Koules played in the Western Hockey League in the late 1970s and early ‘80s before two seasons of minor pro; produced and owns the Saw horror movie franchise; and owned the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2008 to 2011. So, when he reached out on social media to share some kind words about another story tying the themes together, we had to ask about that undeniable bond between Halloween, horror and goalie mask.
“I think that kids and adults love to play make believe on that one day a year,” replied Koules, whose time in Tampa Bay included then-Lightning goalies Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig wearing the Saw-themed masks pictured below and auctioning them off to raise more than $20,000 for charity. “A painted goalie mask is like an alter ego; the designs that the goalies and the painters come up with really shows who the goalies are.”
It’s a theme we discussed at length on Episode 91 of the InGoal Radio Podcast, which included a couple of interview clips about scary masks and Halloween from two legends of the industry: David Gunnarsson of DaveArt, who painted more than half of the masks in the NHL last season, and Greg Harrison, who at one point in his career was making and painting the masks for an estimated 80 percent of NHL goalies. We promised a chance to listen to the full interviews but with Halloween upon us figured we could mix those extended discussions into a longer look at those ties to goalie masks, which also gives us a chance to show off a few of our favorites over the years.
The first painted goalie mask was actually a Halloween prank.
Gerry Cheevers is rightly credited for being the first goalie to decorate his mask in the late 1960s, when Boston Bruins trainer John Forristall started drawing stitches on the all-white facial protection to indicate the damage that would have been done without it every time he got hit in the face, but the first goalie to wear a painted mask in the NHL was Doug Favell a couple of years later, and it started as a Halloween joke.
The Philadelphia Flyers goalie asked the Flyers trainer to paint the mask orange for a game on Halloween night, and continued to wear the orange mask that season.
“I said to Frank Lewis, who was our trainer, ‘Frank, with tonight being Halloween, why don’t we put orange on the mask? Can you paint orange on the mask? We’ll paint it orange like ‘The Great Pumpkin,’ because back then Charlie Brown and The Great Pumpkin were a big thing,” Favell recalled on the October 31, 2014 edition of the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast. “‘Why don’t we paint it like a pumpkin for Halloween?’”
Favell later switched to a “starburst” featuring orange and white triangles that came to a point in the middle of his face and extended out wider to the back, one of the earliest painted designs in a League where masks have since become intricate works of art.
Many of those subsequent paint jobs have included ties to scary movies and Halloween, continuing the theme that started with Favell’s “Great Pumpkin” paint job.
“Very many goalies want scary stuff on the masks and you have a lot of horror movies with hockey masks, so it’s a link for sure,” Gunnarsson said from his studio in Sweden.
Of course, the most famous and easily identifiable of those horror movie masks was worn by Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” movies. That character may provide the most obvious and direct link between horror movies and goalie masks, but would you believe it also has direct ties to the most famous goalie mask in NHL history?
It may just be a coincidence that Jacques Plante became the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game on Nov. 1, 1959, one day after Halloween, but even that can be linked to the goalie mask most associated with providing a good scare.
“I get a kick out of everyone referring to it as the Jason mask; most don’t recognize or know that it basically was an early version of the store-bought Plante mask,” Harrison said. “They just marked it up and distressed it to make it look more sinister.”
Jason Bacashihua embraced that theme by including the mask-wearing “Jason” character on his paint jobs, including this one with the Colorado Avalanche:
“Growing up I was able to watch all of them,” said Bacashihua, who spent two seasons in the NHL but was still playing overseas last season. “When it came time to paint my helmet I thought it was pretty neat: He wears the goalie mask and I’m Jason and here I am a goalie, so I put him on there. I couldn’t put the knife or anything on there so I just threw the hockey stick on there. That’s my thing ever since I got my first painted helmet (in 2002). It’s been him ever since, through all the different paint jobs.”
Bacashihua may be the only goalie (at least that we know of) to depict the most famous horror movie goalie mask on his NHL goalie mask, but he certainly isn’t the only one to link the two. Alex Lyon, who is preparing for his fifth season in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, has an entire series of horror movie masks painted by Gunnarsson.
They range from a “The Sixth Sense” theme that included the quote “I see dead people,” to the murderous doll from the “Anabelle” series, the girl from “The Ring,” Billy the puppet from “SAW” and two with Pennywise, the clown from the “IT” movies. Gunnarsson, who is fan of all genres and often plays movies on a projector in his paint studio while working, even managed to work himself into Lyon’s first “IT” mask.
“I wanted to paint a poster with the kid that was missing just like in the movie and my idea was to paint Alex himself as the missing kid but he said that it’s more fun to paint me, so I painted myself on that mask as a missing kid,” Gunnarsson said. “I’m a very, very big horror movie guy and so it’s very fun to paint them.”
Dave Gunnarsson from InGoal Radio Episode 91
As he mentions in the audio above, a young Gunnarsson drew inspiration from a mask worn by Corey Hirsch during the 1995-96 season with the Vancouver Canucks that included images of Alfred Hitchcock and the Bates Motel from the movie “Psycho.”
But not all scary NHL masks had origins in horror movies or Halloween.
Around the same time that Voorhees made goalie masks scary in that first “Friday the 13th” movie in 1980, another Canucks goalie, Gary Bromley, wore a skull-themed mask that started a run on skeleton paint jobs in the NHL that continued for decades on goalies like Evgeni Nabokov, Vesa Toskala and Miikka Kiprusoff.
As intimidating as Bromley’s skull mask looked, it had nothing to do with trying to scare anyone. Bromley’s skull was simply a play on his nickname, “Bones.”
“It just came from me being so skinny,” Bromley once told InGoal.
Harrison said that was the case for most of the “scary” masks he painted.
“The designs I did had to do with the player, it had to do with the city or something I was interested in that I could tie into the mask,” Harrison said, listing off a portfolio of frightful looks that also included the skull mask worn by Warren Skordenski with the Chicago Blackhawks and the famous Tiger mask worn by Rangers goalie Gilles Gratton.
Harrison also created the skull mask and flames mask worn by the goalies, including actor Keanu Reaves, in the movie “Youngblood,” was consulted about making a “Jason Voorhees” mask for the “Freddy vs. Jason” movie, and even created the masks and futuristic hockey equipment worn in the comedy “Strange Brew” (you can hear more about that one in full audio of our interview below), but outside of his Hollywood work was dismissive of any ties between Halloween, horror and his goalie masks.
Greg Harrison from InGoal Radio Episode 91
Despite some of the scary standouts, like Lyon and former Flyers goalie Steve Mason, who had artist Franny Drummond of Paint Zoo studios depict teammates, historical figures and the training staff as zombies on his various masks in Philadelphia, other current painters have noticed a decline in the requests for scary-themed masks.
Sylvie Marsolais, who painted the mask for Stanley Cup finalists Andrei Vasilevskiy and Anton Khudobin at her Sylabrush studio in Quebec, said the last scary pro mask she painted was a skull for Mark Visentin with the Milwaukee Admirals. That was 2016.
For goalies that do check both boxes, the results can be spookily spectacular.
Thomas Greiss has long embraced a nightmare-inducing creature (it has been labeled a Yeti) on one side of his masks, but perhaps the best was former Calgary Flames goalie Karri Ramo’s desire to embrace the dark side. Ramo’s blood-splattered play on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” included the lurking birds, skull teeth on the chin a chilling quote from the poem along the back edge: “And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor shall be lifted — nevermore!”
“Ramo’s mask is very unique with the inspiration,” artist Jason Livery of HeadStrongGrafx told us at the time. “I like that Ramo thinks out of the box and lets us take that personal meaning and turn it into art.”
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