TAMPA — Palm trees aren’t typically paired with electric-eyed lions, in nature or art. Drawings by children with cancer aren’t usually on display in front of an arena full of fans.
Goalie masks bring art, personality and sports together in a way that can make a statement, impress or simply add flair.
In other sports, you wear what you get. Maybe you can choose your number. Other than that, your uniform is what it is.
Goalies have a chance to put their own stamp on their pads and mask. This year, Lightning backup Louis Domingue has displayed the art of children with cancer on one special helmet and images of Lightning greats on his regular helmet.
Lightning No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy has stuck with a lion head with electric eyes, a design that the Hockey News ranks as the NHL’s seventh best.
Coach Jon Cooper enjoys checking out the masks across the league and appreciates how creative they are.
“When I see a goalie mask in my head, it’s (the Bruins’) Gerry Cheevers’ with the stitches all over it (in the 1960s and ‘70s),” he said. “By far and away, (it’s) iconic. I don’t think anyone will ever admit it, but I’m pretty sure those Halloween movies were made because of that mask, or that (mask) had a little bit of inspiration.”
Cheevers took his plain white mask — back when a mask was essentially a face plate — and added stitches everywhere the puck hit him. That was the first custom-decorated mask.
Lightning analyst Bobby Taylor says he was the first goalie with a design painted on his mask (Cheevers’ stitches don’t count). Taylor estimates it was 1972 or 1973, when he played for the Flyers. Equipment manager Frank Lewis had painted goalie Doug Favell’s mask orange (”He looked like Pumpkinhead”), making him the second with a decorated mask.
Taylor said he told Lewis, “ ‘I can’t go out there with a plain white mask. You have to do something with mine.’ So he painted a starburst. I said now, ‘I have a target on my face, like a dartboard.’ “
Goalies didn’t change masks often at that point, so Taylor was stuck with the starburst for a couple of years. His favorite had the Flyers’ “P” around each eye, making him look like the Lone Ranger.
The Lightning’s goalies have each worn three masks this season alone: their regular-uniform mask, one for Hockey Fights Cancer night, and one for the team’s alternate black uniforms.
Each goalie has a different level of involvement in designing his masks. Domingue likes to do the design himself. Vasilevskiy sends his design ideas to Montreal artist Sylvie Marsolais and lets her come up with the final version.
Vasilevskiy’s use of Marsolais causes Domingue to quip that his masks are “designed in Russia, made in Quebec.” Marsolais describes herself in her Twitter biography as a “Professional airbrush artist specialized in photorealism artwork on goalie masks.” She nailed the realism in the lion and its electric eyes on Vasilevskiy’s mask, particularly the version on the black mask for the black uniform.
“Looking at Vasilevskiy’s third-jersey mask, it’s outstanding,” Cooper said. “You look at the detail. It’s hard to pick all that detail up on TV, but you hold it in your hand and it’s incredible.”
Vasilevskiy also has the word “Bolts” on each side — he likes the symmetrical effect — and palm trees, “because I’m happy to live in Florida.”
Typically, personal images adorn a mask’s backplate. Vasilevskiy put a Russian Orthodox cross on his. The mask’s straps cover it, but you can tell it’s there. He and Domingue have included nods to their families on their backplates. Vasilevskiy wanted his son’s and wife’s names, Lukas and Kseniya. Domingue has his two kids’ names, Mila and Liam.
Domingue has different themes on each of his three masks.
His regular mask has drawings of Lightning icons Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier. They’re a little hard to read from far away but are striking up close, and a nice nod to his team’s history.
He decided to ask cancer patients at a Tampa hospital to draw images, and he put those on his mask. He didn’t find out until he met the designers that each image had personal significance relevant to their battles with the disease.
“The coolest one to me was Louis Domingue, when he took those kids’ artwork,” Taylor said.