The Evolution of Goalie Masks
Friday, 01.13.2012 / 5:37 PM
Ever since Gerry Cheevers first had a stitch mark painted on his mask by Boston Bruins trainer John Forestall, goaltenders have personalized the most visible piece of equipment they wear: their masks.
In fact, if you visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario, there’s a section just for some of the most famous mask artwork of all time. You can see Cheevers’ stitch marks, Ken Dryden’s elliptical patterm from Montreal, and so many more. Occasionally sports web sites will run galleries of pictures debating the best paint jobs of all time. One thing is for certain: there is no pieceof gear in any sport as customized or individualized as the goaltender’s mask.
In 1972 Doug Favell became the first goaltender to wear full-mask artwork, which was actually the product of a prank by his trainer Frank Lews – he painted Favell’s mask orange (he played for the Flyers) like a pumpkin for Halloween. As the 70s advanced, goalies like Favell, Jim Rutherford and Rogie Vachon began to use team logos as mask artwork and theseeds were planted.
After Andy Brown’s last NHL appearance in April of 1974, the era of the maskless goaltender came to an end (although Brown did play in the WHA until 1977). Mask artwork proliferated as goaltenders looked to express themselves in new and different ways. Perhaps the most famous masks of the era were Gary Simmons’ Cobra design and Gilles Gratton’s Lion mask, which are also on display in Toronto. Both were intricate and detailed designs that showed where mask art was leading in the future.
Today’s headgear is a far cry from the very first attempts at protection worn by Clint Benedict and Jacques Plante. Fiberglass and Kevlar, stainless steel and space-age padding – there’s a lot of technology protecting the mellon of today’s elite goaltender.
Both Pekka Rinne and Anders Lindback use a hybrid mask style as does every other NHL goaltender. The last pro holdouts of the helmet and separate cage combo have finally left the NHL ranks: Dominic Hasek, Chris Osgood, and Martin Prusek rank as among the last to stay true to the combos. Before the helmet and cage combos were in vogue, masks were more molded to one’s face with padding on the inside. Now, the hybrid style combines the fit of the old “on the face” style with the vision components and light weight of the helmet and cage combos.
Some goaltenders literally go for a custom fit, having a facial cast made and a helmet custom molded for exact fit. Not everyone goes this route however, and both Rinne and Lindback use a stock mask from Bauer with a “cat-eye” cage – meaning a design where the bars of the mask open in a curved fashion as opposed to a grid-like design a la Boston’s Tim Thomas.
Rinne came over to Bauer a few seasons ago after breaking a couple of the masks he was wearing at the time made by a smaller private company. After the last one broke Predators head equipment manager Pete Rogers told Rinne that he would suggest switching to another mask company before he was seriously injured. Rinne agreed.
Lindback had a somewhat similar story, saying he switched to Bauer after a mask he wore when he was playing the equivalent of North American junior hockey broke and he ended up missing four teeth!
I asked both of them if they had ever worn anything besides a cat-eye as pros, and both had not, although Rinne did remember wearing a combo similar to that of Hasek when he was younger. Rinne employs the cat-eye because it allows him to see the ice better and has more of an opening for his vision. He admitted sometimes things can happen where a stick or puck can intrude into the mask (a puck did so earlier this year causing a small cut) but the masks are generally strong enough towithstand massive amounts of force.
When it comes to picking the artist for their masks, both goaltenders use Swedish artist David Gunnarsson. Gunnarsson has become the painter of choice for many NHL netminders, and even before he came over to North America Lindback was using him for his masks. Meanwhile Rinne came to use Gunnarsson through the suggestion of Rogers, who had heard many positive things about the Swede’s artwork from fellow equipment managers and goaltenders as well.
The process of coming up with each individual design varies from person to person – some goalies are completely in control from start to finish, others like to spitball and seewhat comes up, while others still leave the majority of the execution to the artist. Both Pekka and Anders come in with the middle option – they look to different places for inspiration, have some ideas of themes and details, but also love to see what a creative guy like Gunnarsson brings them for ideas.
Lindback doesn’t really talk to other goaltenders about individual designs, but he does like to visit Gunnarsson’s web site at www.daveart.com to see what designs he’s done lately. Best of all most masks have some accompanying description along with a nice photo gallery – a huge bonus for mask-philes.
Lindback approaches the process differently for each mask. Sometimes he has concrete ideas for what he wants, and other times he lets Gunnarsson lead with ideas and then supplies details and suggestions later.
Rinne enjoys the fact that Gunnarsson’s style is much more “flashy” than his own and thinks the two mix well when coming up with ideas. Rinne says he’ll get approximately five different sketches at a time from Gunnarsson, who for the most part Rinne allows a free hand for design.
Both goaltenders laud the artist’s work, saying they’re completely happy with what he comes up with and the execution of their ideas in real life.
Now to see this year’s examples for each goaltender, click below for the companion video!
Click here for your chance to to help design Pekka Rinne's next mask.