November 16, 2011

Original Six: Best goalie masks in the NHL

Among all of the major sports, no position has a greater opportunity to be creative with their gear than an NHL netminder. With top-notch designers at their disposal, the possibilities are simply endless when it comes to decorating their masks. Whether the space is used to display a touching tribute, a silly character or a frightening monster, no piece of equipment bears a closer resemblance to a piece of art. Here are a few of the best in the NHL today:

Islanders goalie Al Montoya. (Getty) 6. Al Montoya
New York Islanders

The Islanders might never be able to live down those putrid Gorton’s Fisherman jerseys from the late ’90s, but Al Montoya is doing his best to atone for that atrocity. The Isles’ netminder is putting the nautical theme to good use this season, as his mask is now decorated with a gruff, bearded ship captain peering ahead with his hands wrapped around the wheel. Montoya earns bonus points for the design on the back as well, which pictures a “man in the moon” character chomping on a Cuban cigar — a stick salute to his heritage.

Coyotes netminder Mike Smith. (Getty) 5. Mike Smith
Phoenix Coyotes

Well, how’s this for a loony idea? After four seasons in Tampa, goalie Mike Smith signed with Phoenix this summer and elected to don what is without a doubt the most famous coyote of all time on his new mask. Now decked out with a depiction of iconic Looney Tunes character Wile E. Coyote, it remains to be seen whether Smith will catch the figurative Roadrunner or sprint off the proverbial cliff in his first year in the desert. But no matter how he fares in Phoenix, the 29-year-old netminder will be doing so in style.

Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery. (Getty) 4. Ray Emery
Chicago Blackhawks

Given his penchant for challenging opposing skaters to fights, it’s no wonder Ray Emery’s mask during his days in Ottawa featured Mike Tyson. But now that the netminder has matured, he’s made the switch from a chaotic boxer to one of the classiest. In fitting fashion, the well-traveled goalie’s latest design in Chicago features dual images of “Sugar” Ray Leonard, the man named boxer of the decade for the 1980s. If on his game this season, Emery’s opponents will be echoing Roberto Duran’s “no mas” declaration.

Bruins netminder Tim Thomas. (Getty) 3. Tim Thomas
Boston Bruins

There’s going against the grain, and then there’s coming up with a concoction like the one Tim Thomas debuted at the start of the 2010-11 season. With his new colorless cage featuring the image of a large medallion, his personal “TT” logo and a growling bear, every last piece of Thomas’ equipment gives the opposition the illusion there’s more net to shoot at. While some may find the design bland, there’s no denying its uniqueness or how it will forever be engrained in the minds of those who remember the 2011 champs.

Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward. (Getty) 2. Cam Ward
Carolina Hurricanes

It’s not easy to play off the Hurricanes’ rather mundane main logo, but Cam Ward takes creativity to new heights with his new mask — one that’s equally as dazzling as it is terrifying. With a demonic, red-eyed and sharp-toothed blackbeard reaching out on each side, an up-close shot of Ward could give any child nightmares. The ’Canes netminder also has added what’s called diamond dust over the design, a material that makes the bright lights of an arena pop off his mask, creating an effect unlike any other in the league.

Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier. (Getty) 1. Jonathan Bernier
Los Angeles Kings

Goaltenders often try to add in local flavor, but Jonathan Bernier captures all that is California to perfection with his completely redesigned mask for the 2011-12 season. Spearheaded by a menacing mountain lion — a beast that’s far more prevalent in the area than most realize — on top, the young Kings netminder also sports a movie reel streaming from right to left over palm trees with the iconic Hollywood sign featured up above. The lifelike look of it all, done in the new L.A. colors of black, white and silver, is simply stunning.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com