It didn't do a great of a job of softening shots to his face when he wore it playing junior hockey in Winnipeg more than 40 years ago, but there's something special about Bob Unger's goalie mask.
Special enough to hang at the Hockey Hall of Fame, anyway.
Unger, 53, posted a picture of his old goalie mask — a fibreglass model from the 70s he describes as a "Jacques Plante type of mask" — on Twitter last month and got the surprise of his life when a message came in a few days later from the curator of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"He wanted to display it at the Hockey Hall of Fame," said Unger. "I was kind of tickled."
Unger wore the mask when he was 11 or 12 years old and playing goalie for the River East Knights. He thinks the mask's purple and yellow paint job — which his dad did for him to match the team's colours — may have caught Philip Pritchard's eye on social media.
Pritchard, the vice-president and curator with the Hall of Fame says he was just as surprised as Unger to find a new mask for the museum's collection while looking through social media.
"We're always out there looking for unique artifacts for the Hockey Hall of Fame and you never know when you're going to find them," said Pritchard over the phone from Toronto. "Who would have thought that through social media and Twitter we'd get an artifact?" he said. "But maybe that's the way of the future."
'You sure felt them back then'
Pritchard says the hall of fame has just opened a new exhibit with roughly 100 masks on display that tells the history of the mask and how the vital piece of protective gear has evolved over the years.
"It's the style and the colour and the fact those masks just aren't really around anymore," he said of what he liked about Unger's old mask. "They're all Canadian [Consumer Product] Safety Act approved now – and I don't think that one would pass."
Unger knows first hand why the mask wouldn't pass today's safety standards.
When he wanted to buy the mask at the time, it was already being replaced by more modern ones with cages, but he wanted to wear the old style. He remembers his dad wasn't so enthusiastic.
"He was so against it, just because it was fibreglass, but I just thought it was so cool," he laughs, adding it didn't take too long before he agreed with his dad. "After I got hit about four or five times with it on I decided it was time to go with a cage.
"There's about four or five puck marks on the top of it and you sure felt them back then."
It's those marks and that story that Pritchard says he's looking for when he picks artifacts.
"This one has a lot of use out it," he said. "Working at the Hockey Hall of Fame we pride ourselves on preserving hockey history, and the history of the goalie mask is a pretty amazing story dating back to when Jacques Plante first starting wearing it in the NHL in the late 50s."
Unger has since packed up his mask and sent it to Pritchard in Toronto along with a write-up about the mask's history. As well as hanging next to the masks of Unger's heroes in the Hockey Hall of Fame, Pritchard says the mask will go on display across the country as part of the hall of fame's travelling exhibits.
Unger says he'll be heading to Toronto to see his mask again as soon as he can.
"To see my mask there, I think that would be a neat little thing to see," he said "A kid from Winnipeg sending his mask, I think that's pretty cool."