The goalie mask. One of the few aspects of a uniform in hockey that can be customized to how a player wants it. And these days, the men behind the masks certainly like to go all out.
It's the creativity and design that makes these goalies recognizable, and many goaltenders have become notorious for the artwork on their helmets. It's also become common for net minders to have more than one mask, depending on whether they're home or away, or if they're wearing a third jersey.
Guys like Roberto Luongo, Cristobal Huet, and Carey Price are just a few such players. And they're not afraid to change the masks from season to season, either.
It has become quite the fashion statement these days, having a mask match the jerseys, while almost telling a story about who the goaltenders are and what the team and city means to them.
There have been some classic masks worn by some of the game's best. Guys like Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour, who stuck with the same design no matter what team they played for, will always be known for what was on their masks.
It becomes an identity for these guys, a way for people to recognize them without ever seeing their faces.
You can tell a lot about a goalie by just looking at his mask—or it could just be that they want that little bit of swagger to go along with their game. Either way, it's time to just sit back and enjoy these fine pieces of artwork that are on display during every game we watch.
So here are the 10 best masks in the league this season.
Brian Elliott has had a lot more playing time this season than he first thought he would, with the multiple injuries to starter Pascal Leclaire. Which means that helmet of his has gotten a lot more use as well.
And it’s left quite an impression.
The right side of his mask dishes out some serious intimidation, what with a masked man painted on (Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), wearing goalie pads and looking like he’s having a really bad day. He's holding what looks to be a goalie stick, along with a bunch of them in a sack over his back, but the fact that you can't actually see the ends of them leaves the imagination to wonder if it's simply just a club he's holding; the use of which does not take a rocket scientist to figure out.
No doubt that's the point, as the face is clearly not looking to make friends.
Of course, there are references to the Sens as well, with the logo on it multiple times—as well as subtly tattooed on the arm of the club-holding madman.
This mask doesn't mince words. It's mean without question, and you've got to give the guy his due for that. Some goalies try to be cheesy and make their masks with a streak of nice. Not Elliott; no, sir.
This mask is all mean, all the time—which is perfect considering he's trying to stop pucks being shot at him at 100 mph every night.
And there's no way you can face that on a nightly basis without feeling a little bit of anger once in a while.
Jimmy Howard is yet another one of those net minders who came into this season not expecting to play much, but he ended up being thrust into the spotlight because of poor play or injury to the starter.
He's already played 32 games this season, thanks to the less-than-stellar play of Chris Osgood, and he has looked good for the most part.
Speaking of looking good, you've got to give some love to this guy's mask, as he gives some serious respect to the history and culture of life in Detroit.
The Shelby GT on the side is drawn to perfection and the speedometer on top red-lining, obviously showing the car revving with major horsepower. It all just fits, both on the mask and in the city he plays in.
Both sides of his mask are the same, but creativity and originality aside, this one just looks cool, and that's enough.
If he keeps up the solid play in Detroit, he could find himself fitted in the starting job permanently, which would be fine by Jimmy.
It would also mean fans of the Red Wings could get used to looking at a mask with some detail, rather than the plain red mask of Chris Osgood that they've been looking at for quite some time.
The winds of change are a-blowing in Hockeytown.
The mask Cristobal Huet wears when the Blackhawks are on the road is very similar to the one he wears at home, with only a simple background colour change and a few minor details.
His mask, just as the jerseys the team wears, is truly a classic. Just as the sweaters are the most colourful in the NHL, Huet's helmet is equally as vibrant.
The feathers coming out of the top and the hair coming down the side resemble that of an Indian head dressing—the chief of the tribe, if you will.
And a nice touch on the front, with an Indian dreamcatcher. Huet obviously hopes it works better at catching pucks than dreams, but no doubt he'll take what he can get.
It just works so well with the uniform, and it's almost as if he's wearing a 3D version of the team logo on his head. Pretty cool, if you ask me.
Definitely one of the best masks in the league, and the team in front of him ain't bad either...
Jean-Sebastian Giguere took the "two-face" to a whole new level on his mask, with his half robot duck right on the front completely surrounded by lightning.
It's definitely a cool mask, as the half normal, half robot head of the duck has a really cool look to it. The normal side is still a mean looking duck, as it's got a snarl going on, and the red eye doesn't necessarily suggest this would be the type of bird you'd want to feed bread crumbs to down by your local pond.
The robot side is where things get really nasty, as the teeth are clearly visible, making this one mean looking mallard. Again, it's got the red eye, minus the pupil for some added nastiness.
All in all, this mask is certainly up there on the coolness scale, and it has that certain swagger that a Stanley Cup winning-goalie should have on his helmet.
But trust me, this mask is not aimed at your average Mighty Duck movie fans. This duck means business.
Though it's a little crowded, you have to give some serious props to whoever did the work on Marty Turco's mask—both of them, in fact. He too is a goalie who likes to occasionally switch things up and wear a different one depending on which jersey his team is donning that game.
The only difference between the two is basically the background colour and the image on the very front.
Other than that, these masks have some insane details all over them, with gargoyles on either side perched atop a wall—obviously referring to his game and how he plans on playing.
A wall, get it?
There's also a nice touch on the right side: what looks to be graffiti written on the brick wall, obviously having some meaning to Turco, and adding a little bit more to the effect.
All in all, this mask is one of the best, simply because of the amount of detail it has. It may look a bit crowded, but out of pure appreciation, this mask has to be mentioned.
Simeon Varlamov, the young goaltender from Russia who made a big splash onto the scene in last season's playoffs, is now a regular in the Washington net—and for good reason.
The kid can certainly play, and because he's now cemented his spot in the NHL, he's got a mask to prove it—and it's one of the best.
Last season, he had a mask that showed the Capitals logo on one side, and that of AHL team the Hershey Bears on the other. This season, he has gone with the same two-sided theme, but with a different twist.
On the left side of the mask is a Russian symbol, the double-headed eagle, in brilliant orange and red, marking his home country with the flags. And on the right side is a picture of Mount Rushmore and the American flag.
This design is certainly one of the most thought-out in the league—it's not only about his current team, but where he came from as well. It all just fits on this mask, and it gives a totally different look, depending on which side you're looking from.
There was definitely some time spent on this design, and because of that, it makes this list. Great artwork, not to mention an extremely detailed picture of Mount Rushmore, has this as one of the best in the league.
It certainly helps get Varlamov noticed on a team whose full attention is usually on another Russian star.
Dan Ellis is all about the saber-toothed tiger on this mask—and it is, without a doubt, one of the best. The teeth are huge, and it brings to mind the massive monster in the movie 300—yeah, it's that cool.
(Side note: How cool would a 300-themed mask be?)
The tiger sort of blends in with the other background colours, but when you take a closer look, you can see just how detailed and amazing it really is. The artist has some skill, that's for sure, and it has this mask as one of the best we've ever seen.
It's slightly similar to that of Nashville's other goalie, Pekka Rinne, which makes it hard to decipher who's in net from afar. But for pure originality and style, this one has the edge on the Preds.
If you take a look at the logo on the shoulder of the Preds jerseys, you can see where the idea for the teeth most likely came from. The yellow in the eyes not only makes them look extra tough, but matches the jerseys as well.
Basically, to sound like one of those interior designers on TV, this whole thing just works.
But pretend I never said that.
Subtle, yet oh so smooth. That's the only way to describe the design that is on Roberto Luongo's mask. Usually, if a goaltender has a mask this simple, it's rarely talked about as one of the best in the league. But Luongo's is different.
The background is a sort of camouflage with the Canucks logo on the front and a picture of a lumberjack, in true Canadian style, on the side, with his No. 1 at the bottom under his cage.
This is Luongo's second mask, as he has another one that he wears with the home uniform. The other has a little more detail to it, with various parts of Vancouver mapped out on it, as well as a logo of Johnny Canuck running on either side.
This one is his best, though, because of the way it looks with the whole uniform. It's obviously no fluke that the colours seem to blend right in with the jerseys they wear, and because of that, his mask is up there when it comes to the best looking in the league.
Not much else can be said about it, other than it looks great and is worn by one of the best goalies in the world right now.
The mask has that camouflage flavour to it, as if he were trying to blend in with his surroundings. But trust me, if there's one thing that Luongo does when he plays in net, it's stand out from the crowd.
Curtis McElhinney doesn't get to play very often, but when he does, he certainly stands out on the ice—and for reasons other than his play.
He sure took his team's name to heart, as his entire helmet is up in flames, with skulls blended in with the fire to intimidate his opponents.
This mask is most intimidating on the right side, where the cowboy skull is located—and yes, it's holding a gun right at you. The skull has a mean grin on its face and is wearing a cowboy hat in true Alberta style.
The gun had some people talking at the beginning of the season, but whether you think it's appropriate or not, you have to admire the creativity. Even the end of the gun is painted right over the ear hole—so you can literally look down the shaft.
McElhinney's mask is clearly making a statement and is something to behold; unfortunately, it is rarely seen because the Flames tend to go with Mikka Kiprusoff for the majority of the games.
Kudos to the backup, though, for having a mask that has some serious detail and creativity to it—even if it means the mask gets talked about more than he does.
Ryan Miller's mask is just plain cool, and it's one-of-a-kind when it comes to design. Essentially, the entire mask is the head of a buffalo, but with some of the coolest colour combinations and style we've ever seen on a goalie.
It's unique because the whole mask blends in as one big design, whereas other masks tend to have different sections with different styles in each.
The yellow and blue obviously are the colours of the Sabres' jerseys, and the red eyes stand out—meaning anyone skating in on him has more than just two eyes staring him down.
Miller certainly has some importance when it comes to the back of his helmet, too. Right in the middle, he has the words "Matt man," which refers to his late cousin who battled leukemia and beat it, but sadly passed away after.
He also has a bulldog wearing a green jersey. The bulldog is significant to his cousin, who wanted to be described as such, and the green jersey is for Miller's connection with Michigan State University, where he went before making it in the NHL.
Simply put, his mask is sweet and definitely unique.
It doesn't hurt that he's in contention for the Vezina Trophy this season as the best goaltender in the league. This year, it's been "Miller time" all the time.