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Last Hockey Player To Play Without A Helmet

By Kapil Sapkota / 11 October 2023 08:13 AM

Craig MacTavish played 17 seasons in the National Hockey League
Source : facebook

Last NHL player to not wear a helmet was Craig MacTavish. Craig played for the St. Louis Blues in the 1996-97 season without a helmet.

Brad Marsh and Randy Carlyle were also playing without helmets before MacTavish. Helmets are important protective gear for hockey players.

But the players played with a lot of risk in the early days as helmets were not available for hockey games. Some players started wearing common helmets during the games.

Later on, when hockey helmets were developed, most of the players chose not to wear them as they were used to playing without wearing them.

The importance of the helmets was realized only after people started witnessing awful injuries during the matches. Later on, the NHL made helmets compulsory to wear for the players.

Likewise, the last NHL referee to go on the ice rink without a helmet was Mick McGeough. He later started wearing it in the 2006-07 season.

Last NHL Players to Play Without A Helmet

Rod Langway, Ron Duguay, Doug Wilson, and Greg Smyth ranks amongst the last NHL player to not wear a helmet during the games.

We can't imagine an athlete playing ice hockey without a helmet today. But if we go back to the NHL's first decades, it was just normal for players to play without headgear.

What is even more surprising is that several athletes entered the rink without a helmet even after the NHL made helmets mandatory. We hardly find any players playing without visors in recent days. Imagine, those players dared to go without a helmet!

The NHL made helmets compulsory in 1979. Still, a player who signed his first pro contract before then could opt out if they signed a waiver. Around 30 percent of NHL athletes were still not wearing a helmet during the 1978-79 season.

List of last hockey players to play without a helmet:

Craig MacTavishSt. Louis Blues
Brad MarshOttawa Senators
Randy CarlyleWinnipeg Jets
Rod LangwayWashington Capitals
Doug WilsonSan Jose Sharks
Greg SmythCalgary Flames
Harold SnepstsSt. Louis Blues
Guy LafleurQuebec Nordiques
Al SecordChicago Blackhawks
Ron DuguayLos Angeles Kings

Craig MacTavish - 1996/97

Craig MacTavish was the last NHL player to play without helmet. It is also true that MacTavish was one of the first players to wear a helmet at the start of his NHL career.

MacTavish used to wear headgear when he was playing in college. He was still wearing it when he played five seasons with the Boston Bruins.

However, he changed his mind about wearing a helmet and decided to play without it after he joined the Edmonton Oilers. Craig was the only player in the NHL without a helmet by the 1993-94 season until he retired in 1997 at the age of 38.

Brad Marsh - 1992/93

The second-last NHL player to play without a helmet, Brad Marsh, was also known as a shot-blocking specialist during his career.

“You get hit in the face here and there at various times, but it had no relevance to if I had a helmet on,” Brad said. “When you’re on the ice, you always have to be aware of what’s going on, who else was on the ice, where the puck was being shot from, and so on.”

NHL veteran Brad Marsh still loves the Warriors
Source : twitter

The player wore a helmet during his 15 years NHL career only a few times. He told, “In the Marsh household, we grew up watching the Maple Leafs, and I wanted to be like Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun, Tim Horton, any defenseman from that era. So, I didn’t wear a helmet.”

Brad played his last NHL season at the age of 34 in 1992 with the Ottawa Senators. Marsh then bid adieu to his 15-season-long NHL career.

When Did Helmets Become Mandatory in the NHL?

Helmets became mandatory in the NHL after June 1, 1979. Having said that, the helmet was still optional for the veteran players.

There weren’t enough regulating checks, fights, and safety equipment for players during the early days of hockey. When more injuries were seen, players' safety became a matter of concern, especially regarding helmets.

There is no official verification on who was the first NHL player to wear a helmet. However, George Owen, the Bruins defenseman is often rumored to be the first NHL player to wear a helmet.

It is reported that Owen wore the same helmet during an NHL game that he wore playing football while he was attending Harvard University.

Warrior Covert PX2 Yellow Helmet of the Nashville Predators
Source : prostockhockey

During the 1930s, there was an instruction to the Toronto Maple Leafs to add helmets to their hockey equipment. But the fans and media didn't like this idea much and the players continued to play without any head protection.

After Bill Masterton’s fatal incident in 1968, NHL players started being more open about the idea of wearing helmets. It took more than a decade for NHL to make helmets mandatory for players in 1979.

Red Kelly must be credited for promoting the usage of helmets in a hockey game. Kelly was also a member of the Canadian parliament and he advocated for wearing helmets after being traded to the Maple Leafs in 1960. 

A safety brochure with the tagline “Kelly plays it safe” was distributed in Canadian schools. Surprisingly, around 200,000 Toronto Hockey League players already started wearing helmets by 1964.

Hockey helmets these days are considered to be the crown of the head and are usually a hard outer shell made up of a substance that disseminates the impact across the entire helmet. The foam inside the helmet protects the head by distributing the force of the impact.

New NHL Helmet Rule

The new NHL rule has made it mandatory to wear a helmet even during warm-ups. Even the on-ice officials need to wear helmets compulsorily.

New NHL helmet rules according to the National Hockey League 2022 guidelines are:

  • All players must wear a helmet of design, material, and construction approved by the NHL while participating in the game. The rule also applies to the players either on the playing surface or the players on the penalty benches.

  • A player may only return to the ice during play with a helmet if he returns to his players’ bench to be substituted for.

  • A player can't exit the penalty bench during play without a helmet.

  • If a player intentionally removes an opponent's helmet during a game, he will receive a minor penalty.

  • When a goalie losses his helmet and/or face mask having his team control the puck, play shall be stopped immediately and the goaltender is allowed to regain his helmet or face mask.

  • When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity.

NHL Rule Helmet Comes Off

When a helmet comes off by accident or for other reasons, NHL has specified to follow some rules during such conditions:

  • When an NHL player's helmet comes off during a play and he doesn't exit the playing surface or gain and replace his helmet properly on his head, he shall be assessed a minor penalty.
  • When a goalie deliberately removes his helmet purposing to stop the play, he will receive a minor penalty for delay of game.
  • If a goaltender removes his helmet deliberately during the course of a penalty shootout and the opposing team is on a breakaway, the play will stop and the non-offending team will be awarded a goal.

NHL Helmet Visor Rule

NHL helmet visor rule made it mandatory to wear a visor properly affixed to their helmet for players who have played less than 25 NHL games.

Moreover, the visor needs to be attached to the helmets in such a way that it ensures adequate eye protection and reduces the chances of injury.

If the officials find a player wearing the visor incorrectly, he will be removed from the match until his visor is fixed properly to his helmet. A player shall be penalized if he returns to the ice still in violation of the rule even after a first offense and warning.