ALL ICEHOCKEY PLAYERS, from the Mite to Minor and including college level, are required to wear face masks on their helmets. Masks can be purchased as part of the helmet or separately. There are three kinds of masks: wire cage, face shield, and combination.
- Wire cage: A wire cage consists of a metal or composite wire shield that covers the entire face and jaw area. Some models come with a chin cup for added protection. Wire cages provide more protection and do not fog up like face shields, but they are generally heavier. Metal cages are made of several types of tubing: steel, stainless steel, titanium, painted, and chrome. To increase vision, there are also options for tubing types. These include two-tone paint, dual finish, oval, and box.
- Shield: Hockey shields are composed of highly impact-resistant, anti-scratch, clear plastic. There are full face shields and haf shields. Full shields cover the entire face, and half shields cover the top half of the face to right below the nose. Some players prefer shields over wire masks because they offer better overall vision and no wires to hinder your vision. However, shields do tend to fog up during use. Many modern shields are made with fog-resistant coatings. There are also a variety of defogging sprays that help decrease this.
- Shield tints: One advantage of the shield is the variety of options for the visor. The most popular colors are clear and smoke. Smoke provides the player with a slight tint that helps cut down on glare. Amber shields help brighten a dark rink. A mirrored shield also helps decrease glare.
- Combination mask: A combination hockey mask utilizes components of both the wire cage and the shield. The top half features a plastic shield, and the bottom features the wire cage. This option provides the desired airflow and protection of the wire cage paired with the visibility of the hockey shield.
Fitting Face Masks
At minimum, all three face mask options—wire cage, face shield, and combination masks—offer protection for the top half of the face (Youth through college players are required to wear full facial protection; junior hockey players have the option to wear a half shield). Personal preference guides which mask a player chooses.
A wire cage covers the entire face and jaw area. The mask should fit snugly against the chin. If the mask is too long, it is possible the nose and mouth will come in contact with the mask on impact. When the player’s mouth is closed, the chin should fit comfortably into the chin cup. To ensure the mask is attached properly to the helmet, follow the specific manufacturer instructions you received with the face mask. Wire cages provide more protection and do not fog up like face shields, but they are also generally heavier.
Face shields are made of a highly impact-resistant, clear plastic and come in either full shield or half shield. Half shields generally cover the face to just below the nose, leaving the bottom half of the face unprotected. Some players prefer shields instead of wire cages because shields offer better overall vision as no wires are in the way. Shields do, however, tend to fog up during use. Most shields today are made with fog-resistant coating. If you still experience fogging, try using a defogging spray or wipe.
The combination mask combines the best of both designs: a plastic face shield to protect the eyes and upper part of the face and a wire cage to cover the lower half of the face and to add ventilation.
Question: I’ve noticed some players have a clear shield instead of a cage on their helmet. Can they see better—and therefore play better? Am I holding my kid back with a traditional cage?
Answer: It’s natural to want to give your player an advantage, but in this case, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Metal cages are inexpensive and durable but slightly heavy and obstructive. However, because most players start out wearing metal cages, they get used to them and don’t complain.
Some players who have the shield appreciate the visibility. Others complain about glare and fogging (although tints and defoggers can help), and the shields can get scratched by sticks, skates, locker room floors, and even debris in the hockey bag. Another option is a combination wire/shield mask, which offers the twin benefits of visibility and airflow. Because a cage is roughly half the price of a shield, you may want to experiment with shields when your player is older, has stopped growing, and is responsible enough to take care of it.
Note that all ice hockey players, from Mite through college, are required to wear full face masks on their helmets. You can easily swap out the face mask on any helmet to try different options.