By Bill Ballou
Mike Myers, like a million kids infected by the hockey bug at an early age, grew up wanting to play professionally.
Though he shares the same name as a famous Hollywood actor, and like a million other kids inflcited by the hockey bug at an early age, his dream never quite came true. But it came close. Myers, at age 36, isn’t playing for a pro hockey team, but he is working for one.
The Worcester Sharks.
Myers is the Youth Hockey and Community Relations Manager for the Worcester Sharks, entering their first season in the American Hockey League. Although not a Worcester native, Myers played college hockey in town for Assumption College and stuck around to make a living and raise a family, along the way establishing himself as one of the continent’s top designers of goalie masks.
He was hired to help the new team tap into the very large youth hockey market of Central Massachusetts which will not necessarily be an easy task. Being a player himself, Myers understands the dilemma the sport can present – those who love it can spend so much time playing it that they can’t find the time to watch someone else playing it, no matter how much fun that might seem.
“It is always an issue,” Myers said. “The last four years of the IceCats (the Worcester Sharks predecessor), I was coaching at Assumption, I only went to two games that whole time. I was always at a game or at practice. But I think that, no matter how much they can make it out, or not, if you show the youth players encouragement, they will support the team.
“We have a lot of Friday night games, and a lot of games on Sunday afternoons, and those aren’t usually big youth hockey times,” added Myers.
The Worcester Sharks were not even the first Sharks in town. When they arrived, the Bay State Sharks youth hockey program was already well-established and popular. Then, shortly after the AHL team set up shop, the youth program previously known as the Mid-State Junior IceCats took the name Junior Sharks.
While working for the Sharks is Myers’ first full-time job with a pro hockey team, he has been involved in the game for years, earning a reputation as one of the sport’s most creative designers of goaltenders masks.
"I have an obsession with goalie masks," said the former netminder.
That obsession surfaced early in his life. Myers learned to play hockey in suburban Washington, D.C. His first game in goal was at age seven, and he faced his first pucks wearing one of the old-style birdcage masks. It turned out that the Washington Capitals practiced at the same rink, so he got to know NHL goaltenders Bernie Wolfe and Jim Bedard of the Caps.
"Bernie Wolfe was my favorite goalie growing up," Myers said. "I loved the Stars 'n' Stripes motif on his mask." Later, through the Capitals connection, Myers sold his first pro masks to Olaf Kolzig and Jim Carey.
After graduating in 1993, he settled in Central Mass. and went into the goalie mask business full time in May 1995.
He has produced helmets for other sports such as bicycle racing, including two for Lance Armstrong. Now that he will be concentrating on Worcester Sharks front office duties, Myers is closing up the mask shop, though he will continue to dabble and lists Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov as one of his regular clients.
“I’ll still do about two a month,” he said, “but the shop will close and I’ll downsize significantly. I’ll do the Sharks guys, and keep (Dwayne) Roloson, too.”
Roloson has been one of Myers' best customers through the years. Before he helped the Edmonton Oilers reach the Stanley Cup finals last spring, Roloson played for the Minnesota Wild, and before that, the IceCats.
Myers has done 12 different designs for Roloson, including a special All-Star mask for when he played in the NHL All-Star Game. That one was a rush job that Myers was able to do in 24 hours.
"It was really nice having him local," Myers said of Roloson's season with Worcester, "and at that time, the IceCats would practice at the Lake Avenue rink, where I used to play with Assumption. It was really weird seeing him in my old rink."
As customers go, Roloson was pretty easy.
"From player to player," Myers said, "the designs really differ. Roloson will just kind of let me do what I want, but some goalies are very particular right down to the last detail, like Jim Carey. He wanted everything done his way. But it mostly depends on the client."
Having been a goalie probably helps Myers deal with them as customers as well, since goaltenders are legendary for having unique personalities.
"I think you are born a goalie," Myers said. "Their ways are unique, and it can be good or bad, depending upon what arena in life you are talking. I have met some of the wackiest people on planet who are goalies – eccentric, routine-ridden, superstitious – because there are so many things that come along with being a goalie. There's something different about them, and it begins when they are young.
"I am plagued to this day with superstitions, like I'd do on game day, putting my left skate on first - I still always put my left shoe on first. I even put my kids' left shoes on first."
Myers’ experience as a player and coach, mask designer, and parent all seem to add up to the right formula to deal with the Central Mass. hockey public of all ages.
And if the Worcester Sharks ever run out of goalies, which occasionally happens in the AHL, they’ve got a spare one right in house, and he comes with his own mask.
Fact box with the story
If Myers had been born, say, 25 years earlier, chances are pretty good he would have gone into a different profession. Goalies didn't wear masks – they were considered a sign of weakness (mostly by forwards and defensemen) until Jacques Plante finally put one on out of necessity (to protect stitches in his face) in the early 1960s.
The first goalie masks were primitive and merely reduced the pain of playing goal rather than eliminating it. The first decorated mask was done in a rather primitive motif although it became a legend.
Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers had stitch marks drawn on his mask noting where he would have been cut had he been playing barefaced.
As masks evolved, so did their decoration.
Masks became almost trademarks of a particular goaltender and his, or her, team, depending upon what level the player was at. The first really unique mask was worn by Gilles Gratton, who got his start in the World Hockey Association, and had it painted as a ferocious lion.