Jason LaBarbera and David Arrigo Interview on Labarbera’s New Canucks Mask
Partnership between athlete and artist creates fantastic new design – and wait until you see what LaBarbera has on his iPod!
Check out the step by step photos of David creating the artwork on LaBarbera’s Mask.
Photos courtesy of and Copyright 2009, by David Arrigo
When Jason LaBarbera was brought in by the Vancouver Canucks it must have been a time of mixed emotions. He had a good life in LA with his girlfriend and a new baby, and he knew he was heading into a situation where the starter, Roberto Luongo, would return from injury, leaving LaBarbera to battle an established backup who had served the organization well. His stay here might have been brief. At the same time he was returning home. LaBarbera is a Vancouver-born goaltender who surely relished the chance to play for his hometown team.
Perhaps the uncertainty explains why it took so long to design a new Canucks mask, but when Curtis Sanford was sent down to Manitoba it was clear the organization was looking to ‘Barbs’ longer term. That’s when he turned to his longtime mask designer David Arrigo to help him come up with a new mask, one decidedly respectful of his and his new team’s roots.
I asked Jason what it has been like coming to Vancouver:
“It’s been a dream come true. It’s something that I never really thought would happen. When I was told I got traded to Vancouver it was like a whole new lease on life. To be able to play for the team you idolized growing up, and having your friends and family be a part of it, has really has been amazing.”
Some goalies are happy to trust their mask designer with the whole process, just producing a new lid for them when the time comes. Jason likes to be much more closely involved and this time, as he was designing his first Canucks mask, it was even more important to him.
“That is definitely one of the fun parts of being a goalie. I take pride in being creative and coming up with some cool concepts for a mask. It’s fun because I’m so not the creative type, but for some reason I really enjoy this.”
“I wanted to keep some sort of Metallica theme in there. I’m a huge fan of the band, and have always had some sort of Metallica representation on my helmets. For me being a Canuck fan growing up I thought it would be cool to add former players on there. I talked to one of my good friends that I grew up with, Derek Franco, and he told me that the Linden, McLean picture is a big thing with Canuck fans and obviously Stan Smyl was the man here for so many years, and Harrold Snepts was a huge fan favorite, plus was my coach in junior. Our assistant equipment guy, Jamie Hendricks, thought it would be cool to have Johnny Canuck somewhere on there as well. So I sort of think about where I want everything to go, and David[Arrigo] just runs with it. The guy is an amazing talent, so I trust him enough to let him go with it.”
The process is an interactive one, perhaps more with David than other artists. After Jason sends him his thoughts, David gets to work, but quickly shares his sketches with ‘Barbs.’
“I email it to him, he says yes, no, change this, or the way he [LaBarbera] says it – ‘I’m not feeling it’ so until he ‘feels it’ then we continue. But now, this is going to be our third or fourth mask together so he feels a lot more comfortable, so when I say it’s a rough concept he understands rough concept and for the most part I’ve never had an issue.
Then when I’m actually painting the helmet, I’ll send him photographs as a progression, so if there’s any alterations we can do it during and not when it’s been shipped – we don’t end up with any surprises.”
LaBarbera appreciates the way Arrigo works, even though with several masks done between them, he has faith in his work.
“That is one of the real unique things about David. He keeps me updated and in the loop. I haven’t had one painter do that. He first sends a rough draft. It’s usually a computer design of what it may look like and from there I add or subtract things that I like or don’t like. He then takes that and sketches things and sends pics, and basically just gives me updated pictures of what the process is looking like. It’s been nice to have a painter that is not only unreal at what he does but one that communicates with you like that.”
While the inspiration is a partnership between artist and goaltender, Arrigo draws from another important place, especially with someone like ‘Barbs.’
“Yes, music. Depending on what I’m listening to – it’s very eclectic my music collection – I’ll just crank on the tunes and start the concepts and…[with] LaBarbera where he’s a huge Metallica fan…it proves to be an inspiration where I can see where Jason gets his edginess…”
The back and forth working relationship is entirely electronic. Arrigo and ‘Barbs’ have never met.
“No, actually Barbs and I have never met in person. I was supposed to go down to the game (in Toronto) a few weeks back when Vancouver was in town but that day I was flying out to Vegas so we never got the chance to meet. “
Many people assume that painters are working for free, just happy to have their work showcased in the NHL. Not so.
“No, I’m paid. What happens is the team will have a certain budget from the different helmet companies be it Mission/iTech, RBK, Bauer and I’m paid directly by the companies to paint these helmets.
The artwork can cost from as little as $600 to as much as $1400 depending on how much detail is on it. But publicity wise? Sure it’s great to carry a helmet that I did for Mike Smith, Jason LaBarbera or all those guys in the portfolio – it’s a sense of pride as well so that when I turn on the TV – and I’ve got the NHL package now because there’s so many games going on so I’m able to see the West Coast guys that are wearing my mask and it’s very cool.”
On top of the cost and customization of the artwork, many NHL goalies have molds made of their faces and the mask is custom fit to them. ‘Barbs’ must be easy to work with for supplier iTech though – his mask is right off the shelf.
“Yup, I wear an iTech. I believe its pretty much the same mask I’ve worn since junior. It’s just a stock mask. I tried getting a custom one, but it just wasn’t comfortable.”
So, you can be just like NHL goaltender Jason LaBarbera, at least in terms of look. Come up with some inspiring ideas, get an off the shelf mask and send it off to someone like David Arrigo to bring your ideas to life.
While you’re at it, call up the Metallica on your iPod and crank it up. But if you’re not a Metalica fan, don’t worry. Jason likes lots of music that doesn’t get a tribute on his mask.
“haha…yup, the Backstreet Boys.. and to be honest with you, that doesn’t embarrass me whatsoever. I actually like them a lot…as lame as that sounds.”
I wonder what Alex Burrows would say if he saw a new LaBarbera Backstreet Boys Mask?
Better stick with the Metallica, Barbs.