John Grahame Mask has Grandmothers and Pin-Up Girls
Maybe even his entire family history.
Grahame’s new mask continues to have a military theme in tribute to his roots in Colorado, home to the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“It’s just to say thank you to those guys in the military,” Grahame, who is back playing for Lake Erie in the AHL after a short injury fill-in with the Colorado Avalanche, told InGoal Magazine. “To let them know ‘we’re thinking about you and appreciate what you guys do.’”
But mixed in with those shout-outs to those serving a country he has represented at both the Olympics and World Championships, are a couple of different nods to his family history.
The most notable tip of the hat to both the Air Force and his family is on the sides of the new mask, which is designed to look like the nose of a fighter jet, with the pilot in the window above. Grahame wanted to pay tribute to his grandmothers, Vi and Dawse. His painter, Frank Cipra, suggested depicting them as pin-up girls on the nose of the plane, a common practice among fighter pilots used to do back in World War II.
Grahame, however, insists the swimsuit-clad pin-ups aren’t actually renderings of his two grandmothers. It’s just their names alongside the pictures.
“No, definitely not doing it that way, just their names on their as a tribute,” Grahame said with a laugh. “The pin-up girls were just the history of what the old air force guys use to do.”
Maybe Grahame, a 35-year-old veteran of 224 NHL games over 13 pro seasons and a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, knows how much heat he’d take on the ice if he had his grandmothers wearing bathing suits on his mask. Some might wonder he needs Sigmund Freud on the back, instead of the word “Rorschak” and the inkblots associated with the psychological testing.
So why exactly are those two things on the back, anyway?
Turns out it’s the name of Grahame’s wine label, a small, 100-case Napa Valley vintage served in high-end steak houses and hotels in Denver and Las Vegas.
“It’s just something that kind of grew from being 22 when I made it to the NHL and going out to nice dinners and being able to try good wine and traveling,” said Grahame, who came out of Lake Superior State in 1997 and started with the Boston’s AHL affiliate the next season, making his Bruins debut in 1999.
He spent four more years in the organization before going to Tampa Bay for three and, if not for a missed team flight that infuriated then coach John Tortorella, may have been the Lightning’s No.1 goalie to start the playoff run that ended watching Nikolai Khabibulin backstop the team to the 2004 Stanley Cup.
After another season in Tampa and two in Carolina, Grahame went to Russia and a bad experience in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2008-09, before starting all over again on a tryout contract in the AHL in mid-December last season. He signed with Colorado oJuly 1 to provide organizational depth in the minors alongside Jason Bacashihua, who has some pretty good goalie masks of his own.
Along the way he’s developed a passion for, and knowledge of, good wine.
“An opportunity arose where I could see if I liked the business side and it’s been fun,” said Grahame. “I pretty much did everything, I went and outsourced the grapes; went to Napa with some sommelier friends to get that professional kind of view and we found one I loved and they loved and was something I would drink and I would order and they said ‘ok, now you’ve go to come up with a whole game plan.’ I sat down with some buddies and just brainstormed over dinner and said ‘what do we like to do?’ And it was basically sit down, tell stories and drink some wine and it’s all about your personality.
“Your personality is different at the beginning of dinner than at the end of dinner after you’ve had a few glasses and that tied in with Rorschack ink blots. It all has to do with psychology and your personality and I thought it all kind of tied in and I thought there was some possibilities where you could do some different ink blots for different bottles on different vintages.”
Right now there is only one, which Grahame describes as a “big Bordeaux blend.”
“It goes well with big steaks and kind of a masculine kind of thing,” he said. “IT goes with lamb, sitting around with the boys and having a big dinner.”
In other words, it sounds like a perfect wine for hockey players.
“Exactly,” laughs Grahame.
As for playing hockey, the 6-foot-3 Grahame is showing he can still do that, with a .921 save percentage in eight games for the Monsters. His return to Colorado re-united him with his mom, who works in the Avalanche front office (they are the only mother-son combination with their names on the Stanley Cup), and brought him closer to home and father Ron, a retired goalie once traded for the draft pick used to select Ray Bourque, who John played with in Boston.
After getting sidetracked by a “nightmare” stint in Russia – “I could tell you a million stories that you would think somebody couldn’t make up in a movie,” he said – Grahame was determined to make his family proud on the ice, dropping 20 pounds in the summer before reporting for training camp in Colorado.
“If you’re going to put your name on the contract you want to put your best foot forward. This is an opportunity to come and finish things the right way and see what happens,” said Grahame, whose simple old-school butterfly style hasn’t changed much over the years. “I try and stay back a little bit but that’s kind of what I’ve done ever since I was in Tampa, just trying to use my size and not do too much and be flying all over the place like I’m 5-foot-10.”
On his mask, Grahame pays tribute to his family on the backplate.
The words “Ne Oublie” mean “Never Forget” and are part of the heritage of the famed Scottish Clan Graham, with roots dating back to the Roman Empire.
Grahame says his family has traced its roots all the way back to the clan.
“It’s something for the family and do not forget where you’ve come from and what you‘ve accomplished,” he said of the words on the back of his mask. “It’s just a great reminder. And shows that masks can really tell a great story.”
As it turns out, one just slightly longer than 1,000 words.
Full size shots of Grahame’s new mask….
Shots of his current mask: