Asked how many stitches he earned during his playing career, former Komet Chuck Adamson starts pointing to various parts of his head and counting to himself.
``Frank Mahovlich, Henri Richard, Billy LeCaine...,'' Adamson says, pausing every few seconds to remember another war wound. ``I got hit about 11 times and probably more than 200 stitches.''
Before Adamson, no Komets goaltender ever wore a mask in a game. Phil Hughes had practiced with one during the late 1950s, and Adamson always had one in his duffle bag, but he didn't wear it for a game.
``You grow up playing, and really in all honesty, they didn't wear one so I didn't wear it,'' he said. ``I played all the way through juniors and I got dinged a couple of times.''
But what kind of courage did it take to play goalie without wearing a mask? At the time, Adamson was already losing about 30 pounds during a season playing every game.
``Well,'' Adamson said, ``you didn't want to get sent home.''
The final time he got dinged was Nov. 20, 1962, against the Montreal Canadiens when Richard nailed him during the third period with a wound around Adamson's hairline that required five stitches. After the game, Canadiens hall of famer and goalie mask innovator Jacques Plante asked Adamson why he didn't wear one.
After wearing a mask in practice for a while, on Dec. 22, 1962 -- or 50 years ago on Saturday -- Adamson wore a mask in a game for the first time as he beat St. Paul 2-1.
``It's a little uncomfortable because I sweat so much but I think it'll work out all right,'' Adamson told The News-Sentinel's Bud Gallmeier after the game. ``I have trouble seeing the puck at my feet, but then every mask gives you that blind spot.''
Today, Adamson figures the mask saved his eyesight and his face about another 100 stitches. Wearing the original white mask, which cost $35, he led the Komets to their first Turner Cup championship in 1963. He used another mask he bought from Plante for $150 to help the Komets win the 1965 Turner Cup.
Plante became the first NHL goaltender to wear a mask on Nov. 1, 1959. A backhand from the New York Rangers' Andy Bathgate caught Plante in the upper lip. After a trip to the dressing room for more stitches, Plante returned and said he would not play unless he could wear his goalie mask. Because the teams had only one goaltender at the time, Montreal coach Toe Blake had no option but to agree.
The Canadiens won 3-1, and the next game Plante again more the mask over Blake's objections. It didn't hurt that the Canadiens went 18 games without suffering a loss.
Adamson doesn't believe any other goalies in the International Hockey League were wearing masks before he started but said everyone started around the same time.
``Probably after about the first four or five months, you realized you are still getting hit, but you aren't getting whacked open all the time,'' Adamson said. ``It's flush against your face and when you get whacked you know it. It hurt probably more getting hit flush than it did if you didn't have the mask on because all it would do is cut you and they'd just stitch you up. I think the only time I ever got froze was the one on the nose and the cheekbone.''
That happened while Adamson was playing in Indianapolis. During warm-ups one night, LeCaine fired a slap shot along the ice which hit a rut in the ice and jumped up to smack Adamson's face. That injury required surgery.
When the Chiefs folded after the 1961-62 season, Adamson came to Fort Wayne where he played for three seasons.
``I thought it was a good idea, absolutely,'' former Komets coach Ken Ullyot said. ``The goaltenders would get banged at least once every year in the forehead, or the jaw or the mouth. They still get those shots, but they are protected now. ''
Teams used their trainers as back-up goaltenders. They would practice with the teams.
Adamson retired at age 26 after getting a job offer from Fruehauf, returning three times to fill in when Gerry Randall got hurt the next season. Eventually, Adamson received offers from Vancouver of the NHL and Winnipeg from the WHA but turned them down to stay home with his family.
Today, the two masks he wore are part of his collection of souvenirs in his basement.
Now, no goaltender at any level would consider playing without wearing a mask.