just wanted kids to have fun, get creative and have a cool opportunity. Plus, when it comes to picking a mask design, the Wild netminder didn't want to have to think too much. Concentrating on saves is his top priority. Coming up with an idea for his mask design usually falls somewhere between picking out what brand of socks to buy and what color drapes he wants in his living room.
Since arriving in Minnesota, he usually had Equipment Manager Tony Dacosta get in touch with mask designer Todd Miska with the instructions, "Put something cool on there in Wild colors, and make sure you have the Finnish flag somewhere."
When it was announced that Backstrom would let a kid design his mask in a Wild.com contest last spring, he thought it would be a fun, creative and unique activity for kids to do.
What Backstrom couldn't have known was that the contest would provide a much-needed distraction for 15-year-old Peter Best, who lost his father in May, right in the middle of the Backstrom Mask contest.
It was a tragic loss for Peter, who often attended Wild games with his dad, and spent every winter morning talking to him about the Wild's last game, its next game or the team's playoff chances.
Peter's outlet was art, and as a huge fan of Backstrom, he had a distraction. His mother, Lenise, said he would set up camp in the living room, work on a design for the contest, crumple it up and start another. He wanted his submission to be perfect so he was constantly tweaking.
"At first, I drew a yeti, but I thought it was too Colorado Avalanche," said Best, who is a sophomore at Benilde-St. Margaret's. "I also did one with a bunch of animals, but thought it was too much like his other masks."
Finally, Best thought he had it right. His mask depicted the skyline of downtown St. Paul on the left, and downtown Minneapolis on the right. Rather than being separated by the Mississippi River, the two cities are divided by the shooting star that is such a popular element in the Wild logo. The lower portion of the mask incorporates the outdoors of Minnesota with a pair of wolves and pine trees, also derived from the club's logo.
"On one side, the wolf is howling and that depicts Nik's more laid back, stealth side," said Best, who obviously put a lot of thought into his work. "The other wolf is growling, and that's the more fierce side of Nik."
Out of more than 500 submissions, Best's artwork was picked by the Wild's equipment staff as one of five finalists. It caught the eye of Backstrom, who always thought a view of the skylines would be cool. It also caught the eye of Miska, who was charged with using Peter's art to create the finished product.
"Really cool," said Miska, who has created some of the most famous masks in NHL history for goalies like Ed Belfour, Miikka Kiprusoff, Evegeni Nabokov and Josh Harding
. "You can tell by Peter's attention to detail how much he put into this. I thought I would have to make a lot of modifications to the eventual winner, but as I was working on it with Peter, I didn't want to change much."
In August, Peter, Lenise and Peter's uncle David, made the drive from Plymouth to Miska's studio in Stacy. Peter wore a Finnish Backstrom T-shirt to go along with an ear-to-ear smile that couldn't be wiped off. He and Miska talked about each detail in the mask, and he also got the tour of the studio, which is heavily guarded by two goofy Bulldogs, Kimmy and Bo.
Peter left Miska's studio with a month to go before he'd get to meet Backstrom. He admitted that waiting will be the hardest part of the Backstrom Mask Challenge.
"He's been bouncing off the walls all week," said his uncle Dave a day before today's presentation.
"It was a long month, and school definitely didn't help," admitted Peter. "The minutes felt like hours."
Today, that moment finally came. Best met Backstrom on the Wild bench and pulled it out of it's case.
"I'm really happy," said Backstrom about his new artwork. "I really liked Peter's idea when I saw it, so I wasn't too worried about it. It's a really cool idea."
Backstrom thought it might be a day or two before he debuted the mask, wanting to make sure it would be broken in. But on Saturday, he was just as excited as Peter.
"A new mask, and hockey's starting," he said, smiling. "It's a great day!"
And now, Peter can look forward to seeing his mask at Wild games, or during the more than 80 TV broadcasts of Wild games including the first two nationally televised games in Backstrom's native Finland.
"I don't know if there is a word for it," said Best. "All that work I put into it will be worth it. How many kids can look at an NHL goaltender's mask and say, 'I made that!'"
As far as we know? None.
But Peter got more out of this than bragging rights during a game and an autographed replica of the mask provided by Dave's Sport Shop. He also had a connection with his dad.
"He loved the Wild so much, and the fact that this was for the Wild kind of built up that connection," he said. "It really helped me concentrate on the drawing."
As for Backstrom, he can continue concentrating on stopping pucks.