The Trail Museum has added three significant artifacts to its collection of hockey memorabilia, including a mask fashioned and worn by legendary Trail Smoke Eaters goaltender Seth Martin.
“We’re pretty pleased,” says Seth’s wife Bev, who was there along with her daughters recently for the unveiling. “It looks good in the case.”
She explains the mask’s genesis began in a playoff game against Rossland in the late 1950s. When a defenceman ducked, a puck hit Martin square in the face, knocking out his front teeth.
“He broke everything,” Bev says. “They got Seth to the hospital. Dr. Jack Colbert sewed him right up. He really was quite a mess. It took him a while to recuperate.”
At some point thereafter, Martin began toying with the idea of wearing a mask, which goalies had rarely done to that point. Clint Benedict of the Montreal Maroons wore one for five games in 1930, also after being struck in the face by a shot.
But it didn’t happen again in the NHL until the same thing happened to Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 1, 1959 (Plante previously wore the mask in practice). Whether coincidental or not, Martin soon began wearing a mask too, and is believed to be the first amateur goalie to do so, and the first in international play.
Dr. Colbert, the team physician, made a plaster of Paris mold for Martin. Working at Cominco gave him access to the fire hall’s plastic shop, where he fashioned his first fibreglass prototype. He continued to tinker with it, adding a stainless steel to the bridge of the nose and a cage at the mouth, which provided protection and airflow.
This was the mask he wore when the Smoke Eaters won the World Championship in Switzerland in 1961. When he returned to Europe two years later, Martin was surprised to see other goaltenders had followed his lead and were now sporting similar masks.
Bev says the biggest problem to overcome was ensuring it was possible to see out of the mask, a common excuse cited by goaltenders who refused to wear them.
“He had to get them down so he could see everything. The first one was very short, and then there was another one and another one. He perfected what he ended up wearing.”
Martin produced masks for other goaltenders as well, including teammate Glenn Hall to whom he served as backup with the St. Louis Blues in 1967-68.
“He worked so hard to make these masks,” Bev says. “Glenn wasn’t comfortable with it. It’s understandable. But he kept it. The story goes that he’s still got it.”
However, Martin himself didn’t save any of his masks, and his family doesn’t have one. Until this year, the museum only had a couple of replicas created and donated by Thomas Connauton.
The mask it has acquired was purchased this year in an online auction. The description pegged it from the late 1960s or early ’70s but its provenance is unknown. It bears a Team Canada paint scheme.
“Sporting low-set eye sockets with especially large openings over the forehead and at the cheeks, a bright red maple leaf serves as design, with multi-colour strapping,” the description read.
“Void of any interior padding, the mask shows wear with scratches, marks and chips to the surface paint, with additional heavy wear and added reinforcement stitching to the strapping.”
“I have no idea why he didn’t keep them as he went along and hang them up,” Bev says. “Now we’ve got this one in the museum and I’m pretty happy about it.”
Seth Martin died in 2014 at 81, but you can see the mask on display at the museum.
The museum has also added a goalie blocker hand made by Duke Scodellaro, who backstopped the Smoke Eaters to the 1939 World Championship.
He was known for his aggressive goaltending style, which Europeans found to be a revelation when the team played on its overseas tour.
The blocker is an amalgam of foam, felted padding, cord, and cardboard, all sewn, tied, or taped to a leather glove.
“If you got hit with a puck using that blocker, it still probably hurt quite a lot,” says collections co-ordinator Addison Oberg. “But the family believes Duke is the one to invent the goalie blocker as we know it today.”
The blocker and the mask arrived within a month of each other.
“It’s incredible to get two hand-made world champion goaltenders’ things in the museum at the same time, so we were pretty blessed,” Oberg says.
On top of that, the museum now boasts a puck from a goal scored by Sammy Calles in the first game played at the Cominco Arena on Nov. 29, 1949 between the Smoke Eaters and Kimberley Dynamiters.
The puck is signed by members of both teams with details of the game written on its edge.
“The Calles family has had this puck forever and they finally donated it,” Oberg says. “It’s all beat up. It has dents, obviously from use.”
Oberg adds that while they knew Scodellaro’s blocker existed, the puck was an “unexpected but lovely addition.”