The side-splitting (albeit salty, so be careful looking him up) stand-up comedian Lewis Black does not need to tell any professional hockey goalies that, whereas children are confined to Halloween, they are free to dress up in an alternative persona any time they please.
After all, this is occupational for NHL netminders, not occasional. In fact, decorating one's face mask is treated as just shy of an obligation.
The positional privilege of deciding the exact appearance of a key piece of one's equipment for each game night must be used in a way that speaks to one's individual traits or to the team.
Well, either that or just be creative without any rhyme and reason, but only tasteful intent to snag attention from anybody with a camera of any kind.
The 50 masked men who have exemplified that the best are listed as follows in alphabetical order.
The twin eagles on each side of his shield were one of the few constants in Belfour’s career, which was split amongst five different teams. But whether the birds had a red background, as they did in Chicago days, solid gold (Dallas) or blue (Toronto), it always looked good.
The veteran journeyman began his career in the Buffalo Sabres' system, with whom he did one of the most memorable jobs of prominently incorporating the city and team name in a game of picture charades.
The active aviator Boucher brought in his duffel bag as a rookie jutted out as one of the more memorably unique helmets in the history of Philadelphia Flyers netminders.
According to the portion protecting Brathwaite's chin, the evening is settling on St. Louis. Whoever that is hovering above in the hat, odds are no one will want to encounter him while walking out alone.
One of the sacrifices of protective innovation is the fact that Bromley’s skull-type shield would be wholly impractical with the way goalie masks are designed today. That said, in terms of standing out with a perfectly distributed scary looking face―nose, teeth and all―Bromley was in the right place at the right time and took full advantage.
In this special case, the special appeal is all in the back flap, where there is a muscular Ned Flanders waving the flag of Budaj’s native Slovakia.
Cheevers can be credited with originating the act of customizing artwork on a goalie’s mask. His tongue-in-cheek approach of depicting the stitches he presumably would have received had he played sans facial protection is a rigidly characteristic classic.
The legacy of the Cheevers' mask was such that, three full decades after he had backstopped the Bruins to their second Stanley Cup in three years, Steve Shields (pictured) made it the theme of his cage when he came to Boston.
Of all the infinite backups to Martin Brodeur from nearly the last two decades and all the masked men in the New Jersey franchise’s three decades of existence, Clemmensen has sported the single-most demonic-looking creature.
Its lack of eye pupils makes it all the more intimidating, and its general distribution of red, black and white looks especially good with the Devils’ red home jersey.
Let it slide that the Blues Brothers hail from Chicago, traditionally one of the most despised opposing cities in St. Louis sports and vice versa. The classic Saturday Night Live and movie duo are the best way to plaster another human face on the mask of someone who is tending the net for any team named after the musical genre in question.
The lighthouse and the fisherman are long gone from the New York Islanders jerseys, which have reverted to a simpler, more ambiguous reference to their nickname. But when he was tending their net, Danis displayed a detailed, yet crisp image of a rough seacoast environment, which at least conveys the toughness expected of him and his mates as they stare adversity in the eye.
As a member of the Islanders, Dubielewicz whittled a little of the franchise’s history off the banners and brought them down to the crease in the form of two iconic images from the glory years. And in between, unlike Danis, Dubielewicz does bring back that personification of the team nickname that polarized fans when it served as the official crest.
With his original NHL employer in Dallas, Ellis threw back to a go-to period and setting of cultural depiction in the region’s history with his horse-riding sheriff. He later rivaled his own creativity when he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning and sported what was presumably an ancient mythological thunder god.
No confirmation as to his intentions, but Garnett’s mask from his Atlanta Thrasher days looks like a nod to that ultimately ill-fated franchise’s equally ill-fated predecessor, the Atlanta Flames. The hot, explosive pattern is even better than what the majority of Calgary NHL goalies have brought to the crease.
Worn during the peak of his decade in Anaheim, including the run to the 2007 Stanley Cup championship, Giguere’s mask went with a split-personality duck at the forefront. Very fitting for a sport where the ideal player undergoes a three-hour transformation from gentleman to uncompromising competitor on game night.
Elsewhere, in accordance with the team colors, there is an evening sky surrounding the home arena on the chin. The lighting of the building and the swaying trees out in front speak to a sufficient supply of energy and chaos in the air.
One of the most definitively eccentric figures to grace an NHL crease (and there is great competition for that title), Gratton was a fellow pioneer of Cheevers in the decoration department.
His shield literally went all out, which was still possible in his era before the modern mask structure came along, to give him an alternative face. Not sure if this is what renowned sports psychologist Dr. Saul Miller had in mind when he wrote of athletes using “animal imagery,” but it seemed to work for Gratton.
From Wade Flaherty to Jeff Hackett to Arturs Irbe to Jarmo Myllys to Jimmy Waite, San Jose could not catch much of a break from monochrome white or black helmets on their goalies in the franchise’s early years.
Hayward, who saw action in merely 25 games during the team’s first two seasons of existence, was not merely an exception in that regard. He was an all-out precedent-setter with his illusion of a shark enveloping his face with its mouth.
In the two decades since, only a select few Sharks stoppers have rivaled or bested Hayward, fashion-wise.
His polar bear is another one of the earlier instances of a carnivorous creature encompassing the goalie’s face. Furthermore, the blue and white not only flow with the team color scheme, but also evoke the thoughts of ice and snow generally associated with the region, the animal and the team nickname.
According to at least one source, Hirsch’s artwork was the exterior for the infamous Bates building in the old horror film, Psycho.
The creepy, dark building, coupled with the dusking sky in the background, deftly delivers what was then the Vancouver Canucks’ color scheme in the height of the pre-Orca era.
It’s so simply conceived, yet has hardly been seen from any of Howard’s predecessors between the Red Wings' pipes. He sports a car driving onward with the Detroit city skyline in full background view.
Car plus skyline equals…Motor City.
Howard demonstrates fine execution of an idea that logically should have been thought of years ago, but is much better now than never.
Capitalizing on a nickname that implicitly stemmed from the title character of a Stephen King story, “CuJo” took a variation of the ferocious dog in question on his lid everywhere he went.
In terms of their position, Kidd’s dragons were reminiscent of Belfour’s eagles. More importantly, they, along with the blazing background, offer one of the best representations of the Calgary Flames ever worn on the head of a netminder.
From his formative seasons in the Washington Capitals farm system onward, Kolzig was nicknamed “Godzilla” for his imposing posture and, shall we say, verbally explosive tendencies.
That said, he clearly embraced his association with the saurian movie monster, painting various version of Godzilla on his mask throughout his career. Ironically, his best season in terms of team success, namely when his Caps went to the Cup final in 1998, overlapped with the release of TriStar’s adaptation of the iconic Japanese film.
Upon assuming a job with the Ottawa Senators, Lalime observantly adopted the cartoon character Marvin the Martian as his mask mascot, accentuating the helmet that virtually matches the one worn by the ancient warrior on the Sens' jerseys.
Mason has made multiple modifications to his artwork, all of which is designed to flow with the Civil War-related premise of the Columbus Blue Jackets' nickname. His best has easily been the fairly realistic rendering of a Union soldier, whose respectability trumps the cartoony Abe Lincoln found here.
While it appears contradictory at first, what other way was a Hartford Whalers goalie supposed to get to the point? By plastering the mug of Captain Ahab all over his lid?
One of the best goalies in the history of the Sharks bore the best, most original artwork on a Sharks mask. While there is nothing wrong with depicting the team’s symbol roaming the sea and maybe poised to strike, Nabokov took a more attention-getting route by directly confirming that these carnivorous fish are ready to be fed.
Naumenko’s career with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks lasted all of two games in 2000-01, plus 98 appearances over four seasons with the team’s AHL affiliate in Cincinnati. Yet two minutes of standing in the crease with this artwork guarding his face would have been memorable enough.
Those who recall the Mighty Ducks Animated Series and know their more distant hockey history might consider the mallard on this mask to be Drake Ducaine channeling Ken Dryden. This was an all-around winner in the homage department, both to Naumenko’s team and to his position.
Like Dubielewicz with the Islanders, Raycroft displayed a solid array of important figures in the history of his Toronto Maple Leafs.
The red, white and blue Statue of Liberty painting worked on multiple levels for the Pennsylvania native. It offered an appropriate nod to Richter’s city of employment through his NHL career with the Rangers and blended equally well with the Team USA uniform at the World Cup and IIHF events.
Sanford shares the nickname “Sandman” with longtime New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Thankfully, different customs for different athletes in different sports has meant they could each capitalize in distinctive manners.
So while Rivera has had canned Metallica music as his trademark, Sanford has sported the ostensibly creepy folklore figure on his helmet.
A relatively brief NHL career in the mid-1970s was cemented into historical memory by, if nothing else, Simmons’ cobra. Not a bad choice for the last line of defense, and the snake certainly assumes the kind of upright, poised posture and covers much of Simmons’ face the same way he would have been expected to cover his net.
Thibault’s mask from his Sabres days is fraternal to that of the aforementioned Biron, using essentially the same approach with the sword-wielding bison.
Due to circumstances beyond his control, it does not look quite as good as it would have in the team’s red-and-black era. On the other hand, Thibault has a herd of buffalo as opposed to an individual, which (intentionally or not) conveys an open trust in the skaters before him.
Naturally, a multitude of Boston Bruins backstops have harmlessly delivered a not-so-subtle lesson in synonyms by sporting a growling bear on their lid. But in his stint of seven-plus years in the organization, one of Thomas’ masks has taken a slightly more original approach and stressed only the bear’s claws.
That works for a position where one is expected to use his paws for strong and deft swiping of loose pucks.
Toivonen had the misfortune of being dealt from the Bruins immediately before they started to replenish their winning ways and join in on Boston’s successful sports landscape. But at least he had the creative initiative to offer a nod to past Bruins legends and some of the key figures on the recent Red Sox and Patriots championship squads.
During much of the 2008-09 season, Maple Leafs fans had the privilege of seeing either Joseph’s distinctive mask or Toskala’s not-so-dissimilar fang-brandishing monster. Too bad they both posted sub-.900 save percentages and supra-3.00 goals-against averages that year.
Turco’s gargoyle would have looked great on him throughout his professional career even if he hadn’t gone to the University of Michigan, where it sometimes seems every goalie conforms to the football-style striped helmet along with the skaters. Once he had a chance to be original, he went for the gusto.
The pouncing panther may not one-up the legacy of Vanbiesbrouck’s mask, but it is the best, most energetic rendering of the Florida mascot since that era.
As if the team logo (and even the alternate logo) did not indicate as much, it is hard to do a nickname like “Hurricanes” justice with a literal visual depiction.
The next best thing, which Ward has adopted for his mask, is to evoke the Carolina region’s history of violent human activity at sea. (Blackbeard was among the pirates who visited the pre-colonial coast).