A tragic evening that sparked lengthy debates and changed the NHL rule

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If today it is hard to imagine hockey games in which participants would not wear helmets, playing without protection on their heads was a constant practice decades ago. Helmets, then made of nothing but pleasant materials and inappropriate weight, were considered a sign of fear, helplessness, weakness. “Anyone who wore a helmet was quick to hear remarks about the‘ chicken, ’” multiple NHL champion Frank Mahovlich once said.

Boudrias is the only Minnesota member with a helmet

Those who have already decided on a “headgear” did not, in principle, interfere with it for safety reasons, but because it did not blow over their ears or just because it covered their baldness … Some even thought that “masking” players reduces the real experience of the fans. One of the few who played with a helmet on his head in the 60th NHL game for safety was a star Minnesota North Stars Andre Boudrias. “They asked me to take it off, but I didn’t listen to them. We’re securing our elbows, our knees, our hips, why not your head as well?” the late Canadian thought in an interview with ESPN years ago. Who knows how January 13, 1968 would have unfolded if his teammate had thought similarly at the time Bill Masterton.





Sportal


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With the expansion, the doors of the NHL opened for him


Bill Masterton's dream of playing in the NHL came true in 1967, but he died just a few months later after an injury he sustained in a showdown.  Like most, Masterton did not wear a helmet.


Bill Masterton’s dream of playing in the NHL came true in 1967, but he died just a few months later after an injury he sustained in a showdown. Like most, Masterton did not wear a helmet.
Photo: YouTube printscreen


Winnipeg-born Masterton fell in love with hockey early on and persisted in his sporting love until his death. He ticked off a number of college league games, in which he repeatedly became the most valuable player, also tested himself in the American Hockey League, but achieved his greatest career success in the 1967/68 season.

The NHL expanded that competitive period from the founding six teams of the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs to 12. They were joined by St. Louis Blues, California Seals, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota North Stars.

It was in the jersey of the latter that Masterton stepped on the biggest hockey stage at the age of 29, he also scored the first goal of the newly formed NHL franchise. “This is my last chance. I have to accept it,” he told his wife, unaware that the realization of the dream would end sadly in a few months.

More from the section Jump into the sporting past

After the crash and fall he lay unconscious

It was written on January 13, 1968. In the 38th game of the season, the Minnesota North Stars hockey players awaited the California Oakland Seals at the Met Center home court. The unfortunate moment, which ended in death 30 hours later, occurred in the first third of the showdown.

Masterton had just handed over the puck when a close encounter with opposing defenders Larry Cahan and Ron Harris occurred. The stick of one of them got entangled in the skate of the unfortunate attacker, he did not see the other on the correct collision, he lost his balance, fell back and hit the ice surface hard with his head, on which he was not wearing a helmet.

Fatal Match, January 13, 1968:

Swelling too severe for surgery




Masterton was considered a polite hockey player and a family man.


Masterton was considered a polite hockey player and a family man.
Photo: YouTube printscreen

“The sound was similar to that of hitting a ball with a baseball bat. His eyes were gray in an instant. The scenes were reminiscent of the worst nightmare. I knew it wasn’t going to end well,” Boudrias recalled in an interview with ESPN. According to the testimony of the actors and spectators, he was bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears.

Unconscious, he was taken to hospital, where, according to US media reports, they tried to help him with steroids and diuretics, but the swelling in his brain was so severe that surgery was out of the question.

Two days later, his parents and wife Carol made the hardest decision of their lives, disconnecting Bill from the devices that kept him alive. He died on January 15, 1968, aged 29 years.

Contribution with rarely seen scenes from the fateful match on January 13, 1968:

In 1979 the announcement of mandatory helmets, MacTavish without it back in 1997

Masterton’s death opened up lengthy debates about whether helmets should be mandatory at NHL games, but it took years to officially request it. A few hockey players were clarified by the sad web of events, but they were in the minority. Three years after his death, only six Minnesota members played with helmets, the most among all competition teams.


Craig MacTavish, the last hockey player to play in the NHL without a helmet.


Craig MacTavish, the last hockey player to play in the NHL without a helmet.
Foto: Getty Images

It wasn’t until 1979 that then-NHL president John Ziegler announced that protective helmets would become mandatory for all hockey players joining the league for the first time since June 1 of that year. For those who had NHL contracts before, the new rule did not apply. Thus, Harold Snepsts, Mike O’Connell and Brad Marsh played without helmets back in the 90s. The last to make the NHL without today’s mandatory safety helmet was a member of St. Louis Blues Craig MacTavish in the 1996/1997 season.

“Even though it ended so sadly, this event had a significant impact on the NHL or the entire hockey sport,” Masterton’s son Scott, who was left without a father at the age of three, tried to find “something positive for future generations” in his father’s death. Bill left behind another one-year-old daughter, Sally.

An annual memory




In memory of the refined Bill Masterton, an award is presented each year.


In memory of the refined Bill Masterton, an award is presented each year.
Foto: Getty Images

Masterton is still today the only NHL player to die directly from an injury in a game of the highest quality hockey league in the world. Although he was not a star, he impressed with his simplicity, refinement, hard work and team spirit. Ever since 1968, the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy has been awarded in his memory after the season. The award goes to the hockey player who best embodies perseverance, athleticism and dedication to hockey during that competitive period.

He complained of headaches, but the concussions were not taken seriously

The death of the unfortunate Bill Masterton, however, prompted not only discussions about mandatory helmets, but also about the issue of concussions, which had not been taken seriously enough in the past.

Masterton sued his wife and teammates for headaches in the days before the fatal showdown. Two weeks earlier, he had crashed into a fence at a game with Boston. The blow left consequences on both his arms and legs, which he felt, but he did not know that he most likely also suffered a concussion. He played on.




On the birthday of goalkeeper Cesare Maniago, Masterton sued for migraines the day before the fateful match, but the club did not pay attention to possible concussions and possible consequences.


On the birthday of goalkeeper Cesare Maniago, Masterton sued migraines the day before the fateful match, but the club did not pay attention to possible concussions and possible consequences.
Foto: Getty Images

Goalkeeper Cesare Maniago recalls that Masterton told him on his birthday the day before the game with the Oakland Seals that he had severe migraines. He did not mention this to coach Wren Blair, but he later said that he sensed that everything was not going well with his protégé. He is said to have fallen in training and lost consciousness for a short time. He suggested additional checkups, but they were never done. One of Minnesota’s owners at the time, Walter Bush, admitted some time ago that they were unaware of how serious the consequences unresolved concussions could leave.

He played with a previous injury




A prize in memory of Masterton, who turned out to have played with a head injury that caused his brain to swell faster with a new injury.


A prize in memory of Masterton, who turned out to have played with a head injury that caused his brain to swell faster with a new injury.
Foto: Getty Images

An autopsy showed he was playing with a previous head injury, as otherwise his brain would not have swelled so quickly. “I’m sure he suffered a concussion before that stroke. He must have received a blow to the left side of his head a few days before his death. He was most likely fatal to ‘second stroke’ syndrome,” said ESPN storyteller John Rosengren about the Masterton case. for neurocritical care Jesse Corry.

Masterton was thus a victim of ignorance about the turmoil of those times and a determination not to wear a helmet. This would not protect him from injury in the event of an unfortunate fall, but it could lead to his death.

After the publication of his paper, Rosengren also informed one of the defenders involved in the collision, Ron Harris, with more detailed findings, and helped him at least somewhat reduce the sense of guilt he attributed to Masterton’s death.

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