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by Dorian Geiger / New York Islanders
Heading back to the prairies of Saskatoon after close pre-season losses in Edmonton and Calgary, the Islanders are in search of redemption as they face the same Oilers and Flames clubs in exhibition rematches on Saturday and Sunday. Meanwhile, off-season acquisitions Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron are trying to find a groove with the Islanders between the pipes. The pair of net-minders are sporting newly fabricated headgear in the form of custom masks.  For a goaltender, the mask is a creatively inspired testament to the player’s signature style, personality or the city they play in. Here’s what newly acquired goalies Roloson and Biron had to say on the topic.       

Elaborate on the new design of your goalie mask. What inspired the look and were you behind its style?

Martin Biron: “We kind of copied and used vintage Islander alum Billy Smith’s design which was a plain mask with only the holes for the eyes. Also on the back, there’s a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness for a cousin my age that died a year and a half ago from breast cancer. So that’s something that really strikes my heart. I also wrote my kids initials in the back, Jacob, Grace and Emily.  I have a baby on the way so there is a stork cradling my next baby.”

Dwayne Roloson: “To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have any control in the design of this particular mask. On the one side I have a lighthouse and on the other is a fishing boat. There are lots of boats in New York so it’s fitting.”

Why are custom goalie masks so popular amongst goaltenders?

Martin Biron: “It’s just a way for us goalies to be different and show our personality a bit. Players can be many things on the ice. They can be hitters, they can have a hard shot or they can be fighters. Being a goalie, your number one job is to stop the puck, so sometimes you want to be different with your equipment and it’s just one of the ways to express yourself.”

Dwayne Roloson: “Head equipment in general is important for everybody. If you don’t take care of your head you’re not going to be able to do much the rest of your life. If I can have good protection and play with my kids when I’m 50, then that’s great.”

How long do masks typically last before the inevitability of wear and tear sink in?

Martin Biron: “It depends on the company and what brand of mask you buy. Mine is a Bauer and I’ve had this mask for years and I keep wearing it. This year we sanded the whole thing and it’s like brand new. I’ve seen guys go through two or three masks a year and it just depends on the person.”

Dwayne Roloson: “I get a new mask every year.”

Do mask designs differ for goalies when moving from team to team?

Martin Biron: “In Buffalo it was a bit of a different setup¸ it was always a cartoon character that we came up with. I had a design when I was in Philadelphia that was vintage, but I never got to wear it because the other masks fit better. “

Dwayne Roloson: “Every team and every city has a different history and background. The first one [mask] is usually about the town or the city. The painter uses an original paint job and adds different things, but with a tendency to bring out some local history.”

Which goaltender’s mask(s) during your time in the NHL or growing up have caught your attention and stuck out in the crowd?

Martin Biron: “A lot of them. I love goalies and looking at their equipment and masks. I think there are a lot of creative things out there, a lot of cool masks and different masks. It’s really interesting to see what everyone was doing. Sometimes the simpler designs are better. I remember Patrick Roy with Montreal. It was just blue lines with a Canadiens logo on it. Then you had guys like Ronnie Hextall in Quebec City with the big polar bear, Curtis Joseph that always had that ‘Cujo’ dog and Ed Belfour with the eagle. These are trademarks for these guys.”

Dwayne Roloson: “A long time ago. Steve Shields’ mask when he was in Boston and he had the Gerry Cheevers mask. A picture of his face and the old Gerry Cheevers stitches on the mask. I thought it was pretty amazing.”

Being a goaltender in the new era of the NHL and facing the increasingly fast paced action the league offers, can you imagine now playing without a helmet or mask like decades-old legends Jaques Plante and Johnny Bauer did in the early heydays of the NHL?

Martin Biron: “No. The position has changed tremendously. From 10 years ago, to 20 years ago and up to 50 years ago. You look at guys like Ken Dryden, who had a little back equipment and a tiny mask. And back before that with Plante and Bauer, all these guys, it was a totally different game for them.”

Dwayne Roloson: “Obviously the game has changed totally. But you know for Jacques and a lot of the other guys who paved the way for us to wear masks, it would’ve been a tough position a lot of people in the world wouldn’t want to be in. And other guys like Johnny Bauer, the games that they played without a mask? They wished they would’ve had one.”

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