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What Happened to the Iconic Goalie Mask?

By: Chris Andreou

Modern NHL goaltenders may be more technically superior than ever, but they are seriously lacking in the one thing that shows off their personality and character - the great goalie mask.

As a washed up beer league goalie with disposable income, I recently bought a shiny new mask. My previous mask was old, dented, and boring - an upgrade was in order. With this upgrade comes an opportunity to add some character and personality to a piece of equipment that I will hopefully wear for the rest of (what is left of) my athletic career. I bought the mask in pure white, leaving a blank canvas that can be painted and made into an art piece that defines the person behind it. Looking for inspiration in style and direction, I did a deep dive into the masks of current NHL goaltenders. Not long into my search, one thing became abundantly clear - there are no longer any iconic goalie masks.

Hearing someone say that something from their formative years was better than its modern version (inserting anything here works - from sports, to music, to movies - the list goes on) is a pretty accurate cliche. This is what my original thought was when digging into the memory vault of retired NHL goalies for inspiration. I am still an avid NHL fan and watch a lot of games, but I could not describe one modern mask in detail from memory. Initially, I chalked this up to this grumpy old man syndrome. However, after reviewing the masks of today against their older counterparts, the discrepancy is very clear. NHL goalies of today have a serious personality crisis. To set the stage, we will need to look at some of the masks from goalies I grew up watching:

Goalie Mask
Ed Belfour Ed Belfour mask image
Curtis Joseph Curtis Joseph mask image
Felix Potvin Felix Potvin mask image
Patrick Lalime Patrick Lalime mask image

Looking at some of the best masks from the mid-90s to mid-2000s, there is a common theme - the masks are unique to the goaltender, and not the team. Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, Felix Potvin and the like wore masks that stayed consistent across their careers, and were updated to the colour schemes of their respective teams. They sought to define the goaltender, bringing out aspects of their personality and associating that image with their play. A recent Athletic article about goalie masks detailed it perfectly when describing Ed Belfour’s mask:

“It was a brand thing, we created that eagle and the look and Eddie decided it was going to be his brand,” Miska said. “It was something that could be iconic, you knew it was him, and it also could sell on other things, like mini masks, and it held a strong recognition to Ed Belfour even without saying his name.”

You would see these masks and immediately know who the goalie was. In a league that is so often devoid of character, goalie masks were one area that punched above its weight. Even masks that can only be described as ugly and orthodox, like Dominik Hasek’s mask, clearly identified him and his playing style. Hockey goalies have the unique ability among athletes across all sports to have equipment that is very customizable and visual. Using this opportunity to create a lasting image is something goalies used to recognize and capitalize on.

Hasek Mask Image

For some reason, at a certain time this all stopped. Part of the problem is that goalies began wearing masks that tried to add too much of their personality. Putting all of your favourite movie characters, musicians, and sports heroes on one mask is not a good look. Conversely, in other instances, modern goalies have played it too safe, and just put the team’s logo or other symbols related to the city on it. The result is a soulless piece of fibreglass that is not remembered beyond the last game. Looking at some of the league’s best goalies demonstrates this clearly:

Goalie Mask
Andrei Vasilevskiy Vasi mask image
Connor Hellebucyk Helley mask image
Carey Price Carey Price mask image
Marc Andre Fleury Fleury mask image

These masks from future Hall of Fame goaltenders play it very safe, and focus mostly on symbols from their respective teams and cities. Get traded or sign with a new team? Brand new mask. The lack of continuity means nothing impactful ever gets to take hold and become a symbol for that goalie. It is truly a shame that modern goalies do not put the same thought process into their masks like the goalies of old once did. Ed Belfour’s mask is one of the reasons I latched on to the position and was inspired to become a goalie myself. It is entirely possible that the well of good ideas has been tapped, and coming up with creative ideas is harder than it was before. After all, how many animals are there to use before you start copying old designs? A much deeper dive and heavily researched article is needed to truly understand the lack of inspiration behind current goalie masks, but one thing is clear. As I continue to search for inspiration and ideas for my own mask, the men defending today’s nets will not play a part.

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