Mon, May 15, 2017 - Page 10 News List

For goalies, masks are an identity

NY Times News Service

Then-Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop looks on during overtime against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, on Feb. 19.

Photo: AP

There is something wrong with firing a 160kph slap shot at a piece of artwork strapped to another human’s head; unless, of course, you play in the National Hockey League (NHL).

Goaltenders are a breed unto themselves, and so are the artists who paint the painstakingly detailed masks the goalies wear.

More than 40 years after Boston Bruins trainer John Forristall drew stitches on Gerry Cheevers’ stark white mask, the painting of goalie masks has become a specialized, highly competitive industry.

More than a dozen painters based in North America and Europe serve NHL goaltenders, with dozens more handling minor league and amateur clients.

Studios can be as state-of-the-art as David Gunnarsson’s converted barn in Smaland, Sweden, with an exhibition hall and a lounge, or as unpretentious as the garage in the Montreal suburb of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac where Sylvie Marsolais collaborates with her partner, Alexandre Mathys.

“Whether people admit it or not, my job is really to give the goalie an identity,” said Ray Bishop, a well-regarded mask painter based in suburban Detroit. “Go back to the Felix Potvins and the Ed Balfours. You knew them by the paint jobs.”

Many mask painters began as commercial artists, painting motorcycles, billboards or even guitars before gravitating to hockey.

Jason Livery needed a business he could pick up and move to follow his wife, Christy, a major in the US Air Force.

Bishop customized his Hot Wheels cars as a child with his mother’s nail polish. As an adult hockey fan, he turned to mask painting to escape a nine-to-five desk job.

Minnesota-based Todd Miska created artwork for movies, the largest a mural of Bob Dylan on the side of a barn for the film Crossing the Bridge.

Finding a good mask painter can be as easy as word-of-mouth, or, more appropriately, word of goal mouth. Goalies talk.

Gunnarsson’s work is so popular — more than half the league’s goalies use him — that Bauer, a leading manufacturer of hockey equipment, hired him as its official painter.

Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta of the New York Rangers, Pekka Rinne of Nashville, Braden Holtby of Washington and Carey Price of Montreal all wear Gunnarsson masks, known for their cartoon-like features. Gunnarsson created glow-in-the-dark bolts for Ben Bishop when he played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Statue-of-Liberty-over-scales design that Lundqvist wore this season.

“He’s so good at what he does,” said Lundqvist, a long-time Gunnarsson client who persuaded Raanta to try him. “He’s one of a kind.”

Gunnarsson, who calls himself a “paint nerd,” said he flies to North America several times a year to brainstorm with clients.

His masks incorporate superheroes, logos and personal portraits.

“It is a very exciting way to tell a story,” Gunnarsson wrote in an e-mail. “For me, it is not only painting, it is also storytelling.”

Other artists, like Livery, claim as few as two or three NHL clients.

Livery designed the white mask with subtle elements that Jake Allen of St Louis wore in the playoffs.

Allen asked Livery to incorporate the Blues’ 50th-year blue-note logo into the design, something not immediately noticeable on television.

“That’s just Jake’s style,” Livery said in a telephone interview from his shop in Niceville, Florida. “Jake’s more of a vintage, old-school type personality. He doesn’t like to be flashy and crazy with his designs, nothing outlandish like some of these guys have, with so many things on the mask you can’t tell what’s going on.”

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