For years, the conventional wisdom in hockey was that the goalie’s mask had to cover the ears. But now that’s not the case, as the technology has adapted to the demands of the sport.
In the 2011-12 season, the NHL adopted a new standard for goalie gear: the RIMM (pronounced “ree-imm”), or the Reversible Ice Mask with Microphone. It’s essentially a hockey mask with technology built in, starting with the ear muffling silicone inserts and moving up to a sleek shell that provides better protection without sacrificing style.
It’s fair to say that the RIMM was a well-deserved upgrade. Studies have shown that hockey players are eight times more likely to suffer from hearing loss than players in other sports. In fact, Hockey Magazine ranked goalie masks as the sixth most dangerous accessory for hockey players, due to the increased risk of head injuries in the event of a collision. The RIMM was designed to mitigate that risk.
The Need For Better Protection
It’s not only the risk of injury that makes hockey masks so dangerous, it’s also the fact that they’re used to protect the head from serious injury in case of a collision. There are several different types of injuries that a goalie can suffer, some more serious than others. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take a team of doctors and nurses a couple of hours to surgically remove a puck from the skull of an otherwise healthy player. That’s a lot of time spent in the operating room, having paid for that privilege with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Most people are aware of the dangers of taking a puck to the head. But what about the ear? Just like the rest of the body, the ears can take a serious hit when protected by a hockey mask. It’s not just about taking a puck to the head: it’s also about taking a puck to the ear. If you look at any of the major sports leagues, you’ll notice that the majority of the players wear some type of protective head gear, whether it’s a baseball cap, a football helmet, or a hockey mask.
Even in golf, which is probably the most relaxed sport out there, the Professional Golfers’ Association recommends that its players use head protection, particularly if they’re practicing on the course. According to the experts at frickin’ cool stuff online (https://www.frickincoolstuff.com/), repetitive head blows can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease that has been associated with repeated head trauma experienced by athletes in all sports, including hockey. Just like Alzheimer’s disease, which affects your grandparents more than your parents, CTE will gradually strip away your identity until you’re left with only a collection of behavioral and intellectual disturbances.
Hockey players have been pushing for change. While the conventional wisdom was that the goalie’s mask had to cover the ears, the NHL Players’ Association challenged that assumption and helped lead the way in the innovation of protective headwear for hockey players.
More Than Meets The Ears
Not only does the RIMM offer better protection for the head, it also has several other innovative features that players have found very useful. The ears are still able to hear everything that goes on around them, but the outside world cannot detect what they’re listening to, so they don’t have to strain their ears all the time.
The micro-mufflers in the RIMM are very quiet, comparable in volume to a TV with the TV turned up slightly. This makes it much easier for the goalie to hear footsteps approaching from behind, for example, avoiding a collision or hearing a teammate get injured. If you’re a goalie on a break-out, you can also tell whether or not the puck is coming to you directly from the opposing team’s end, reducing the risk of a cheating or hack-a-shift.
If a dangerous player is about to hurtle your way, you’ll be able to take evasive action and potentially reduce the damage to yourself and your teammates. The best part is that the RIMM is reversible, so you can choose which side you’d like to wear based on which end is facing you, providing better comfort for when you’re in the “cold” mask.
All The Accessories
Aside from the mask, the other accessories that a goalie wears include the pads (chest protector and groin guard), the helmet, and the visor. While the pads and helmet protect the head, the visor protects the eyes from the sun (and the pucks) as the goalie enters and exits the crease.
There’s also equipment that goes along with the mask, like the straps, or the “ear guards” that connect to the pads via plastic ties or velcro. This allows the goalie to keep their ears protected while still being able to move around easily on the ice.
There’s also an option to purchase a face shield, which protects the entire face, or a cheek shield, which protects only the face’s right cheek. Some goalies use a combination of both. The choice is entirely up to you, so long as you stay within the legal requirements set by the NHL (four face shields per player, one on each side).
A Change In Attitude
Along with better equipment, the new generation of goalies have changed the way they play. The biggest difference is that instead of staying up on their feet the entire game, they now spend more time on their knees and elbows, ducking, diving, and stretching to reach pucks that would’ve been behind their defenders previously. In fact, according to a study from the Center for Injury Prevention and Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center, over three-fourths of the 2012-13 NHL goalies spent more than 10% of their time in a squatting position.
Because of all this kneeling and elbow-greasy hockey play, the experts at www.hockeygearwonders.com say that arm pads are now a thing of the past, and instead, goalies now rely on their helmet for protection. The site also notes that the new goalie gear has made playing the “old-school” way less attractive, even though it might be fun to show off your skills by intentionally taking hits to the head and body.
All of this is to say that while we’re sad to see the loss of those iconic earmuffs, they were definitely an indication that things had changed for the better, as far as the safety of athletes is concerned. The days of taking liberties on the ice with reckless abandon are over, at least for now.