I’d like to think that at 22, I’m still young. There are readers who probably won’t keep reading because I’ve insinuated that 22 is not young, and therefore they’ve gone off and thrown something at me from their rocking chair.
However, now that I’ve graduated college and started a job in my field of study, I’ve realized that experiences associated with being a young person are becoming far more of a past-tense notion. The fact that I even start sentences with the expression “when I was in college…” makes me shudder. So bear with me – this is one of those times when I’m going to bust out a “when I was young” and it’s absurd, I know, I just said I’m only 22.
When I was young, I played goalie. I played for my whole, uh, childhood I guess, because now that I’m a serious adult, 18 year olds look like children. I know, the rocking chair, many of you think I’m also still a child. Moving on.
When I was really little, I’d set up a net in front of my TV and get rug burns playing goalie on the carpet as if I was actually out on the ice. I have knees of steel after all the years of mini hockey (at which I am unbeatable) and imagining myself out there just like my role models – Roy and Aebischer were my first two favorite goalies, but when I was a kid I always admired goalies like Belfour, Kiprusoff, Kolzig, (not Turco) who each had their own individual way of playing the game, their own unique style that young goalies could impersonate and learn from. Eddie the Eagle, so aggressive, he was never shy when it came to playing hard in the trenches or and had a work ethic more intense than most guys in the game. Kipper, low to the ice and deep in the crease, a workhorse, never rattled. Olie the Goalie, a fantastic butterfly, an untamed beast turned Jedi in the crease.
These guys were iconic. They’re the goalies I modeled my own game after. I’d talk to my posts like Roy, take a lap to the left first and back across to the right like Kiprusoff, and work hard to keep guys out of my crease like Belfour. I’d even stretch the same way I’d see goalies do it before games and between plays, and prepare for games the same way I’d seen these great guys do it.
Each of these goalies had a look – that’s something I liked about the position as well, I wanted a look when I was out there. Kiprusoff had his signature mask with the flaming skulls was always one of the best in the league in my humble opinion. Belfour always wore the eagles on his mask, only changing the primary color of the mask to match the team he played for at the time. Kolzig, the Godzilla, had this terrific mask with the teeth all around the cage that was seriously cool at the time. The mask is so important to the goalie; it’s their personality, it’s a huge way they express themselves, who they are, who they represent when they take the ice.
For those of you (probably the same ones who threw something at me earlier) who need the Tl;dr version: goalie masks are cool. For years I’ve loved studying the goaltender position, and I’ve equally enjoyed learning about goalies through their mask artwork and seeing how motifs on masks evolve from year to year. I always admired Giguere’s and Anderson’s masks with the Avs; never anything crazy, simple and focused like their game. I didn’t like Jose Theodore on the Avs, but I did enjoy the gargoyle motif he always had on his masks. It would be uncouth to write an article like this and not mention Ned Flanders and old friend Peter Budaj. I got a kick out of the discord conversation the other day when someone posted a photo of Vitaly Kolesnik in his very memorable all-white blank mask. Every goalie is different, and every year brings a couple different visual stories to each roster.
This year, the Avs are rolling with a new backup, Jon Bernier. Say what you will about his game (I certainly have enough to say about it) but he’s definitely got a fascinating and entirely unique series of mask artwork. I don’t want to speculate on Varly’s health, and rather I just want to point out a unique upside to having to watch Bernier play a lot if the thinkable happens and Varly faces injury troubles again.
Bernier came up to the NHL in 2007-2008, bouncing back and forth between the LA Kings and their AHL affiliate at the time, the Manchester Monarchs. Fittingly, the Monarchs logo has always been a lion wearing a crown. Bernier is a Leo, has a lion tattooed on his left arm, and linked the royalty theme with the lion in his first NHL mask, seen here:
Bernier bounced between the Monarchs and the Kings, so he had some Hollywood themed art celebrating film culture in LA: reels of film and the Hollywood sign on one side with a red carpet on the other, and everything else shaded in the then primary Kings color of royal purple. Bernier’s mask for the 2009-2010 season in Los Angeles was nearly identical, with a darker purple shade and the crown logo replacing the crests.
For 2010-2011, when the Kings changed their primary colors to black, white, and silver, Bernier’s mask was updated to reflect the change. Despite the color scheme update, the mask kept nearly the same design as the year before, shifting the location of the crown logo on the left side of the mask and slightly altering the angle of the lion’s face atop the mask. The nose of the lion on this mask appears a little more slim. This mask still had the Hollywood theme, with the film reels and palm trees present.
In the 2012-2013 season, Bernier began again with a black and white mask, with a few changes. On this mask, the lion is roaring; the eyes are wider, sharp teeth are visible, it’s a more intimidating look. Absent is the Hollywood theme for the first time, replaced by script from what looks like the LA Times newspaper spelling out Los Angeles, a city skyline, and a few more shaded palm trees. I love this mask; in my fantasy where I make it to the NHL, no matter the team I’d like to have a skyline of the city on my mask. I like it as a celebration of the place, of the city itself, of the culture beyond the hockey team.
Of course, after that season, Bernier was traded to the Maple Leafs. This would be the first chance to see a Bernier mask without a direct link to the lion, a symbol directly tied with royalty, Kings, etc. That was such a good fit between the goalie, his own symbolic connection to the artwork, and the team. The lion carried over; on the 2013-2014 Toronto mask, a blue roaring lion head is surrounded on either side by symmetrical white maple leaves, an alternate look with some sublimated designs making up the little details. This mask is underwhelming to me; there’s less connection between the player and the place evident on this mask. Whether that in any way contributes to the way a player plays isn’t something I really feel I have the authority to comment on, but I think it’s interesting to note how personalized Bernier’s masks in LA were in comparison with this.
That season, Bernier also had an alternate mask; this was the first of which the lion wasn’t directly on top of the helmet. The lion head image is sublimated into a blue primary Leafs logo (with some other details) on the left side, while a roaring lion is sublimated onto an equivalent logo on the right side. There’s no other details that connect the player to the place beyond the logo on this mask, but it’s interesting to see Bernier change the design a little bit playing for a new club, even if it was just a secondary mask.
In 2014, Bernier returned to the silent lion directly on top of the mask; no roar, just the calm face. This lion was angled more so the viewer was looking almost directly at the mouth; just a little change from previous designs in the past. I think it’s interesting that this motif carries on through each mask, and yet each one seems a little different. This mask also went back to using the alternate logo on either side of the lion, and while there’s something designed within the leaf on this mask, I can’t really tell what it is.
For the 2014-2015 season, changes again came to the design; the lion looks more smiley to me in this mask honestly, but more importantly, the skyline design returns. Below stripes new to the mask on either side are identical shadowed Toronto skylines. Such a good look. This mask also introduced the “Battlefront” series he’s kept going until today.
In 2015, Bernier introduced his next “Battlefront” mask. Removed was the skyline design, but the stripes remain in a capacity as well as a more haunting grey blue version of the lion. A non-logo version of the leaves on either side of the lion is implemented for the first time. I give the artist and Bernier a ton of credit for the series of masks following that first one or two during his time in Toronto; this is a tough logo and color scheme to really personalize, and yet these last couple masks put off increasingly good style and individuality.
Following the 2015-2016 season, Bernier was traded to the Anaheim Ducks; a return for one year to the California coast had big changes in store for Bernier’s mask. Two were worn, one for the primary jersey and one for the orange alternate with the revamped Mighty Ducks logo. On the primary mask, a silver lion with orange eyes was encompassed by two webbed “D” logos and a gold fading to orange fading to black sublimated background. On the alternate mask, we see a gold lion between two Mighty Ducks logos and a similar background color scheme. Honestly, both of these masks struck the same minor chord as the first Toronto mask; upgraded color scheme, little connection to the place. I was surprised by this, given that so much original effort was given into celebrating Hollywood and the film culture in southern California in the original Kings masks. One thing I did appreciate was the noticeable eye color difference we see in the primary Ducks mask. That really stands out, I think.
I think there’s a lot to be learned about a goalie by the mask that they wear. Bernier’s new mask with the Avalanche was completely unsurprising: it’s a silver lion with deep burgundy eyes (this is my favorite lion out of the entire pride) encompassed by two primary Avalanche logos, with quintessential DaveArt snow rolling up the sides. Like previous masks with a new team, there’s little to indicate anything about the place beyond the color scheme and the logo. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if this mask evolves if Bernier stays with the Avs for more than one season. Maybe if he stays three years, a Denver skyline would make its way on to a mask for the first time in team history.
So, maybe none of this is really indicative of what kind of player Bernier will be for the Avalanche. This is an awful lot of text for a backup goalie, after all. But it’s interesting to see how these designs evolve as the player evolves; in LA, Bernier was stuck behind Jonathan Quick (another goalie I love to watch) and was playing well enough to deserve a starting role by the end of his tenure. In Toronto, he battled injuries as well as split time as the starter with James Reimer, among a laundry list of other goalies he struggled to take the job from full time. In Anaheim, he again showed the flashes that earned him more work after leaving LA, at times starting for the Ducks when John Gibson went down; he also showed a lack of grit in a must-win playoff game that forced the Ducks elimination in the Conference Finals. If I had a guess, we’ll get that same Bernier; he’ll be solid at times, excellent at covering the lower half of the net with his own version of the butterfly. He might even be dependable for a stretch if Varly is hurt. But he’s a guy who has both evolved in the NHL, forwards and backwards, just like his masks have since his time with the Monarchs.
What I know for sure, completely sure, is that silver lion with the burgundy eyes – that is a very good look between the pipes.
All of these masks were painted and shared by Dave Gunnarsson, also known as DaveArt, in Sweden; he’s the artist for a number of goalies in the NHL, and everyone should check out his work.