Olympic uniforms are usually strictly enforced from athlete to athlete, each one an exact copy of the next, indistinguishable from the bunch. Except for Olympic hockey goaltenders, who get to design their own masks, and they do so brilliantly.
Hockeys players are generally considered an odd lot, and goalies are the weirdest of the bunch. It was a goalie who famously ranted about the "humungous big" universe on HBO's 24/7. The last lines of defense usually get to add some personal flair to their helmets, and the Olympics are no different. Goalies paint, or pay other people to paint, unique designs on their helmets. They often feature themes that call back to their team, or play style, or personal life. One goalie recently included his kids' finger painting on his new mask. Inside the hockey world, there are whole websites dedicated to following goaltenders and their art, like In Goal, which was an invaluable resource putting this together.
Most goalies heading to Sochi have special Olympic masks designed for the occasion. The results are, uh, unique. Here, we look through our five favorites:
7) Tuuka Rask's Roaring Finnish Pride
Rask, who normally plays for the Boston Bruins, always has a bear on his mask, and his Sochi one is no different. But this one is a big special because the bear is holding a Finnish flag in each hand. Those appear on each side of the helmet. The adjustable panel on the back of the goalie mack is where the Rask really comes over the top. A single, muscled arm clad in gold bands holds a sword in the middle of a lightning storm, electricity flowing throughout. "Finland," is written in a red script you would expect to see on a metal album at the bottom. Hell and yes, sir.
6) Jimmy Howard's Screaming Eagle
The U.S. and Finland goalies kind of dominate the mask art world, unfortunately. No one else even comes close. Jimmy Howard's screaming eagle mask looks like something you'd see on the side of a Harley Davidson. Few things are as American as riding freely down a highway on a motorcycle listening to Skynyrd, probably. Instead, opposing forwards will only see this mask flying across the crease robbing them of their Olympic dreams. Howard also gets points for the matching U.S.A. pads.
5) Lars Volden's Viking Warships
Of course a goalie from Norway would have viking warriors on the side of his mask. That much was pre-determined before the Olympics even began. But the execution is still really, really cool. On one side, a viking holding a wooden shield calmly approaches battle on a war ship. On the other, the viking warrior lets his hair blow in the wind, footloose and carefree, while another holds out a sword while screaming to charge. Is there a connection between goalie masks and images that resemble metal album covers? So far, yes, maybe.
4) Kari Lehtonen's Frosty Finland
Lehtonen chose a simple design that centers around the Finnish flag and coat of arms, with dashes of a winter-y flavor for good measure. We love the way this one came together, really. There's nothing exciting to it, which might be why it works so well. But the snowflake design down the middle is a very nice touch, and matches the color scheme well.
3) Ryan Miller's Uncle Sam
Ryan Miller will likely be the starting goaltender for Team U.S.A. so get used to seeing this brash, patriotic mask on your television. It's designed a bit crudely compared to the sleekness of Lehtnonen's mask, but the devil here is in the details. On one side, a flexing Uncle Same lets opposing players know who's about to bring the ass whopping. On the other, an eagle swoops in with its claws out, ready for the kill. Red and white stars scatter across the front and sides for good measure. On the back panel, Russian nest dolls that represent Miller, his wife, and their dog rest in front of a clock. Olympic officials forced him to remove his "Miller Time" catchphrase during the Vancouver Olympics because it kinda, sorta, maybe broke rules against advertising. Here, subtly helped his cause. (Somehow a mask with a flexing Uncle Sam can, in fact, be subtle.)
2) Steffen Soberg's Trolls
Norway's favorite movie is "Troll Hunter," and so Soberg decided to include the movie in his Olympic mask design. We love him for it. Heh, trolls.
1) Jonathan Quick's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Unquestionably the coolest mask at the Olympic games belongs to Los Angeles Kings regular starting goaltender Jonathan Quick. The front of the mask looks like U.S.A.-inspired knight's armor, all stars and stripes and metal. But the back of the mask features a beautiful tribute to veterans, with artwork depicting the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington, Virginia. Wipe the tear from your eye, and then get ready to play some fucking hockey for your country.