Veteren Goal Mask Artist Todd Miska
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Todd Miska of Miska Designs started painting goalie masks for Dave’s Sport Shop in Fridley, MN while working as a sign painter. Fast forward 20 years and anybody with a little knowledge about painted goalie masks knows who Miska is. What is interesting about that though is how that all happened.
A request to paint then Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Eddie Belfour’s mask in the early ‘90s has rippled into a nice business that allows Miska to spend time with his kids and have fun.
“It’s neat to look back and see how it just grew,” Miska said.
Miska went from having a Mask he painted in the Minnesota boy’s hockey state finals every year, to having a client list of NHL and college goalies that keeps him busy.
“I don’t want to paint every mask in the NHL,” Miska said. “To give each mask the attention they deserve, I wouldn’t have enough time to paint everybody’s mask. If I took on all that work I’d need a pool of guys working for me and I don’t want that.”
Miska added that there are many talented mask painters out there, and each one has their own style. Not every goalie has the same personality, so it’s good for them to have options in mask painters. With every mask designer having their own style, Miska has a firm grasp on what he believes makes for good masks design too.
“You should be able to tell what it (the design on the mask) is from the stands or on TV. Some of these guys have such intricate designs that you have to be right on top of them to tell what it is, but you are seeing a trend back to simplicity,” Miska said as he pointed to a Molson poster on his wall featuring several Greg Harrison masks with clean, simple lines.
One goalie that has tested Miska’s idea of simple and identifiable from the stands and TV is Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding. Miska has worked with Harding quite a bit as he changes his masks regularly, often times to raise money for charity. Many hockey fans will remembers Harding’s breast cancer mask with pink ribbons and the “Fund the Fight – Find a Cure” wording on it. The mask was a tribute to Harding’s sister who battled breast cancer.
“When Harding came to me he wanted to go all pink” Miska said, “so I threw the idea out of the smaller ribbons while blending it with the Wild colors and he liked it.”
The mask raised breast cancer awareness as most hockey announcers discussed it when their teams faced the wild, but it also opened the doors for other promotions to raise awareness that spread to the minor leagues and other sports.
Of course Harding is known for another mask of his, the one that depicts the Wild’s equipment van burning.
“When I heard the news of the Wild’s equipment van burning, I got on the phone to the Wild equipment manager and asked is Harding’s new mask that I had just finished was in the van,” Miska said. “He told me that both goalies (Niklas Backstrom and Josh Harding’s) masks were lost.”
Harding came to Miska to discuss a new mask and that’s when he floated the idea of a tribute to the Ottawa Fire Department for extinguishing the fire.
“I found some actual pictures of the burnt equipment, went off of that and added the fire truck on the other side,” Miska said.
Other notable Harding Masks have included his favorite band, Rascal Flatts, and a tribute to his childhood friends playing some rat hockey across the street from Harding’s house.
More than hockey
Goalie masks are not the only things Miska paints. He has painted the catcher’s helmet for the Minnesota Twins American League M.V.P. catcher Joe Mauer and his back up Mike Redmond.
“The Twins equipment manager asked the Wild equipment manager who painted their masks,” Miska said. “After that he gave me a call and asked if I could paint Mauer and Redmond’s helmets to look like their throwback helmets.”
And the sign painting Miska was doing when he started? Well those signs were mostly billboards. Billboard technology has changed in the past 20 years. Instead of painting the advertisements on billboards, the ads are printed on vinyl and stretched over the billboard. Miska still works on billboards, but since he only has to hang the vinyl, he has more time to devote to masks.
A family affair
“It’s just been the perfect storm,” Miska said of Hunter’s accent as a goalie.
It started a few years back when Harding invited Miska and his kids to meet for lunch. While at lunch Hunter asked Harding how old he was when he put the pads on and Josh told him 14, the same age as Hunter. Hunter had wanted to play goalie before, and even put the pads on when his goalie was sick or could not make it to a game when he was a squirt. His dad had seen the natural ability he had in the net and always had full gear ready for him to play, and of course a custom painted mask. When Hunter learned it wasn’t too late to give the position a serious try, he did everything he could to make that happen.
As a forward, Hunter had a chance to tryout for his high school’s team as a freshman, but when the coach asked the players to list what position they wanted to play, Hunter wrote down goalie. Hunter’s coach called Miska to discuss this with him as they both knew Hunter’s fondness for the position, but they were also aware of his mom’s objections. It was decided that Hunter was old enough to make the decision himself.
Hunter made the right decision as he backstopped his North Branch, MN team as a freshman, earning All-Conference honorable mention honors. It is something that doesn’t happen often in hockey crazy Minnesota. His play also earned him an invite to the Advanced Hockey Festival in St. Cloud, MN in the summer of 2010. He played well enough and moved onto the USA Hockey Boys Select 15 camp later in the year in New York.
Hunter performed well enough at the select 15,16 camp and through out the season that earned himself a spot on the USA National U-17 Development team, where he will reside in Ann Arbor, MI, for the next two years.
“As a parent it’s awesome,” Miska said. “I look at some of the USHL masks I’ve painted last year, and I’m thinking hey, Hunter will be playing against these guys next season, that’s wild.”
Hunter will be getting his mask custom painted by his Dad to represent the U.S. National Team Development Program.