Goalie world mourns passing of mask maker Gary Warwick Sr.
The bond between hockey players and their equipment has always run deeper for goaltenders, so it was no surprise some of the best to play the position reached out immediately to share their thoughts and memories after the passing of long-time mask maker Gary Warwick Sr. on Wednesday.
The devastating news broke on a Facebook post from Gary’s son, Gary Warwick Jr, that his father has passed away after a battle with heart and kidney problems at the age of 73:
By the time news of Warwick Sr. passing reached the InGoal offices, it was already early evening but that didn’t prevent an immediate late-night outpouring from the goalie community, starting with an email from the Hall of Fame goalie pictured in the Facebook post, Ed Belfour, and his son, Dayn, who is also a goalie.
“Dayn and I are so sad to hear the news,” Belfour wrote. “Gary was always so happy and passionate about goaltending and making us the most innovative protective masks in the world. He had a way with his mannerisms and sound effects that always left us smiling and happy to be working with him. We’ll always remember him! God bless a wonderful person!”
Warwick, who is from Port Huron, Michigan, had been making masks since 1967. In the early years, he would hand lay-up mask and hand cut and file each shell. He broke into the NHL eight years later through goalies like Eddie Johnston and Yves Belanger of the St Louis Blues, Doug Grant and Bill Olichuck of the Colorado Rockies, Mike Liut, and Rogie Vachon. (You can hear Warwick Sr. talk about his history making masks in this early InGoal Magazine interview with founder David Hutchison from 2009)
After the change from moulded masks to caged combos in the late 1970s, Warwick began making his using a mixture of carbon fibre, Kevlar and epoxy resin, building custom masks for since-retired goalies like Belfour, Marty Turco, Evgeni Nabokov, as well as a unique custom helmet-and-cage combo for Dominik Hasek while he was with the Detroit Red Wings that allowed for custom paint.
“It was always made perfect for you,” Nabokov said over the phone from San Jose late Wednesday night.
“Every time anybody asks me, I always recommend that mask, it was the best I ever had. It was light and I felt protected and I tried a lot of different masks. His was the best.”
For Michigan native and new Anaheim Ducks goalie Ryan Miller, the relationship with Warwick was a long and special one.
“Gary started making me masks when I was 17,” Miller wrote in an email. “Being from Michigan it was a lot of fun to visit his basement workshop and have your mask fitted just like the pros. I have worked closely with him and his family over the years on my mask as it evolved and improved. Gary went out of his way for his goalies. I’m going to miss his stories on the phone when I order my masks.”
There are a lot of goalies that purchased their first Warwick mask from his basement. It was that interaction, along with the quality of his masks, that is most remembered. On social media, the reaction was unanimous and balanced between the quality of masks and the quality of person.
Whether you were played youth hockey, beer leagues, were on your way to the Hall of Fame, or just running a blog and had some questions about the industry, Gary Warwick Sr. took the time to really talk to you and left you feeling special after the exchange.
“What makes goalies unique is in large part due to those that suit us up and those that understand us,” Turco wrote. “Gary Warwick did both with passion and grace. A man of conviction, Gary made me feel like could conquer the world. A true gentleman that will be sorely missed. I hope my gargoyles that donned my mask take care of him up there.”
Along with Miller, Mike McKenna is one of many pro goalies who still wears a Warwick mask.
“Nineteen seasons and not one injury wearing his mask,” said McKenna. “He was truly one of the last craftsman in the mask trade. I will miss him.”
Gary Warwick Sr. is survived by his wife, Shelley, who was always an equally friendly voice and vale source of information when she picked up the phone at their shop, and his two sons, Chad, who runs Defender Masks out of Colorado, and Gary Warwick Jr., who continues to build Warwick masks in the same Michigan shop.
“Gary shared his mask making skills with both his sons when they were young,” Shelley said. “He would take them from ice rink to ice rink to make head molds of the goalies. So great he passed on the mask making to the next generation.”