Hockey is like art. If you don't believe it, just take a close look at the masks worn by goaltenders.
A goaltender's canvas is his mask. Some of the art now adorning hockey masks are very elaborate and intricate, almost worthy of display in an art museum.
The craze of personalizing goalie masks was inadvertently started in the late 1970s by Boston Bruins goaltender Gerry Cheevers, who began putting stitch marks on his mask when he was hit by a puck.
The story goes that Cheevers was hit by a puck in the face during practice and took the opportunity to skip out. Bruins coach Harry Sinden followed him to the dressing room and found Cheevers enjoying a beer and a cigarette.
Sinden ordered Cheevers back on the ice and in jest, the team trainer painted a stitch mark on his mask. From then on when he was similarly struck by a puck, Cheevers would have a new stitch-mark added.
The mask became one of the most recognized, and now every goaltender personalizes his mask with art.
“It's kind of expected that a goalie is going to have something on his mask,” said Oklahoma City Barons' goaltender David LeNeveu.
The Oklahoman takes a look at the artwork on the masks worn by LeNeveu and fellow Barons goaltenders Yann Danis and Olivier Roy.
Yann Danis, who a week ago was called up by Edmonton, has the Stanley Cup championship years of the Oilers painted on his mask along with the name of his firstborn son. His second son was born in December.
“I am going to have to add (his name) on,” he said. “I don't know if I am going to be able to paint that. I will have to ask the trainer to get me some stickers so I can add the name on it.”
Danis tries to stay “team-oriented” with the art work on his masks.
“Usually, I try to get a little bit of tradition from the team,” he said. “Obviously, Edmonton had a lot of success back in the '80s so I try to incorporate that into my mask.”
Danis gives a “vague idea” of what he wants to his painter in Quebec. The painter then comes up with the designs.
“I like the old school stuff,” Danis said. “Back in the day growing up, I liked Patrick Roy's mask. It was a favorite of mine. It was pretty simple, just a logo on there, but I thought it was pretty special. Mike Smith always has some good masks along with Marty Turco over the years.”
The mask Danis wore while playing for Khabarovsk Amur, a European Elite hockey team based in Khabarovsk, Russia, is very colorful, painted with symbols representing the city and region.
Olivier Roy just joined the Barons after goaltender Yann Danis was called up to the Edmonton Oilers.
Roy has had his current mask since the start of the season. It is painted with a splash of copper and blue, which are the colors of Edmonton.
He chose that design because he wasn't sure for which teams he would playing on this season in the Edmonton organization. Roy has spent most of this season playing for the Oilers' Double-A team in Stockton, Calif.
“I didn't know exactly where I am going to end up playing this year,” he said. “I don't know much about each city where I could end up playing, so I just gave them the green light to do whatever they think is best and that's what they ended up with.”
Roy uses an artist in Canada that was selected by the Oilers' organization.
On the back plate of his mask, Roy has a cross painted for his grandmother who died more than two years ago. He also has the Edmonton logo painted on the back plate as well as the initials of his father, mother, sister and girlfriend.
“I've had that on all my other masks,” he said.
When he played in the Quebec Junior League for a team in Bathurst, New Brunswick, Canada, Roy had painted on his mask the names of seven high school basketball players who were killed in a bus crash a few years earlier on their way back from a game.
“It was my first year there after being traded,” said Roy, a fifth-round pick by Edmonton in the 2009 NHL Draft. “I didn't know much about the city. The trainer game me the idea. It was a pretty cool idea.”
A goaltender usually gets a new mask when he changes teams or organizations. The organization usually pays for the art work, which can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 depending on the chosen design.
“Any time you move to a new organization, they don't you wearing the old team colors, the logo,” David LeNeveu said. “Most of the time, if I come to a new organization I tape over the old logo just to cover that up until my new one (mask) comes in. If someone doesn't have a mask painted, it's probably because he came in the league late and didn't have time to get a mask painted.”
LeNeveu, a Canadian, has worn 11 goalie masks in his career. He's kept each one, although he lost one mask in a fire and another had to be painted over.
“When I went overseas (to play), they couldn't get a mask in time so they had to paint it over,” he said.
On each of the masks, his nickname “Lenny” and the Canadian flag has been painted on the back plate.
His current mask also is painted with the Barons' and Edmonton Oilers' logos.
“Early on in my career, I did a little more personalized stuff,” LeNeveu said. “I had a dragon type thing when I was with Phoenix. Over the years, I kind of just want to stay as much team oriented as I can.
“The last couple of years, I have just been trying to get the team logo and the colors on the mask so it matches up nice and everything looks great. The team loves it. I do a little bit of personalization with the Canadian flag on the back and my nickname, but that is about as far as I go.”
LeNeveu always has used an artist in Philadelphia that his agent had known.
“I give some ideas to my painter, but he has done such a great job over the years I really just let him do his work,” LeNeveu said. “He will show me his ideas, and I will sign off on them.”
Asked about his favorite hockey masks, LeNeveu likes masks such as the one worn by Carey Price of Montreal when his mask was adorned with art of former Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante.
“I like the old throwback type of stuff where you pay homage to the guys who have played the game in the past,” he said.