It's the most unique forms of expression allowed in all of pro-sports.
Never mind the tattoos that some NBA and NFL players seem content to cover themselves with. While that is one way to express yourself, anyone can go out and get a tattoo of whatever they want (especially at their given pay rates!)
And while there are several "tatted up" hockey players as well, there are only four players in a building at any given time who can show off their creativity and flair on the rink itself—that's a right reserved for the goaltenders.
Ever since 1959 when Jacques Plante found a way to weasel into a game while wearing a mask, it has (slowly at first) become a mainstay for the game, and one of the coolest things about it. Hockey cards have been dedicated to the piece of equipment, and it's to the point now where current goaltenders will pay homage to old school guys via their designs.
A far cry from what followed Plante and his choice to wear a face shield in a game.
Since then, obviously masks have changed. They no long impair vision, and the designs have only got cooler and cooler. While classic standouts like Gerry Cheevers and Grant Fuhr usually populate lists like this, I wanted to approach this with a simple question in mind:
Whose mask is the coolest?
Granted some of these players make their masks cool, while for others it's the other way around. Either way, here are the top 25 masks in recent memory.
I feel pretty comfortable starting this list off with the mask that Antero Niittymaki wore during parts of his tenure in Philadelphia.
He was nicknamed Nitty by then head coach Ken Hitchcock, so having Frank Nitti painted on his helmet made too much sense.
In what is a classic combination of history and style, Niittymaki had the gangster adorning both sides of his helmet, with bullets raining down from tommy guns towards the bottom of his mask. To finish off the cool look, bullet holes lay a background to the nickname "Nitty" written across the chin.
Stephen Valiquette may not have been in New York for long, but he made the most of his opportunity by creating one of the most stylish goaltender masks I've seen in a long while.
While his playing career wasn't anything to write home about, his mask was a standout.
Maybe it's just because the comic book touch appeals to my inner-nerd, but the Spider-Man spin (ha!) on the whole New York think is pretty outstanding. The Rangers have a tendency to bring out the best masks out of netminders, as we'll see later on in this list.
Talk about an instant classic.
The colors are spectacular, and mesh very well with the design of the jerseys and his pads. One of the better overall get-ups in recent memory is brought together by the outstanding mask that Beezer brought to Florida.
One of the best of the generation, and a mask that will stand the test of time. I wouldn't be surprised to see a young Panther goaltender pay homage to this one within the next 10 years or so. It'd be a joy to see the design in action again.
Curtis Joseph really had no other option other than to come up with a stellar mask, given his nickname CuJo.
And he didn't disappoint.
He kept the same basic mask design throughout his career, wearing the same type mask regardless of the squad he played on. But the crazy blue dog just does something for me, so I'll give his Maple Leaf mask the nod of all others.
Great goaltender, and an even greater mask. Hats off to CuJo for encapsulating his name into a helluva helmet.
Recent Hall of Fame inductee Ed Belfour will best be remembered (on ice) for his stonewall years in Dallas, where he helped the team to prominence and a Cup victory, while battling some of the best goaltenders of all time across several playoff runs.
The tough looking bird is a memorable design, and Eddie the Eagle (the mask came before the name, from what I understand) stood out regardless of which team he was playing for because of it. Though all versions are solid, I prefer the gold and green he sported in Dallas.
The one positive that came from Marty Turco heading to Chicago may very well have been this mask.
While a lot of people will remember him best for his similar helmets in Dallas, I think this version is both cleaner and crisper. Regardless of this one you want to remember him for, the Gargoyle motif is one of the best ever, and the addition of the original-six Blackhawks symbols only ups the ante.
The guy needed at least one reason for fans to like him in Toronto, right?
Outstanding mask for a goaltender who never really panned out for the Maple Leafs. While Andrew Raycroft was a pretty big bust in Toronto, his mask was anything but.
Paying homage to the tradition-heavy Maple Leafs, and Maple Leafs Garden, Raycroft can (hopefully) be remembered as a guy who had enormous respect for the franchise. As opposed to the 3.92 GAA that he sported during his final year with the team.
If there is one guy in the League who gets his masks to look killer every time, it's Dan Ellis. When he was in Anaheim, his helmet rocked. His mask in Tampa? Equally rockin'.
But his gear in Nashville takes the cake (so far) when it comes to killer hockey helmets. The colors are excellent, and the Predator inspired saber tooth tigers leaping out on both sides are too cool to ignore. I hope the guy gets traded or moves at least six more times so we can see what he cooks up elsewhere.
Kari Lehtonen is a guy who has laid some dud masks in his day. The ninjas that he wore for a time in Atlanta, as well as the Lil Jon thing are hard to ignore.
But this Joker mask (there goes my inner nerd again) redeems him for all former and future helmet art sins. He has kept up his hot streak in Dallas. Google his masks there to see what I mean. From Chuck Norris to awesome cowboys, hopefully this is a sign of good things to come from Lehtonen.
Peter Budaj is another goaltender that has had a slew of cool masks. Ranging from the abominable snow man, to his Assassin's Creed mask, all the way down to his Red Hulk, Budaj tends to get the job done when it comes down to selecting top notch animated characters to put on his helmet.
The Ned Flanders mask takes the cake however.
Rick DiPietro may not make many lists for being a top goaltender these days, but his masks leave little to be desired—at least from his American fans.
He's had several versions of these helmets, all of which depict different patriotic scenes and art. DiPietro's masks are to honor his father (a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War) and all of the veterans who have served the United States.
I know what you're wondering.
"Is that.. is that a skeleton cowboy aiming a six-shooter at me?"
It sure is bud.
Curtis McElhinney rocked this flames/skulls/cowboy motif during some of his time in Calgary. Since then, he's become a popular player to trade, which is a shame. If teams would give him the chance to settle in maybe he could design another mask as cool as this one.
For the time being though, we're left to remember how awesome this mask was.
Having a tribute mask to a goaltender from a particular city is one thing. But having a helmet painted to honor all of the greatest old school netminders of all time is another thing entirely.
According to Sport Illustrated, included in this piece are legends such as Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Gerry Cheevers, Tony Esposito, Terry Sawchuk, Pelle Lindbergh and Ed Giacomin. Josh Harding clearly knows his history, and went for broke with this helmet.
Since then he's taken on a couple of so-so masks, but this is the one that fans will be remembering for years to come.
As in Casey Jones of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fame.
This mask is one of the meaner looking ones in recent memory. Sure, there are plenty of masks depicting ferocious bears or sharks. But that's a masked dude holding what appears to be a club—what he uses that club for is up for you to decide.
The white and red scheme goes along wonderfully with the Senators sweaters, but this would be a cool mask no matter what team he played for. Again, maybe my nerdiness is getting in the way here, but a TMNT reference is a plus 10 in my book.
Jimmy Howard is typically known for his speedometer mask, that depicts all of the retired Red Wing numbers as the MPH gauge. Pretty cool, I must admit.
But to me, this Doctor Octopus helmet is just too clever to pass on.
As the title of the slide asks, how had no one thought to use Doc Oc on their helmet before this? Perhaps Chris Osgood could have used it if he hadn't been rocking the same red mask since 1984, but Howard scores points for creativity, (nerdiness), and paying homage to one of the best traditions in hockey.
Simeon Varlamov honestly impressed me with this design.
The "where I come from" angle is one commonly seen on masks. Usually a netminder will have at least a small flag showing their origin somewhere on the mask. On the flip side of that coin is the "where I play" tribute. And it always goes over big in the given city.
But this mask is special because it encapsulates both of these approaches, with the "where I play" aspect being a huge US National Landmark. Very cool, and obviously well thought out. This is a memorable mask because it pretty much covers all bases with style, and great attention to detail.
About as abstract as a goaltender mask can get, Ryan Miller pulls off plenty of movement and color in this mask that has been awing onlookers for a few years now.
The color combinations are absurdly outstanding, as the oranges and blues play off of the silver and white highlights beautifully. All this swirls together to form the face of a buffalo, adorned with blazing red eyes for all shooters to stare down.
As if that isn't enough, he's got "Miller Time" scrolled on the back of his mask. I'm more of an IPA guy myself, but I can appreciate him taking the nickname and running with it.
Oh, and Ryan Miller is also a pretty good hockey player as well.
I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, but I'm going to assume that Martin Gerber based on this mask.
All Darth Vader, all the time.on this one. He didn't take the helmet with him to Toronto, which is a shame. Because this is a pretty cool mask with a lot of recognition, and is a bold statement about the personality of the guy wearing it.
That statement being "I really, really like Star Wars. Check out my helmet for proof!"
Some people are satisfied with bumper stickers. But not Gerber.
Or at least for Godzilla.
Olaf Kolzig has a criminally overlooked mask here. The colors are very cool, and the depiction of Godzilla is menacing. I mean, it'd be pretty tough to draw up some work of Godzilla that was anything outside of menacing, but I digress.
Cool mask from a goaltender who should have retired a Capital.
I remember opening a pack of Upper Deck trading cards when I was a youngin', and seeing this incredibly awesome mask for the first time.
I didn't know the proper language (ahem) to express myself at the point, and I don't have the license to do so now—BR regulations and what not. But I can say this is probably my personal favorite mask of all time.
Perhaps it's the nostalgia, but I don't think so.
I mean, look at the fierceness of the fire breathing dragon there. It's so majestic and terrifying. Kudos to Kidder for the art on this one.
I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking at here, but I know I wouldn't want to see it come to life.
The mean looking demon-gargoyle with 9 inch teeth immediately grab your attention, but it you allow yourself to take your eyes from the red apparition for only a moment, you'll notice a pretty cool addition to the mask on the side.
Ah. Patrick Roy is on there too! Right next to the demon! Perhaps that only seems fitting to the Red Wings fan in me (snarl), but this was a nice salute from a guy who clearly knew whose skates he wanted to fill.
Oddly enough, he'd take (roughly) the same path out of Montreal. Playoff hero=new zip code.
(Yes, I know Roy had a falling out with his coach, etc... the above was sarcasm. Relax and go have another coffee.)
Boston's goaltender of the future Tuukka Rask happens to rock one of the scariest looking bears I've ever seen on his mask—and that's saying something... lets just say I didn't have the most brilliant taste in women in college.
The gold, black, and red just jump right off of the helmet, and demand attention. The sharp claws gripping the Boston "B" on the sides is pretty ferocious as well. Bears are intimidating creatures, and Rask captures that well on his mask.
Dwight Schrute would be proud.
I almost had enough Dwight/Bear quotes to link every word in that sentence to different videos, but I fell one short. "Proud" is just a personal favorite of mine, to make up the difference.
I'm not at all hating on Mike Richter's original.
But Henrik Lundqvist went to New York and knew exactly who he'd need to emulate to be successful in that city. And all he has done is steadily give the Rangers a chance to win every hockey game.
I appreciate the homage paid here to a player that isn't 78 years old. Richter is a guy who is embedded in the memory banks of plenty of NHL fans, and tapping into that is pretty cool for Lundqvist to do. It's always nice to see the Statue of Liberty in all it's glory on a hockey mask.
For the rest of their lives when Bruins fans think about this Cup run, floating around towards the top of their memory banks somewhere will be Tim Thomas, his incredible comeback story, and this beautifully simple mask.
Ok, maybe the mask won't be right up there, but it's still a pretty cool piece of art work.
The swirling and abstract quality of the helmet kind of reminds me of Ryan Miller's mask from a few slides back, and the color is just phenomenal. It plays well with the Bruins black and gold, and while some may find it boring I find it plenty aesthetically pleasing.
My intention was to only have one of the two Bruins netminders on the list here, but I couldn't leave either of them off in the end.
While I've never been a huge fan of Vancouver's stick logo, it looks great sitting atop Roberto Luongo's head, surrounded by the same kind of milky white I really like on Tim Thomas's mask.
Instead of the usual name scrolled across the bottom, Luongo just sticks with his number.
While this is a pretty great mask, I have a feeling that as soon as the Canucks win the Cup, he'll forgo it for a few large pictures of the Stanley Cup, maybe with a gold medal around the chin to boot.
I'm sure more than one of you blitzed through this list looking for one goaltender in particular, and are fuming that he was left off the list.
Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear who you guys think deserves to be on the list, and why. Or who should be removed from the list, and replaced with.
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