NHL Game Used Mask Collector Shares Obsession
This article was submitted to InGoalMag by Nelson White.
They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem. So hello, my name is Nelson and I’m a mask addict. I have been a collector of goalie masks for about 10 years now and have about 45 game used masks on display in my man-cave. I actually consider myself to be an art collector, and although I enjoy the works of Matisse and Renoir I prefer to own the Cipra’s and Gunnarsson’s. I argue that masks are fine art; they are sculpture and paint with a uniqueness in their design that allows you to know an individual goalie just by his lid. No other piece of sporting equipment can be altered for an individual athlete. You recognize Joe Montana or Kobe Bryant by their uniform and numbers, but by simply looking at a picture of the Eagle mask you think of Eddie Belfour, and the iconic stitches mask makes you think of Gerry Cheevers.
I grew up like most kids, drawing pictures of goalies and the great full face masks of the 70’s. I actually learned to draw by copying Ken Dryden’s target mask and the intricate detail of Gilles Meloche’s Cleveland Barons mask. My passion for the sport allowed me to have my own career in hockey, working in the front offices of many teams as an administrator and scout for about 15 years. This gave me the opportunity to meet many players and gave me access to the game that most people don’t have. Being a packrat, the collecting began. As an artist and an ex-goalie, masks became the ultimate prize.
My first mask was a Peter Skudra Voskresensk Khimik Russian mask (long before the KHL was born). It’s a beautiful green angry cat painted by Frank Cipra much in the same style as Curtis Joesph’s Cujo masks. Once I had one I was hooked, and have ever since sought out creative ways to add masks to my collection. They have come slowly, but through the help and generosity of goalies, equipment managers, mask makers, painters and fellow collectors, my collection has grown. There is actually a network of mask collectors who correspond and trade with each other. A healthy competition exists as masks are hard to find, but most guys are fair with each other and know when a mask is a must-have for one someone else’s collection. I now count many of these collectors as my very best friends.
The one question that drives me nuts above all others is “what’s a mask worth?” It’s such a subjective question that I say my masks are worth nothing because I would never sell them. Masks are expensive. Prices are usually dictated by the goalie and the notoriety of the mask. Patrick Roy’s iconic Montreal Canadians mask would bring a much higher price than an AHL mask. But lately with so many new collectors coming into the hobby, prices have skyrocketed. The unfortunate part is that people now see every mask as a bonanza. They ask unrealistic prices for a mask worn by someone who only played a few games in the ECHL. Not every mask is worth thousands, and many are not worth much more than the cost of original paint job. Still, people are paying outlandish prices and expecting to resell these masks at a profit when they overpaid initially. My advice is the same with any memorabilia (or comic books or art). Collect what you really like, what interests you, and what you enjoy owning. If you are collecting as an investment in the hopes of making a killing in masks, you are better served buying savings bonds.
I know I don’t own the biggest or best collection in the world (that’s reserved for a great friend in Florida), but my fellow collectors will tell you I am the most obsessive. The masks I own make me very happy. I can’t pay the prices that are out there now so I always have to find creative and innovative ways to get buckets. Because I work so hard for masks, they all have a story of how they came to be with me, and that is what keeps me collecting. I was once told by a goalie that he would never sell a mask, but he would give me one because he knew I would cherish and respect it, and that it would have a good home. That’s the best compliment I can receive, knowing that a goalie is happy to have his mask with me. Walking into my room I cannot help but smile, my masks make me happy. By the way, that goalie never did send me the mask, but I remain optimistic. It will show up one day.