corner Brook netminder named Doug Grant. 

Grant would go on to play with the Royals and then a Canadian university league, the American Hockey League, and, finally, the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues of the National Hockey League.

Corner brook native Doug Grant played with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues in the 1970s. (Submitted by Doug Grant)

When contacted recently, Grant said he was surprised and pleased to learn in the 1970s that a Red Wings team staffer had donated the mask to the Hall.  

Meanwhile, Marylyn Wheeler-Murphy in August saw that photo of the Hall of Fame mask, and left a comment: “Proud to say my Dad, Elias Wheeler, was one of the people involved in making the mask (and dad painted it too).”

Wheeler-Murphy also mentioned that Grant’s mask was one of three that her dad and Goosney had in the same period of time. Another was made, possibly, for local league goalie Tony Keough, and another was made for … Bert Brake.

Turns out, that one was the prototype, you might say. 

Vivid memories from the Sixties

Elias Wheeler, who is still living in Pasadena, about 30 kilometres east of Corner Brook, was the equipment manager for the Royals in the 1960s and helped the local Corner Brook league teams, too.  

Bert Brake (fourth from left-front) with Corner Brook Royals, the 1965-66 Herder champions. Trainer Gerald Goosney is second from left-rear, while equipment manager Elias Wheeler is fourth from right-rear. (Submitted by Elias Wheeler)

Wheeler has a collection of local senior hockey photos and even some old equipment — along with vivid memories of teaming up with Goosney to make Brake’s mask in 1962.

Prominent among his memories is Brake’s injury from the slapshot. He recalls how the puck broke Brake’s chin and jaw and threatened to damage his eye.

Wheeler said Brake did the research for the mask himself.

In that 1990s interview, Brake recalled how he saw a Jacques Plante do-it-yourself goalie mask kit in a sports magazine and ordered one for $29.95. (Plante was playing goal with the Montreal Canadiens and is credited by many to have been the first to have regularly worn a mask, starting in 1959 after a facial injury in the net.)

Elias Wheeler was equipment manager for the Corner Brook Royals in the 1960s and helped assemble a moulded goalie mask for Bert Brake. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

Bert Brake asked Wheeler and Goosney to assemble the kit and — game to try just about anything — they agreed to do it in the dressing room of Corner Brook’s Humber Gardens.

“We started out with a shoebox,” Wheeler said, “and shaped it to fit over his face. Then we got the Plaster of Paris, put a straw in his mouth [so that Brake could breathe], then started pouring [the mixture] on his face.”

‘Adapted to it real fast’

Things got uncomfortable for Brake as the mixture heated up and the goalie “started to gag.”

“I said, ‘Uh oh, this is not going to be good!’ ” Wheeler said with a chuckle.

The mild-mannered goalie was able to endure the pouring of the material for the moulds that shaped the inner liner then, later, the outer shell which would be made of fibreglass resin.

Peter Brake near the display case for equipment that belonged to his father, Hockey NL Hall of Fame goaltender Bert Brake. (Brian McHugh/CBC)

Despite concerns by some die-hard goalies in the 1960s that masks would obscure their view of the puck, especially near their skates, Wheeler says Brake “loved” the mask.

“He adapted to it real fast and wouldn’t go on the ice without it.”

Brake wore the mask through many of the 75 Newfoundland Senior Hockey games he played. His 4.09 goals against average was “excellent,” says the bio that Hockey NL wrote for him when he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2012.

Bert Brake passed away in hospital on June 1 of that year — just eight days before his scheduled ceremony.

Left to right: a 1962 mask belonging to Bert Brake; goalie skates; a later mask that Brake wore. (Submitted by Peter Brake)

You can still see some of Brake’s equipment — including that mask — in a display case at the Hall of Fame in the Corner Brook Civic Centre.

His proud son, Peter, says the Hall’s volunteers tell him “how surprised the kids are to see that the players played with gear like that,” and that “this was the first (moulded) mask”  to be worn in Newfoundland Senior hockey.”

“It would be nice to see those stories shared more often.”

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

Behind the mask: How a social media post revived a senior hockey memory

Aggregated from: CBC | Newfoundland and Labrador News

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