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When Did Helmets Become Mandatory in the NHL?

Have you ever wondered when NHL helmets became mandatory for players? In this article, we look at when helmets first became an integral part of NHL players, look at the pros and cons, and answer the question of whether helmets really protect against head injuries during the game? Read on!

When did helmets become mandatory for all players? You may be surprised, but this was not always the case.

Helmets were not required to play hockey for a long time, until the season of games in 1979-80.
Each player had the right to choose whether to wear a helmet or not. The rules have changed due to a tragic incident that occurred during a game between the Minnesota North Stars and the New York Ranges.[1]

During the game, Rangers player Ulf Nilson got hit and fell headfirst into the boards. Having received a serious concussion, the hockey player was in a coma for several weeks. After this incident, the NHL made it a rule to require all hockey players to wear helmets on the field of play in order to avoid further injury and litigation.

After this incident, there have been enough cases of injuries during the game. Many of these injuries were caused not by not wearing helmets, but rather the opposite. Some experts argue that wearing helmets can increase the risk of injury while playing. A study conducted by the University of Ottawa showed that those who wear helmets are more likely to get injured than those who do not wear them. However, the rule to wear helmets has become stronger since they show protection during the game.

Early days – little to no protective equipment

In the early days of the game, almost no one wore protective clothing. It wasn’t until 1959 that the wearing of helmets became mandatory for new players.

Many players have been injured on the ice and due to safety concerns, the NHL has made it a rule to require all players to wear helmets.

The helmets that we see now on NHL players are new and improved models that are very different from the first helmets given to players. NHL is constantly testing new helmets adding new features to their characteristics.

By adding all the new improvements to the NHL helmet models in this way, the NHL shows that they care about the players and want to give them the best equipment. Hockey should be associated with courage, bravery and confidence and leave only the best impressions of the game for both the fans and the players themselves.[2]

The 1960s

The first helmets in the game appeared in the 1960s, but they were still made of plastic and did not protect enough from injury. Many players continued to get hurt because the helmets did not provide the proper level of protection.

The 1960s

The NHL experimented with different helmet materials and shapes throughout the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1970s, more specifically in 1979, that NHL President John Ziegler announced that newcomers would be required to wear helmets.

Modern day NHL Helmets

Helmets are still an important part of protection during hockey games. As technology advances, the technology of making and improving helmet models also continues to gain momentum.

All NHL helmets have a similar design and development. Usually this is a rather rigid outer frame, which is needed to protect the head in case of a stick hit or hit on the ice. Inside there are several layers of dense but soft material, foam or something similar, which provides a soft landing and helps cushion the head in the event of the same fall. Also, hockey helmets, like regular helmets, have ventilation holes and fastening leashes that hold the helmet in the correct position and provide an accurate and secure fit.

High school or college hockey players must wear a helmet that has a full metal cage or visor to avoid injury. The NHL does not require professional players to wear a cage while playing, but many of them choose this form of protection to recover from hits or previous injuries.

Styles of Hockey Helmets

Looking back at previous years, current players are much more likely to come out unscathed thanks to new helmet technology. Players are provided with different options of helmet models and of course they choose the best equipment provided by the market. There are currently several types of helmets that players can wear:

Most players have a variety of types of protection. These can be both visors that cover only half of the face, and full-face helmets that cover the entire face.

There is a huge variety of protection during the game on the market and players can choose the most suitable equipment for themselves.

Styles of Hockey Helmets

Also among the helmets there are such types as a wire cage, which is valued for high protection during the game, but does not provide proper visibility. A full-fledged mask that completely covers the entire face from unwanted hits with a stick and / or puck. The advantage of this mask is that it is made of a material that shows high transparency, which both protects the player and provides a good view.

The most famous type of hockey helmet is the goalie helmet, which used to be made of fiberglass and looked pretty intimidating.

Many players paint their helmets and stick various stickers on them to show their intentions, as well as belonging to a particular team.[3]

NHL Helmets stickers and logo

Players have a wide variety of stickers that help them identify themselves as a team and are a kind of a flag for fans. These stickers can be purchased independently on sites such as Etsy or other hockey related sites.

Each sticker has its own meaning and is given to teams or individual players as a contribution to the development of hockey, or for special merits.

As for the logo, the NHL is quite categorical in this matter.

In the entire history of the National Hockey League, the logo has only been modified three times since it was first introduced in 1917.

NHL Helmets stickers and logo

The NHL logo is a shield, in the middle of which there is an inscription in the form of an abbreviation of the national hockey league. The logo was originally made in black and orange colors and presented to the public in 1917.[4]

Throughout the whole existence of the NHL, the logo has not changed much.

As we know it today, it was introduced in 2005.
The drawing remained unchanged, only the color scheme changed. From orange and black, it became black and white, with a silvery tint.

The inscription began to be placed not down, but diagonally up. The font has also changed a bit.[5]


When did they start wearing helmets in hockey?

The first player to wear a helmet was George Owen. In 1930, he began using helmets to protect himself from all sorts of head injuries.

After this incident, the rest of the players decided to keep up and followed suit, also increasingly wearing helmets during the game. Basically, they wore them to protect themselves against flying pucks.

Prior to 1979, when helmets had been required, players could choose to wear a helmet or not. After 1979, any team was subject to the new rule, whether they were old-timers or newcomers who had just arrived in the NHL.

Throughout the history of hockey, helmets have had various variations and continued to improve. Now players have the opportunity to choose the best options that the market offers.

Why did players refuse to wear helmets?

Many years have passed before hockey helmets became a ubiquitous attribute during the game. NHL players initially refused to wear them for more than just aesthetic reasons. It was quite difficult for them to move around in them, helmets obstructed the overall view and were quite uncomfortable.

In addition, there was also public pressure against wearing helmets. Considering helmets as a way of protection, the players did not use them, as this was an unaccepted practice of the time. The fans wanted a fair game, and in their understanding, this meant not using different types of protection, which included helmets.

It was also believed that helmets could cause a player to overheat, which would make it harder for him to be on the ice. Most likely, overheating could have happened, but not because of the helmet, but rather because the players tried very hard and overexerted themselves.

Restricting the field of view could also cause the player to lose concentration and the end result of the game could be very different.

Based on these factors, there was a lot of negativity about wearing helmets, as they were considered not only ineffective, but also leading to undesirable consequences.

Who was the last NHL player to not wear a helmet?

Craig McTavish was the latest to refuse to wear helmets. He cited all the same reasons we discussed earlier. The main reason he didn’t wear a helmet was overheating. He spent many seasons playing without a helmet before wearing it again in 1988-1989. He often vomited and physical ailments forced him to stop using helmets.

Craig McTavish ended his career in 1997 and was lucky that he did not have any serious head injuries in his entire career.

Useful Video: The History Of Helmets in Hockey | In The Slot


Helmets have been mandatory in the NHL for a little over two decades now, but they haven’t always been required. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979 that helmets became mandatory in the NHL. This was after several high-profile head injuries led to calls for better safety equipment. While helmets may not completely prevent concussions, they do offer some protection against them and are therefore recommended for all athletes. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the history of NHL helmets!


  1. https://2ndskull.com/blogs/news/hockey-helmet-history
  2. https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/14892790/nhl-real-reasons-death-bill-masterton-highlight-concussion-issue
  3. https://nationalpost.com/sports/hockey/nhl-100-from-helmets-to-power-plays-hockey-has-come-a-long-way-in-100-years
  4. https://www.cbc.ca/archives/how-jacques-plante-made-the-goalie-mask-a-must-have-in-the-nhl-
  5. https://www.headsdontbounce.com/team-sports/last-nhl-player-to-not-wear-a-helmet/