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The Official Site of the Minnesota Wild

Behind The Masks

by Glen Andresen / Minnesota Wild
Last week, in honor of the debut of the Minnesota Wild’s newest alternate jersey, looked back at the brief history of the four sweaters that our beloved squad has sported since 2000.

With tomorrow being Halloween, and Sunday being the much-anticipated 50th anniversary of Jacques Plante donning the first-ever goalie mask in an NHL game, we decided to feature the one area of a uniform where a player can express himself. So looked at the history of Wild goalie masks, and visited with the Wild’s three current crease jockeys.

Before we get to Niklas Backstrom, Josh Harding and Anton Khudobin; we have to look back at three previous tenders (apologies go out to all who were hoping to hear about Derek Gustafson, Dieter Kochan and Zac Bierk) that saw significant face time with Minnesota in Dwayne Roloson, Manny Fernandez and Jamie McLennan.

In year one, Fernandez sported what was perhaps the most classic design in franchise history due to the way it morphed the Wild logo into an angry 3-D version. Manny’s design seemed to play off other classic designs such as Brian Heyward’s San Jose Sharks mask, or Felix Potvin’s pseudo cat, yet it was creative enough to play off a unique and new team logo. Plus, the animal looks very cranky, and well, let’s just say that Manny was not always…um…happy-go-lucky.

In the Wild’s first year, Fernandez split time with McLennan, who rocked a KISS-themed mask, complete with Gene Simmons wagging his grotesquely long tongue for all to see.

In year two, McLennan was out, and Roloson was Manny’s new partner in goaltending crime. After his spot on the team was secure, Roloson broke out a beautiful  mask with a bear, or as Stephen Colbert might call it, a Godless killing machine. It was the perfect complement to Roloson whenever he argued to the referees about a player in his crease. He and the bear were dead ringers for each other.

When he represented the Western Conference at the 2004 NHL All Star Game at the Xcel Energy Center, Roloson sported a special All Star Game mask, complete with the Wild logo.

Manny, Noodles and Rolie are now gone, but the Wild currently has three goalies on their roster, each with a unique design on his face protector.

Year in and year out, Harding never ceases to impress with an eyecatching ensemble. When he first game into the League, he sported a mask with pink ribbons to support cancer research in honor of his sister, who has fought the battle with breast cancer.

The following year, he went way off the beaten path with a mask featuring country music band, Rascal Flatts, as well as a tribute to the victims of the I-35 bridge collapse. Last year, Harding got nostalgic by portraying an outdoor youth hockey game, complete with images of his childhood friends.

This year, Harding simplified his look by going with a wild cat (above middle) breaking through the ice in an igloo.

“This year, I didn’t do too much with it,” said Harding. “I kind of let (artist) Todd Miska run with it. I’ve done some different ideas in the past, but this year I was more focused on winning games and stuff like that.”

As he’s done in the past, and like most goalies do. Harding still has a personal touch on there. In addition to his nickname (Hards) on the lower front, he’s got a pair of flags on the back. One is the Canadian flag, which is no surprise. The other is of the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League.

“I’m a big fan,” he said.

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When Backstrom first joined the Wild for training camp in 2006, he wasn’t even expected to make the team. He started out with a mask showing green and red, only the green was a horrendous neon green, and the red bordered on orange. He quickly scrapped that, and went with a more basic look.

Last year, he unveiled his most risqué artwork yet (above top). At least, its risqué for the mild-mannered Backstrom, who admitted he worries more about stopping pucks, and leaves the artwork to the creative types.

“It was the painter’s idea to put some wild animals on the mask,” he said. “I just asked for a couple things and he came up with the rest.”

The prominent animals are a bald eagle, and yet another ferocious grizzly, which typically don’t stray into the state of hockey. But a small black bear rifling through a garbage can doesn’t have the same intimidating effect.

“Backs” also has his nickname on the front chin, and he adds some personal touches on the back as well, with the Finnish flag and the Hockey Fights Cancer logo.

“This month is Hockey Fights Cancer month and I’m trying to support something that is much bigger than hockey,” said Backstrom. “For sure I wanted the Finnish flag as a reminder of my roots, and where I come from.”

And then there’s Anton Khudobin, who has yet to play in a regular season game, but recently joined the team when Harding experienced lower body soreness.

The bubbly goaltender showcases one of the most unique ideas that we’ve seen in these parts. On each side is an angel (above bottom), which looks a lot like the tooth fairy. One might think two pristine angels is an odd choice for someone who plays a position that requires vulcanized rubber to come flying at your face at more than 100 miles per hour.

But when you hear Khudobin’s reasoning it almost makes sense…almost.

“Angels kind of help people,” the recent call up from Houston explained. “When I was trying to think of what to do, I didn’t know what team I would be on so I can’t put a special logo like Minnesota Wild or Houston Aeros.”

Tonight, the Wild will be giving away goalie masks to all of their fans as they enter the arena. Unfortunately for Khudobin fans, they do not feature helpful angels.
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