The National Hockey League (NHL) started in 1917, but it was not until June 1, 1979 that the wearing of hockey helmet became mandatory for any player that registered in the National Hockey League, NHL. By this time college hockey sport has not fully developed.
During these early days of hockey, there were not much helmet rule and regulations, helmets, face masks or safety equipment for the players. So a hockey player needed not wear a hockey helmet at that time
However, as the number of head injuries as facial lacerations, loss of teeth and concussions increased, player safety became a top priority for the NHL. The hockey helmets or head gears disperses force during collision and protects the head from injury. It also protects the eyes if the hockey players wear visors
Who was the first NHL player to wear a hockey helmet?
The first NHL player to put on helmets regularly was George Owen, who played for Boston Bruins from 1928 to 1929. By this time, wearing a protective was not a requirement to play hockey or ice hockey. Many players were even ashamed to wear helmets and protective gears. I personally don’t think most of these players signed professional contracts prior to this time
They preferred flow over safety. A majority of hockey players continued to refuse to put on a protective head gears for over 4 decades. In the 1978-1979 season, when wearing of protective helmets for NHL players became mandatory, up to 30% of players didn’t put on protective gear or helmets in their NHL career.
It took the dead of Bill Masterton in 1968 from a head injury while playing hockey for the then president of NHL, John Ziegler, to make it obligatory for all NHL players to put on a protective helmets.
Today it is unimaginable for NHL players not to wear a hockey helmet and protective facemask. The technology that goes into hockey helmets and other sports helmets has progressed from that in those early days of hockey or ice hockey. Today NHL has made wearing helmets mandatory to all hockey players
Who was the last NHL player to not wear a helmet?
Earlier, some hockey players choose flow and other reasons for over protection and never worn a protective helmet while playing hockey sport. Wearing helmets was never taken serious byhockey players. Let me give an outline of the last 10 of these players so that we can see the last NHL player to not put on helmet or regularly wear a helmet in his hockey career.
He played for Los Angeles Kings from 1988 to 89. Ron Duguay wanted to be stylish with his big hairs and so refused to wear a helmet.
“I like the way I looked without a helmet, but more than anything else, it was the comfort. I feel confined when wearing a helmet. It is annoying to me. I don’t wear hats. I like nothing on my head,” he said.
He played for 12 years in the NHL without wearing a helmet. Duguay perhaps is the 10th to- the- last NHL player to not put on a helmet, but he is the last professional player to not put on a helmet when he played in the Eastern Professional League in the 2008-2009 season. After him incoming players to the NHL, had to follow the helmet rule .
He played for Chicago Blackhawks from 1989 to 1990. Secord played for 12 years without a helmet in the NHL.
This is what Secord’s teammate Troy Murray said about him “I was surprised that Secord didn’t wear a helmet because he was a fighter. Secord was as tough as nails, and for the longest time in his career, he refused to put on a helmet”.
He retired at 32 in 1990 but returned to professional hockey in 1994 to play for Chicago Wolves from 1994 to 1996 when he played his final game. This time, he was also a commercial pilot and wore a protective helmet.
He played for Quebec Nordiques from 1990 to 1991. In his first 3 seasons, Guy wore a helmet but ditched his helmet in the fourth season and then played for the next 6 seasons helmetless. “ I started playing well as I decided to not wear a helmet,” he said.
Guy retired in 1985 at 33 but comeback in 1988 to increase the dwindling number of helmetless players. He finally retired in 1991.
He played for St. Louis Blues from 1990 to 1991. Harold played helmetless because he wanted to be seen clearly.
“When I played junior, they assigned the same Patterson helmet to the whole team. It didn’t fit me that much; it was sliding up and down. My parents noticed that I was blinking a lot. When I went to the NHL, I found that when I didn’t wear a helmet, I felt more comfortable and was not blinking much”.
Harold played for 17 seasons and for a few games he sported a helmet and visor because of a facial laceration and head collision with the boards he had while playing helmetless.
Calgary flames from 1992 to 1993. In the 1992-1993 and 1993-1994 seasons, NHL repealed the obligatory helmet rule and anyone could play without wearing a head protector. This rule was brought back later on. Greg Smyth used the opportunity.
This is what he said. “I grew up watching the Maple Leafs play without helmets, so it was something I just wanted to try. There wasn’t one particular incident or anything that changed my mind. It was a long time ago. I don’t recall any injury. I had a couple of fights. And, I didn’t get hit in the head or with a high stick or anything. If anything, players might have been a bit more tentative, keeping their sticks down. I played ten games without a helmet, then put it on.”
He played for San Jose Sharks from 1992 to 1993. According to Troy Murray, Doug’s teammate in Blackhawks from 1982 to 1991, Doug Wilson didn’t put on a helmet because of his big curly hairs.
However, he occasionally puts on a helmet or a facemask when sustained injuries on the head.
He played for Washington Capitals from 1992 to 1993. He started playing in the NHL wearing a helmet but later on stopped because he had a collision with the boards and his eyelid was cut.
“We had a game the next night, and I knew if I wore a helmet, it was going to hit the stitches and cut them back open. So I took off my helmet and never put it on,” he said.
Rod Langway finished the remaining of his fifteen year career playing without helmet.
He was a defenseman playing for Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-1993 seasons. For his 17 year career, randy played helmetless. To him, it was just a habit of playing helmet free.
Old habits die hard. On this list he is the one with the highest number of games played without a protective head gear.
Randy Carlyle was not the last person to play helmetless, but the third to the last, since he played slightly longer than Doug Wilson and Langway.
In the 1992-1993 season, he played for Ottawa Senators. Though a short blocking specialist, Brad Marsh played without a helmet.
“You get hit in the face here and there at various times, but it had no relevance to if I had a helmet on. I actually wore a helmet for my first couple of games with the Atlanta flames, but then I told myself, ‘take the damn thing off’,” he said.
They grew up watching others like Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun Tim Horton etc., played helmetless and wanted to be like them. Marsh was concussed on December 8, 1987.
He played his final NHL season in Ottawa senators in the 1992-1993 seasons where they wanted him to wear a helmet. “I actually sat out the first day of training camp until it got straightened out,” he said.
Craig MacTavish played his final NHL season (1996-1997) with St. Louis Blues. Craig MacTavish was the last player to play in the NHL without putting on a helmet, though at the beginning of his career he wore one when he started playing with Bruins in 1979.
He stopped wearing a helmet for a while and then wore it again in 1988-1989 season before going helmetless for good.
“You release a lot of body heat through your head. I remember being on the bench, throwing up during a game because I was overheating. I wasn’t used to it but you quickly get used to it. It was more comfortable without one,” he said.
In 1994 MacTavish was the only NHL player going helmet free. He finally retired in 1997 at 38.
Andy Brown was the last NHL goalie not to put on a goalie helmets in his hockey career.