February 25, 2010

Call it the art of the mask THE BEST OF THE AHL

RACHEL LENZI

— By

click image to enlarge

Jhonas Enroth of the Portland Pirates is no different than other goalies: There are reasons and stories for the items on his mask. “Everyone has their own ideas and they try to be creative,” he says.

Jack Milton

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Shawn Sirman’s personal touch includes snarling UMaine black bears on the side and that, he says, “gets me motivated to play.”

Rachel Lenzi Photo

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

When he starts in goal Tuesday night in the AHL All-Star Game at the Cumberland County Civic Center, Jonathan Bernier will wear a purple tinted mask with the logo of the Los Angeles Kings emblazoned on one side. On the opposite side is a tribute to Tinseltown, as yards of celluloid embrace the iconic Hollywood sign.

And when the Manchester Monarchs' goalie faces opposing shooters, the violet eyes of a lion -- the king of the jungle -- stare at the skater from atop the forehead of his mask.

Bernier's mask is like no other. In the goaltending community, what began as a protective measure has evolved into a fashion statement. Masks are adorned with a range of images and fully designed goalie masks are like thumbprints -- no two are ever exactly alike.

''It's a special thing for a goalie to have,'' said Portland Pirates goalie Jhonas Enroth. ''Everyone has their own ideas and they try to be creative, and it's pretty fun to put a mask together.''

But look a little closer at the details. A flag represents a player's nationality. Names etched on the back plate represent family members whom a goalie has lost. Cartoon characters are exaggerations of a goalie's personality. Religious iconography even adorns some masks -- when Jason Muzzatti played for the Italian Olympic hockey team in 2006, the right side of his mask sported an image of Pope John Paul II.

''It tells a story and it's your own thing,'' said University of Maine freshman goalie Shawn Sirman, whose baby-blue helmet features snarling bears bursting through a brick wall. ''When I look at it and think about Maine hockey, it gets me motivated to play.''

In 1959, a maskless goalie for the Montreal Canadiens took a shot in the face during a game, and in the fashion of any hockey player, he was ready to return to the ice after he was stitched up. But Jacques Plante would only resume playing with one caveat -- he had to have facial protection. His mask was a white, rudimentary cover with three holes, two for the eyes and one for the nose and mouth. Plante's insistence on wearing a mask became a watershed moment for goaltending and the sport.

Before Plante, some goalies had only worn masks temporarily, to cover head or facial injuries.

''It is the iconic mask that started the trend of the modern-day goaltender,'' said Craig Campbell, the manager of the resource center and archives at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. ''It's very simple. It's not the most appealing, but what it represents, it makes sense that it is the benchmark mask in our collection. And some of the masks we have are very, very iconic.''

In 1968, a trainer for the Boston Bruins began to draw stitches on the face plate mask of goalie Gerry Cheevers, to represent each time he'd been hit in the face by a shot. But in the early 1970s, goalies started to paint their face plates. Doug Favell of the Philadelphia Flyers wore an orange mask (rumored to be painted like a pumpkin as a prank), while Detroit goalie Jim Rutherford had red wings (or is it Red Wings?) painted over the eyes of his white mask.

In the 1980s, goalies began to transition from a full face plate (think Jason Voorhees from the ''Friday the 13th'' movies) to a fiberglass shell with a back plate, with a metal cage covering the eyes and nose.

''It's amazing to look at the old designs, and I try to stay as old-school as I can,'' said Todd Miska, a Minnesota-based artist who designed the mask of Maine goalie Scott Darling. ''I design the masks so that I can keep things bolder, larger and more visible. The fans can see it better, and it's because of some masks they know who the goalie is.''

Designed by a Swedish artist, David Gunnarsson, Enroth's mask has the Buffalo Sabres' logo on the left side, the ''B'' on the shoulders of the Sabres' jersey above the cage and the Portland Pirates' logo on the right side.

''I wanted a plain mask but one with big logos,'' said Enroth, who also has the flag of Sweden and a baby seal painted on the back plate of his mask. ''Something that people will see from the stands.''

Dave Wilson held the blue-tinted fiberglass goalie mask in his hand and pointed out the familiar faces inherent to the history of hockey at the University of Maine.

Paul Kariya on the right temple. Jimmy Howard on the lower jaw. Shawn Walsh against his right ear. The Naked Five lined up from the left temple to above the left ear.

That's the group of students who run around shirtless at each home game. Immortalized in blue and white. There they are, the letters M-A-I-N-E painted on their chests, on the left side of Wilson's helmet, a few inches above the lyrics to ''The Stein Song,'' the school's fight song.

When he sat down to design his final college goalie mask (which he will keep when he graduates) Wilson chose to commemorate the history of the program.

''I want to remember everything from Maine, and think about things that defined Maine hockey to me,'' Wilson said.

Sirman's mask is covered with a pattern of blue and white bricks, similar to the mask of his idol, Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Sirman has even incorporated pop culture into his mask. Painted in white and arched atop the back plate of Sirman's mask is the statement ''And Justice for All,'' above the logo for a popular outdoors outfitter.

''It's my favorite Metallica album,'' the freshman said. ''And I'm always wearing a Bass Pro Shops hat.''

Sirman also added a personal touch. Painted in blue, against a white brick wall at the bottom edge of the back plate are two names -- ''Nanny and Poppy'' -- in honor of his grandparents.

Painting and designing goalie masks has become a cottage industry, and a custom-painted mask can cost anywhere from $450 to upwards of $1,000. Steve Nash, who owns Eye Candy Air in Woodbridge, Ontario, designed his first goalie mask in 1997 and his current clients include Boston's Tim Thomas, Carolina's Cam Ward, St. Louis' Chris Mason and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick.

''It's competitive because there are only so many goalies and a lot of talented artists,'' Nash said. ''Everyone's trying to fight for a few guys in the big show. And painting a mask, it's become an iconic thing. You have to have it done. I think it's the last thing in sports where the athlete can really put his personality out there.''

It takes an artist about a week to paint a mask, but the wait list can be as long as six months.

Earlier this month, Miska put the finishing touches on the new mask for Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding. On Dec. 18 in Ottawa, the Wild's equipment truck caught on fire and all of the team's equipment was destroyed, including Harding's mask. Over the holidays, Harding went to Miska with a specific idea in mind for his new goalie mask.

''I reproduced that moment,'' Miska said of the fire. ''There's a picture of the truck on fire, with firemen from the Ottawa Fire Department putting it out, and fire trucks in the background. Josh wanted to do a spoof of the situation, but he also wanted to pay respect to the firefighters who were on the scene.''

The hardest thing to paint on a mask, Nash explained, is the image of someone who has died. Nash asks the goalie to tell the story of that individual, to better understand the person before translating their image onto a small canvas.

''It's very personal,'' Nash said. ''Sometimes I get really choked up putting the person on the mask, especially if it's a grandparent or a child. The most challenging thing for an artist is trying to bring a photograph to life.''

In a goalie's world, the bottom line is stopping the puck. But because the mask is an extension of a goalie's personality, style points are at stake. Especially for Darling, UMaine's sophomore goalie.

''For me,'' he said, laughing, ''I'm all about trying to look good on the ice.''

While the front of Darling's Miska-designed mask represents the university -- a snarling black bear on the left side and the scripted ''Maine'' on the right -- the back plate is a personal declaration of friendship and family.

On every mask he's worn, Darling has had a horseshoe painted somewhere on his helmet. On his UMaine helmet, the good-luck charm is painted on the back plate, surrounded by tiny trinkets.

''This,'' he said, turning over the mask and grinning, ''is where the good stuff is.''

From left to right, there's a white ghost from the Pac-Man video games. A rubber duckie covered by the prohibition sign. The numeral one, backwards, in orange and brown. A nautical star -- a Darling family symbol, which is also tattooed on the back of Darling's upper arms.

Those symbols are on the helmets of three other Division I goalies: Kyle Rank at Bentley (who only wears white equipment), Corey Reichert at Miami of Ohio (whose motto is, ''Don't be a duck'') and Nick Eno at Bowling Green (spell his name backwards). Beneath the horseshoe is a Latin saying -- ''Luctor et emergo.''

Darling translated the saying, a school motto that's tattooed on his back.

''Struggle and emerge,'' he said.

A fitting statement for any athlete that's immortalized on a goalie mask.

Staff Writer Rachel Lenzi can be reached at 791-6415 or at:

rlenzi@pressherald.comWHAT: Time Warner Cable AHL All-Star Classic in Portland

Monday

n AHL skills competition, Cumberland County Civic Center, 8 p.m. (TV: NESN)

Tuesday

n AHL Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony, Merrill Auditorium, noon

n AHL All-Star Game, Cumberland County Civic Center, 6 p.m. (TV: NESN)

n Combination tickets ($42-$49) can be purchased at portlandpirates.com. Or you can call the Pirates at 828-4665 ext. 350 or the Civic Center box office at 775-3458.

n Individual tickets ($25) for either the skills competition or the game are available only at the Civic Center box office.

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Additional Photos

Cristobal Huet
click image to enlarge

Cristobal Huet

ASSOCIATED PRESS

click image to enlarge

Dave Wilson’s personal touch at UMaine includes the words to the school fight song over his chin.

Rachel Lenzi photo

click image to enlarge

Gerry Cheevers, back in the late 1960s, had a trainer for the Boston Bruins paint stitches at spots on his mask where he would have been struck by a puck.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

click image to enlarge

Scott Darling of the University of Maine has a horseshoe on every mask he wears, to go with other less traditional images, such as a figure from the video game Pac-Man.

Rachel Lenzi Photo

click image to enlarge

Jhonas Enroth of the Portland Pirates is no different than other goalies: There are reasons and stories for the items on his mask. “Everyone has their own ideas and they try to be creative,” he says.

Jack Milton

click image to enlarge

Shawn Sirman’s personal touch includes snarling UMaine black bears on the side and that, he says, “gets me motivated to play.”

Rachel Lenzi Photo

Cristobal Huet
click image to enlarge

Cristobal Huet

ASSOCIATED PRESS

click image to enlarge

Dave Wilson’s personal touch at UMaine includes the words to the school fight song over his chin.

Rachel Lenzi photo

click image to enlarge

Gerry Cheevers, back in the late 1960s, had a trainer for the Boston Bruins paint stitches at spots on his mask where he would have been struck by a puck.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

click image to enlarge

Scott Darling of the University of Maine has a horseshoe on every mask he wears, to go with other less traditional images, such as a figure from the video game Pac-Man.

Rachel Lenzi Photo

  


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