(Content warning: racism, rape related to discussion of Ray Emery masks)
As hockey fans debate the latest symbol of NHL uniformity – the Adidas jersey deal and the renewed possibility of ads appearing on sweaters – I’ve been thinking of one of the most enduring symbols of player individuality: the (painted) goalie mask. Beginning with a few small, marker lines – meant to represent a stitch – drawn on Gerry Cheevers’ simple, white mask in jest, it became the most iconic of all goalies masks. As someone who played in the NHL in an era when some goalies still didn’t wear masks, it also became a statement about player safety.
As more and more goalies had their masks painted by hand and then airbrush, and as the protective gear evolved from face-hugging fiberglass, to helmet-cage combos, and finally to fiberglass/carbon fiber-cage combos, a rich tradition of mask painting emerged.
While mask artwork has been evaluated on its relative merits, I think there’s something to be gained from exploring the goalie mask history of a team’s netminders. What follows is a visual chronicle of Ottawa Senators goaltending (players who have played 20 or more games in a Sens uniform), but it also creates a type of visual Sens history.
Early Years: 1992-1996
Looking back at the buckets Peter Sidorkiewicz and Darrin Madeley started with in Ottawa’s inaugural season and you’d be forgiven for thinking Ottawa played its first games a decade before, in the 1980s. The retro Cooper helmet-cage combos, black for Madeley, white for Sidorkiewicz, started appearing in the 1970s and were popularized by Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak. Synonymous with the high-scoring, less than stellar goaltending of the 70s and 80s, they were the perfect choice for goalies who would replicate those bloated GAA totals from earlier eras.
While Madeley played most of his games with the Sens the following season, Daniel Berthiaume was relied on to back up the All-Star (yes) Sidorkiewicz. Berthiaume’s contribution to the Senators’ mask history was a DIY (at least I hope it was) effort. Painted all black, it featured a small logo decal on each side on the top of the mask. The whole effort probably cost less than $4 at the dollar store.
Of note from the first season is Sidorkiewicz’s early adoption of the centurion theme. Like the main Senators logo, Sidorkiewicz’s mask featured a stylized Imperial Gallic helmet. Painted to appear he was wearing a Roman centurion mask it set in motion both a very specific aesthetic look as well as the mask-within-a-mask tradition other Sens goalies would wear in the future.
The 1993-94 pairing shows continuity with the inaugural season, in players (Madeley) and looks (Craig Billington). Billington wore an early variation of the centurion mask-within-a-mask. Like Sidorkiewicz, Billington’s mask featured the black fringe (seriously, what are those three black wings coming out of the red crest on the 2D logo supposed to be? A cape? Fringe?), from the main logo and a prominent laurel motif.
Another Madeley mask might be the most interesting from this early period in that its stylized linear design seems more suited to the 70s and 80s and a different team. Except for using the appropriate colours, it doesn’t reference the team and reminds me of the lid Felix Potvin sported around the same time with the Leafs. It makes it look like Madeley wanted to join the Calgary Flames, which was probably preferable to playing goal for the Sens in 1993-94.
The following (shortened) season, Don Beaupre joined the fold and was between the pipes for most games. He was already the owner of a truly iconic mask from his time with the Washington Capitals, the team Ottawa acquired him from. Featuring a stars and stripes design along the jaw line and cheek/ear covering, the top of Beaupre’s Washington mask featured a graphic rendering of the U.S. Capitol Building. He applied the same thematic template to his Senators mask, creating the first truly iconic cage in Senators history. The top of his mask featured a gold, graphic rendering of the Parliament Buildings, the first Sens reference to the buildings/Peace Tower since the wordmark logo from Terrace’s expansion pitch, some five years previous. The Parliament Buildings/Peace Tower motif would be used by several Sens goalies, including the recent, never worn (thankfully because he was not good) Alex Auld heritage mask. While the expansion bid wordmark logo featured the Peace Tower with a Canadian flag, the Beaupre mask introduced the maple leaf to Ottawa’s visual repertoire. In fact, the Peace Tower/Maple Leaf alternate logo that featured as a shoulder patch from 2000-2007 and is still in use as a decal on Ottawa’s home and away helmets, owes as much to the iconic designed introduced by Beaupre (and taken up by Damian Rhodes) as it does the original wordmark logo.
Perhaps it’s fitting that this bad, early period should end with Mike Bales. Not only was he quiet poor in net, his mask ushered in a particularly terrible design theme: the cartoon, full-size Roman soldier. While’s Bales’ graphic is more realistic than later incarnations, it features a soldier riding a rearing horse that just makes me think of this guy.
Golden Age: 1996-2007
Damian Rhodes joined the Senators for the 1995-96 season, but he came into his own with the club as the team made its initial playoff pushes in the late 1990s. Rhodes’ mask built on the aesthetic design of Beaupre’s but with slight modifications. The maple leaf background is more prominent and stylized; the leaf has veins and curves. The reference to the city is streamlined, with only the Peace Tower as the central focus above the cage. Along with Beaupre’s mask, the Peace Tower and maple leaf design featured on Rhodes’ mask was the look for Sens goalies as the team became respectable.
A counterpoint to Rhodes’ design was Ron Tugnutt’s look in the late 1990s. This is the most generic mask in Sens history. Its generic quality reminds me of this. Curtis Joseph wore it. But Tugnutt loved the “team colour splat” design. His mask is a great example of how the move toward airbrush paint jobs generated a bunch of designs in the 90s that shouldn’t have been allowed to see the light of day.
When the Sens shuffled goalies at the 1999 draft (Rhodes out, Patrick Lalime in), the reward for Ottawa fans was one of the best masks in team history. Lalime’s iconic Marvin the Martian mask was similar to the early Sidorkiewicz and Billington cages, with the top featuring a centurion mask. But Lalime modified that tradition and the result was terrific. His mask differed in that Marvin’s enraged eyes were popping out from under the centurion helmet. The original cartoon, developed in 1948 by Chuck Jones, was appropriately dressed as a centurion (with a pair of Chuck Taylor’s), based on the depictions of the Roman God of War, Mars, from antiquity. Lalime’s mask changed Marvin’s colours slightly to fit better with Sens colours and gave him goalie equipment. Unlike many Looney Tunes villains, Marvin the Martian was “clever and competent” as well as “incredibly destructive and legitimately dangerous”. Trying to destroy the world with his Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, inevitably he was foiled by Bugs Bunny. So a perfect metaphor for a goalie who was unbeatable against the Flyers in the playoffs but was constantly thwarted by the Leafs.
That brings us to Jani Hurme. This mask could not be more 90s, which means it was already outdated by the time he busted it out in the early 2000s. Another airbrush, graphic disaster, Hurme’s mask featured a fractured and splintering Senagoth logo (the first time that logo appeared on a mask in this series), and is quite clearly a reference to the ongoing financial woes and general instability of then-owner Rod Brydon. That or Hurme’s save percentage.
Martin Prusek is up next and there are things that need to be said about his mask. Important things. For starters, wearing the helmet-cage combo in the early 2000s was more than a little eclectic. Still, there were guys at that time who could pull it off, and Prusek wasn’t one of them. The cage and helmet didn’t seem to fit properly, and the helmet seemed to pop up on his head. Basically, he made Tommy Söderström look like the height of fashion. He doubled-down on bold choices by picking a Roman motif not utilized by anyone else in franchise history: the Colosseum. Aesthetically, the Colosseum might work on a mask but Prusek took the decidedly unaesthetic approach. I can’t be sure, but it seems like the thinking was: “my head is round, so is the Colosseum. I will wear this building like a crown around my head”. Sure. Now it’s possible it was some sort of comparison of arenas: of gladiatorial games and hockey games. But if Martin Prusek had posted a .911 save percentage in ancient Rome, he would have stayed in the provinces and never made it to the big show in Rome.
After another playoff loss to the Leafs and an NHL lockout, two new goalies emerged. Dominik Hasek was a living legend when he joined the Senators and his Cooper helmet-cage was his standard look (the Sens seem to have a disproportionate number of goalies who went this route). Hasek started painting his helmets while in Detroit and continued the practice in Ottawa. His final days with the team have been dissected before, but not enough time has been spent discussing his subtle work for Ottawa Tourism. Until he left for the 2006 Winter Olympics, Hasek worked tirelessly to promote Ottawa as a sunny, warm, weather destination by featuring a sunburnt, centurion on his mask. You’re welcome, Kanata.
Ray Emery’s masks are possibly the most talked about in Sens history. Nominally related to the team, they generally feature a team wordmark or small logo but focus primarily on Emery’s love of boxing. I think that’s a great thing actually. From the beginning, goalie masks have been an assertion of individuality. When Gerry Cheevers began the painted mask tradition it was also an assertion of individuality. Some of the most iconic masks in NHL history (Cheevers, Gary Bromley, Gilles Gratton, Curtis Joseph, Curtis Sanford, and Gary Simmons) had little to do with the teams they played for. Some designs, like Ed Belfour’s Eagle design from his time in Chicago or Patrick Lalime’s Marvin the Martian design from his time in Ottawa, become so associated with the goalie that he adapts it to fit the colours and style of successive new teams. However, in 15 years of Sens goalies, Emery was the first to have an individualized mask whose primary focus wasn’t a centurion or city-related imagery and without significant references to team iconography. Even Lalime’s mask was a play on the centurion theme. Emery’s cages were a needed burst of individuality and the fighter theme translated well to hockey.
Emery also had the most controversial mask in team history. While some goalies shop out the bulk of the design and thematic work to the artists who paint the masks, it’s fair to say Emery was more involved in the process than most. In 2006 he debuted a mask featuring former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. Emery wore the controversial mask for just one game before Sens management stepped in. After a meeting with John Muckler, Emery retired the mask. There were several instances of the Sens objecting to Emery’s behaviour and Stacy L. Lorenz and Rod Murray’s article “The Dennis Rodman of Hockey: Ray Emery and the Policing of Blackness in the Great White North” in Commodified and Criminalized: New Racism and African Americans in Contemporary Sports elaborates on the racial overtones of management’s objections. Where I disagree with Lorenz and Murray is the argument that the Senators only acted because Emery is black and used the fact that other organizations allowed goalies to wear masks objectifying women (most notably John Grahame in Tampa Bay) as proof. The Sens can’t stop goalies in other organization for having masks with objectionable material. While Emery’s race may very well have been a contributing factor to Muckler’s objection (the authors make a convincing case it was a factor in other clashes between the goalie and management), so too was public outcry. Simply put, having a mask celebrating a boxer who is also a convicted rapist is deeply problematic given the issues we still face in hockey culture and is deeply offensive to many survivors who watch the game.
Contemporary Period: 2007 to present
Martin Gerber entered the fold after the 2005-06 season. I guess it’s telling that it’s really hard to remember the mask he wore during his first season in Ottawa. Brought in to start, he ended up backing up Emery during the season the Sens when to the Final. He started the 07-08 season trying to reclaim his starting job and wore a black mask while awaiting a paint job on his primarily cage. The black mask endeared him to Sens fans and earned him the nickname “Darth Gerber”. Gerber even proved he got the joke, when he unveiled a Darth Vader mask to start the 2008-09 season. Sens fans didn’t see much of the mask as Gerber’s poor play led to him losing his starting gig to veteran Alex Auld and newcomer Brian Elliott and he was eventually placed on waivers.
Alex Auld’s masks were boring and derivative which is more charitable than I can be about his play. Auld’s look featured the mask-within-a-mask centurion helmet that made its first appearance in the inaugural season. Ugh.
Elliott had two main masks while playing for Ottawa, a white one and a red one, both featuring the cartoon character Casey Jones from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe.
Elliott’s red version stands out because he adopted the Heritage O secondary logo which had been featured as a shoulder patch on the home and away jerseys up to that point. A number of factors contributed to the Heritage O logo gaining in popularity among Sens fans and while Elliott’s mask is not at the top of that list, it helped push the O from afterthought to the attention of fans.
It would be easy to forget Pascal Leclaire and the most memorable thing about his mask was when he wasn’t wearing it on the bench, took a puck to the head and suffered a broken cheekbone, part of a string of injuries which sadly cut his career short. His injury history was legendary but his mask was not. Leclaire’s mask was one of those centurion caricatures that’s silly and thematically boring. Like Elliott, Leclaire also adopted the Heritage O logo as part of the design of his mask.
Sorting out the final days of the Elliott-Leclaire tandem resulted in the Sens using six goalies in 2010-2011 season and the only one to see significant playing time in addition to that duo was Craig Anderson. Anderson’s Sens masks have all been a variation of masks worn in Colorado and Florida. The left side of the mask features a Rat Fink-inspired centurion driving a corvette, the right a Sens logo and team wordmark. A maple leaf/leaves have also been a feature of his Ottawa masks.
His heritage masks strongly link the current team with the original Ottawa Senators, a link that’s been suggested since the expansion franchise was awarded, and has been rejuvenated over the last four years with the heritage jerseys.
Robin Lehner’s mask looks like the face covering you’d wear to slay your enemies while driving through Valhalla on a motorcycle, blood running down your face.
Ben Bishop wasn’t in Ottawa for very long, but long enough to become part of the fan base’s revisionist history and to personalize a mask. It’s an unremarkable black and white design but is notable for including the alternate side profile logo that’s an update of the original 2D logo. While ostensibly part of the team’s visual landscape since 2007, it’s rarely if ever used but appears on Bishop’s mask.
Finally, we come to Andrew Hammond’s Hamburglar mask. Along with Lalime’s mask, it’s the most iconic in team history. Featuring Alfred E. Newman in the Hamburglar’s costume, it’s noticeable, fun, and different. It also shows how a mask can help create a fan favourite. No doubt the strong play of Hammond during the streak was the most significant factor to him being embraced by the fan base. However, the mask and nickname led to burger tossing, much burger eating, and general revelry.
At its most basic level, painted goalie masks are an expression of a goalie’s individuality. But they’re also an extension of team identity and can push, however subtly, boundaries of iconography, marketing, and codes of behaviour. A mask can be as forgettable as the player wearing it or help foster affection for the guy standing between the pipes. A mask can chart the visual and aesthetic history of a franchise and connect fans to that chronicle. A mask protects, creating an additional boundary between goalie and opposition. But it also connects fan to goalie, because the paint shows something of the person behind the cage.