Bruins’ goaltender Ed Johnston is sporting a new face mask today, thanks to Norwood resident Ernie Higgins, whose clientele in the net-minding ranks ranges from Gerry Cheevers and Johnston of the Bruins to Boston University goalie Jimmy McCann.
Johnston, who was injured in Detroit earlier this season, has worn a Higgins-designed mask before. So has Cheevers, who found out about Higgins’ “hobby” from Providence Reds’ goalie Ross Brooks.
Eddie was struck by a practice shot in Detroit earlier this season and suffered a severe concussion. The Bruins management, and Johnston. felt the regular goalie’s mask would be inadequate to protect the injured area (around the right ear), and Higgins, whose son Neil tended goal for Norwood High (1965-68), was called upon once again.
“Before I took a mold of Johnston’s head, I wanted to make sure such a mask would be practical,” said Higgins.
So he contacted Jack Kelley, B.U.’s hockey coach, and asked if McCann, a family acquaintance from Dedham, would be willing to donate his features while Johnston was recuperating.
McCann consented, and the experiment was a success. Jimmy still wears the finished product at all B.U. practices. The new-style mask covers the ears, hooks under the chin, and can protect as much area above the forehead as the wearer desires.
Then came Johnston’s turn, and with team physician Dr. Ronald Adams and trainer Dan Canney on hand for supervision and suggestions, Higgins took the mold. He brought the mask to Eddie J. last Saturday morning at the Garden.
“I guess I’d never be designing these things if it weren’t for my son’s interest in hockey—and being a goalie, of course,” said Higgins, whose sidelight admittedly keeps him so busy he “sometimes doesn’t have time to breathe.”
“I bought three masks for Neil when he played PeeWee seven years ago, but either they weren’t comfortable, or his vision was blocked slightly. So I figured I’d give it a try in designing one for him in my home workshop.”
Former Bruins’ star Woody Dumart helped at this point by supplying a special kit, and Ernie was on his way. He’s still experimenting with different cloths, resins, and protective devices for the mouth, eyebrows, ears, and nose with his fiberglass materials.
His connection with the pro goalies began when Neil went to a hockey school where former Bruins’ goalie Ed Chadwick saw the mask he was wearing and asked the youngster where he got it.
“My dad made it,” said the boy. Chadwick contacted Ernie, and was fitted for a mold. Then word spread about Higgins’ talent. Marcel Faille and Brooks of the American League Providence club were next on the list. B.U.’s Jack Ferreira and B.C.’s Jeff Cohen joined the parade. U.S. Olympic goalie Pat Rupp was fitted. In fact, colleges like B.U., Dartmouth, Harvard, Brown, Amherst, and Vermont have sent goalies to Higgins for their masks.
The latest customers were the Bruins’ minor league goalies, Colin McCormick and Joe Junkin. Mc Cormick is wearing his at Hershey, while Junkin was fitted for his only last Monday. He’s still in town as the B’s backup goalie until Johnston returns.
“I save all the molds of the pro and college players at home,” said Higgins, who works as a supervisor for a Somerville plumbing contractor. “I don’t bother saving the ones I’ve taken of high school goalies because their facial features change while they’re growing. The masks I’ve designed for McCann and Johnston, though, are completely different, bigger, and more protective than any I’ve made before.”
Higgins’ hobby has certainly grown to giant proportions. He still talks to goalies, coaches, doctors, and trainers about improvements. And he envisions the new mask he’s made for Eddie J. as “one which could catch on on a wide scale if kids notice that the pros don’t mind wearing one.”
In Johnston’s case, the mask should enable him to return to the lineup even faster. He won’t have to worry about shots near the head. And that means a lot to any goalie —peewee, high school, college, or pro.
By MARVIN PAVE
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