Mask Off: Meet the Artist Behind the NHL's Best Goalie Masks

Evan F. MooreFeatured Columnist IMay 16, 2017

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 12: Goaltender Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators checks his position as he warms up in the third period of Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on May 12, 2017 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

A Pac-Man game board, an adaptation of actor Will Ferrell's character from the movie Elf and a homeland war hero—these are just are just a few of the images you may have seen patrolling the goal crease in the NHL playoffs this spring.

Those watching this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, most notably the Western Conference Final, likely have seen the work of artist David Gunnarsson of DaveArt, the man behind the designs of goalie masks for Nashville Predator Pekka Rinne and Anaheim Duck John Gibson.

"I am so happy and proud to be painting for incredibly good goalies," Gunnarsson tells Bleacher Report. "I know how hard they work in their lives to be as good as they are. ... It gives us all great inspiration. As an artist, I love inspiration."

Gunnarsson, who estimates that he has collaborated on masks with half of the NHL's goaltenders—including Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Cam Talbot of the Edmonton Oilers and Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche—says that every mask he designs is completely original:

"I love to work hard and always try to come up with new, cool ideas for future mask designs. Every mask is totally unique. I never do replicas. Every mask is for only one goalie."

Sharks goalie John Gibson with a Dave Gunnarsson creation during this year's playoffs.
Sharks goalie John Gibson with a Dave Gunnarsson creation during this year's playoffs.Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The masks Gunnarsson has designed for Rinne over the years usually involve a Nashville theme and his charity work, along with an ode to his native country of Finland.

Gibson's mask this season challenged fans to solve a connect-the-dots puzzle.

Gunnarsson, a native of Sweden, designs masks for professional leagues all over the world.

"It is so interesting to hear ideas the goalies comes up with—and also emotional," Gunnarsson says. "Like when Stefan Liv (a onetime NHL draftee who played primarily in Europe, and last for the Russian team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl) passed away in the flight crash in Russia in 2011. We knew each other very well and I painted all his masks.

"When his little son—who also is a goalie—came to me and wanted me to paint for him, he said he wanted his dad painted on the mask. It was an amazing feeling to make a true Liv mask again. Every mask I do gives me an awesome experience, but for sure, one mask I will always remember was the first I made for my buddy Herman Liv when I painted his dad on the mask."

Gunnarsson, who started airbrushing at the age of 16, says it was a "blue moose mask" he designed for Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg in 2001 that changed his career trajectory. Fans loved the mask and chanted "Moose" during the team's Eastern Conference playoff run that season. Hedberg had played for the Manitoba Moose of the International Hockey League before he joined the Penguins.

Johan Hedberg's 'Blue Moose' mask in 2001 helped establish Gunnarsson as one of the NHL's preeminent mask designers.
Johan Hedberg's 'Blue Moose' mask in 2001 helped establish Gunnarsson as one of the NHL's preeminent mask designers.Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

"He got his nickname after his mask," Gunnarsson says with a laugh. "Google it, it was Moose-mania in the NHL, and the fans wore Moose antlers."

Gibson, who is currently playing for the Ducks in the Western Conference Final, doesn't remember how he became Gunnarsson's client, but he sends simple directions on what he wants and lets Gunnarsson do what he does best.

"He puts a lot of care and fine print and everything into it," Gibson says. "You can just tell that he really cares a lot about what he does and he wants to make each one unique.

"The only thing I've ever put on them is the little city of Pittsburgh on the back. That's really it. Other than that, he's got the reins to do whatever he wants. I've just been using one basically until it breaks down. He sends me one at the beginning [of the season] and one halfway through. If I want to change or switch it up, there's obviously another one."

And in case something happens to the original work, Gunnarsson has backup mask designs at the ready.

Each mask takes time to design, which may be why there is no standard price for his work. Indeed, each mask is personal to Gunnarsson. It may be how he identifies with the quirky nature of the people who've typified the position.

"I am also weird and a nerd so that just fit me like a glove," he said.


All quotes were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report.


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