When Jacques Plante unveiled the first goalie mask after breaking his nose during a game in 1959, he couldn't have known that the functional armour would, decades later, be overshadowed by sensational art.
Decorative masks have been around since the mid-1960s, when Boston Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers famously drew stitches on his mask whenever it was hit. Over the past five years, however, demand for this unique form of artwork has surged and there are now dozens of mask designers across North America and Europe.
David Arrigo, among the better known members of this sports/arts community, paints for Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, Jason LaBarbera of the Phoenix Coyotes, Brian Elliott of the St. Louis Blues, and Sidney Crosby's sister Taylor, who plays for Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minn.
"I don't care if you're a six-year-old girl in Alaska or if you're Carey Price," Arrigo said. "I treat everybody the same way. I just love to paint."
The process usually takes about 10 days, and the key at the outset is identifying the story a goaltender wants to tell.
"I'll come up with something that I'm involved with and that's personal to me, and then David will draw some sketches and we'll talk about it," Price said. "He'll give his input as an artist. Sometimes he'll have to say yay or nay on a certain thing. After that I'll give him the okay."
A lot of work goes into prepping the mask before it can be painted.
"The first steps – masking and sanding – are my least favourite parts of the job," Arrigo said.
He sketches the design onto the mask using a pencil and tape, then draws the lettering using a reflective paint known as "real mirror," which makes the text stand out from the rest of the design.
After initial painting, there's an opportunity to make fine adjustments. Price gives final approval before the mask is clear-coated.
Decorated masks allow goalies to make personal statements. Price's masks pay homage to his First-Nations ancestry.
"I think that it's difficult for an artist to portray what my feelings are on a mask and David does a very good job at it," Price said.
Price was drawn to Arrigo because of the artist's eagerness to help raise money for charities that Price supports, such as the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and the Soldier On Program.
Arrigo also produced 12 replica masks for the NHL's Winter Classic, a gigantic mask for a Canadian Tire store in Bowmanville, Ont., and a mural for the 2012 NHL all-star game.