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'Scary' goalie masks link Halloween, horror films and hockey

Unique designs through years have had ties to holiday, popular movies

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

The long-standing link between Halloween, horror movies and goalie masks goes well beyond the iconic example of Jason Voorhees wearing one in the "Friday the 13th" films.

Gerry Cheevers is credited as the first goalie to decorate his mask in the late 1960s, when Boston Bruins trainer John Forristall started drawing stitches on the all-white facial protection to indicate the damage each puck that hit the mask would have inflicted on the face of Cheevers had he not been wearing one. But the first NHL goalie to wear a painted mask was Doug Favell during the 1971-72 season, and it started as a Halloween joke.

The Philadelphia Flyers goalie asked trainer Frank Lewis, to paint the mask orange for a game on Halloween and continued to wear it throughout the remainder of the season. Favell said his inspiration was the animated special "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown."

Favell later switched to a "starburst" featuring orange and white triangles that came to a point in the middle of his face and extended out wider to the back, one of the earliest painted designs in a league where masks have since become intricate works of art.

Mask designs that have followed through the years included ties to scary movies and Halloween.

"Many goalies want scary stuff on the masks, and you have a lot of horror movies with hockey masks, so it's a link for sure," said David Gunnarsson, who painted more than half the goalie masks in the NHL last season from his DaveArt studio in Sweden.

One of Gunnarsson's clients, Alex Lyon of the Flyers, has dedicated each of his six pro masks to the horror movie motif. They have incorporated the quote "I see dead people," from "The Sixth Sense"; the murderous doll from the "Anabelle" series; the girl from "The Ring"; Billy the Puppet from "Saw"; and Pennywise, the clown from the "It" films, who has appeared on two masks.

Gunnarsson, who is fan of all film genres and often plays movies on a projector in his paint studio while working, even managed to work himself into Lyon's first "It" mask.

"I wanted to paint a poster with the kid that was missing just like in the movie, and my idea was to paint Alex himself as the missing kid, but he said that it's more fun to paint me, so I painted myself on that mask as a missing kid," Gunnarsson said. "I'm a very, very big horror movie guy, and so it's very fun to paint them."

Gunnarsson drew inspiration from a mask worn by Corey Hirsch during the 1995-96 season with the Vancouver Canucks that included images of Alfred Hitchcock and the Bates Motel from the movie "Psycho."

Not every scary NHL mask has origins in horror movies or Halloween.

Around the time of the release of the original "Friday the 13th" in 1980, another Canucks goalie, Gary Bromley, wore a skull-themed mask that started a run on skeleton themes in the NHL.

As intimidating as Bromley's skull mask may have looked, it was not intended to scare anyone. It was simply a play on his nickname, Bones, given to him because of his slight build (5-foot-10, 160 pounds).

"The designs I did had to do with the player, it had to do with the city or something I was interested in that I could tie into the mask," said Greg Harrison, who made and painted Bromley's skull mask and at one point was creating and decorating masks for 80 percent of NHL goalies.

Harrison's portfolio included numerous scary-looking masks, including another, equally fierce skull model worn by Warren Skorodenski with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1980s. He also produced the famous tiger-themed mask worn by Gilles Gratton of the New York Rangers in 1976-77. That mask led to the myth that the goalie believed he was a reincarnated tiger, but in reality the design was based on a photo Gratton saw in National Geographic magazine during a team flight.

While playing for the Flyers from 2012-17, Steve Mason had artist Franny Drummond of Paint Zoo depict teammates, historical figures and the training staff as zombies on his various masks.

Though many of these Halloween and horror-themed masks have become iconic, current mask painters have noticed a decline in the requests for such designs.

"I'm fascinated by skulls, but there's not much demand for that kind of stuff on goalie masks," said Sylvie Marsolais, who painted the masks for the No. 1 goalies in last season's Stanley Cup Final, Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars, at her Sylabrush studio in Quebec. "I think to get a horror or Halloween theme, the goalie needs to be a huge fan. It's not just about having a frightening paint job, because the paint job itself is an extension of his personality."

Ironically, the mask that essentially first linked hockey and horror films wasn't decorated to look scary at all. That would be the simple, white one used by Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens, who became the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game Nov. 1, 1959 -- the day after Halloween, no less -- and a similar look became iconic for different reasons a little more than two decades later.

"I get a kick out of everyone referring to it as the Jason mask," Harrison said. "Most don't recognize or know that it basically was an early version of the store-bought Plante mask. They just marked it up and distressed it to make it look more sinister."

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