Greetings from San Francisco, where I’ll be spending the next coupla days. Had a classic Uni Watch moment on the way out here yesterday: I was flying JetBlue out of JFK, and my plane’s previous stop had been Miami — or so I surmised from all the goobers who spilled out into the concourse wearing and carrying every manner of Super Bowl XLI gear you can imagine. T-shirts, sweatshirts, pullovers, jackets, caps, ski caps, jogging suits, seat cushions, plush toys, you name it. It was like this parade of consumer idiocy (nicely compounded by the knowledge that these people had all paid a jillion bucks to sit in the rain for most of the previous day). Good thing I’m leaving San Francisco before this weekend — I wouldn’t want to cross paths with a plane full of people coming back from the Pro Bowl.
Anyway. Last week I asked why hockey goalies’ blockers used have that waffle-print pattern. As several readers helpfully explained, it was to ventilate the old leather blockers and keep them from absorbing too much water during the game. Today’s models are much more lightweight and waterproof, so the cutouts aren’t needed.
Blockers hold a bit of a mystique for me, because I really wanted to be a goalie when I was eight or nine years old. But there were no youth leagues on Long Island at the time (we just played pond hockey), and the local sporting goods stores didn’t carry much gear. There was also a major complicating factor: I’m left-handed. I could use a first baseman’s glove as my catching mitt, natch, but nobody carried a genuine left-handed blocker. My father said he’d look for one during one of his periodic business trips to Manhattan, but he always came back empty-handed (although, in retrospect, I have a feeling he didn’t want to encourage my goalie fantasy too much and may not have looked very hard, if at all, for the blocker).
When you think about it, the blocker is a really odd, almost arbitrary piece of equipment. Early goaltenders didn’t wear them, as you can see here, here, here, and here. According to this blocker history page (brought to my attention by reader Matt French), several goalies experimented with padded stick-hand gloves, but the modern blocker’s genesis began with Frank Brimsek, who at one point reinforced his stick glove with bamboo cane. Then, according to the history page:
[O]ne night during the 1944-45 season, he came to the rink with an 8″ x 16″ rectangular piece of plywood taped to the back of his glove: this was to be the first of a long series of rigid rectangular blocker designs that would become the new standard for blockers for the next 55 years or so.
That history page, incidentally, is part of the this site, which is devoted to a hinged blocker called the Martin PaddleFlex. The idea behind it is that because standard blockers are rigid, the pad’s lower edge can prevent a goalie from getting his stick flush against the ice. But the flexible blocker supposedly solves this problem. The web site looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while, which leads me to think this idea never caught on (maybe because today’s blockers appear to be less rigid than the older ones). Anyone know more about it?
I’m definitely not knowledgeable enough to provide a comprehensive rundown of blocker history. But I know this much: Bill Durnan never wore a blocker. That’s because he was ambidextrous, switching his stick back and forth from one hand to the other, thanks to a pair of specially designed gloves. (He was also that rarest of species: a goalie who at various points wore the alternate’s “A” and the captain’s “C.”)
Then there’s former Rangers goalie Dan Blackburn. After suffering nerve damage that forced him to retire after the 2003-04 season, he briefly attempted a minor league comeback wearing two blockers (here’s another view), because he no longer had the motor control to manipulate a catching mitt.
Uni Watch News Ticker: A Mets source confirms that the team’s batting helmets will indeed have a metallic finish this season. … Matt Porges notes that Yadier Molina appears to be wearing brother Jose’s mask in the Caribbean World Series. … Jeff Dennison turned up this photo of the 1911 Portage Lake hockey team. As you can imagine, I rather like the jersey insignia.