The Art of Hockey — A Fandom in Four Parts

I first got into hockey back in the mid 90s. My dad watched a few different sports, but hockey was the one that caught my attention and it was only as an adult that I figured out really why.

This was the first hockey player to really catch my attention:

That is Trevor Kidd, who was drafted by, and started his career with the Calgary Flames of the NHL.

Despite being drafted in the first round, 11th overall, Kidd was not the calibre of goalie that Calgary’s scouts and management ultimately thought and hoped he would be. In fact, the mention of his name to hockey fans these days yields one of two responses: a sigh/groan/shaking of head, or a “who?”

He was chosen ahead of someone you might actually know, someone who just retired last year (2015). In the same draft as Kidd was selected, only 9 spots later, Martin Brodeur was drafted by the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur would go on to become a legendary goaltender, holding the records for both most career regular season wins (692) and shut-outs (125) by a goaltender.

Both are records that will probably never be surpassed as few goalies nowadays have careers as long as Brodeur’s — 23 seasons, over half of which he played in 70 or more of the 82 regular season games.

So, why did Kidd catch my attention and become my favourite goalie and not the legendary Brodeur?

The main reason was his pads. Those glorious flame-covered pads.

You see, goalie equipment in the NHL had usually tended to be pretty boring, it was originally just plain brown leather:

“old school” goalie gear

It has in the modern era become a major way for goalies to showcase their personalities. Goalies are already known for being “just a little bit weird,” after all, they’re the ones willing to stand in front of 90+ mph slapshots for 60 minutes a night.

Kidd may not have been the most technically skilled goalie, but he was athletic, and flashing glove saves with a flame-covered glove was exciting for young me.

Once something catches my attention, I tend to obsess over it.

The Art of Pads

Kidd wasn’t the first to have some kind of design or colouring on his pads, but his design was one of the more attention grabbing designs, and I noticed it.

I have thought to myself “what if he had been drafted by a different team?” Maybe he wouldn’t have had as interesting pads, maybe I would have noticed a different goalie, maybe not.

This is Sean Burke, another goalie from around that time who had a custom pad design. Burke played for the Hartford Whalers and you can see a whale tail sticking up out of water on his pads.

Kidd wore Brian’s brand goalie pads, and at the time they were the only goalie pad manufacturer that did custom designs (to the best of my knowlege). Sean Burke (above) was another goalie that used their gear.

As I was searching for images of Kidd for this post, I stumbled across an article where I learned that Brian’s nearly went out of business at one point, which I found shocking. They made the coolest goalie pads (in my opinion), yet not enough goalies were buying them for Brian’s to stay competitive with more well established brands like Vaughn or Bauer.

For a time more recently, plain white pads had seemed to become very popular with goalies.

Tim Thomas during a brief stint with the Florida Panthers

There was a semi-debate on internet forums about the idea that white pads potentially create an optical illusion trick on shooters, blending in with the white ice making it harder for the shooter to know where the pad ends and the opening begins.

So it would make sense that more goalies would try it as goalies are always looking for such advantages.

You can kind of see this to the left of the blocker in the image above. Hockey is a fast game and shoots don’t always get a lot of time to decide where to aim.

Prior to the all-white pad craze, a few goalies had worn all black pads, the idea there being that if a puck was loose in the crease, it would be harder for opposing players in front to see where it was to jam it past the goalie (but by the same logic, would make it harder for the goalie to find in a scrum as well).

The consensus on the white pads ultimately seemed to be that there was no consensus, that this optical effect probably made minimal difference and was just a matter of preference.

Eventually goalies started getting designs on their pads again, and other companies besides Brian’s began offering pads with designs. The designs ranged from simple:

Josh Harding of the Minnesota Wild

To more complex:

James Reimer with the Toronto Maple Leafs

I am personally more a fan of the latter, as they’re interesting to look at. They’re a mixture of function and artistry.

A few more examples:

Jaroslav Halak’s claw marks pad design
Jake Allen’s Blues pads
Chris Mason’s Jets pads.

And then there’s stuff like this (all Brian’s designs):

OK, I admit these are a bit much.
Fun fact — back in 1989, retired NHL goalie Grant Fuhr struck a deal with Pepsi to have their logo on his pads as a promotion/endorsement deal, but the league stepped in and said no. Fuhr was so mad about it he staged his retirement.

With cool pad designs, I feel like goalies become almost like a sculpture between the pipes.

I love that hockey ended up being a sport with so much visual expression. The jerseys (and logos) in the National Hockey League (in my opinion) are more visually interesting than in any other sport. Hockey is the one sport that really puts some great visuals on display.

Of course, there are arguments about this on internet forums as well. Lots of people swear by “the classics” (like Boston or Toronto’s logo/jersey), but I find many of those ‘classic’ logos and jerseys so painfully boring.

I also find it disappointing that so few teams deviate from primary colours (Red, Blue, Yellow) in their colour schemes. If a team actually uses a secondary colour (Green, Orange, Purple) I’m much more likely to like them just because of that.

I am among the minority of hockey fans who likes what some would call “complex” logos/designs. What can I say, I like having something interesting to look at.

A prime example is when the Winnipeg Jets (1.0) relocated to Arizona to become the Phoenix Coyotes in the late 90s, this was their official jersey:

The Phoenix Coyotes “kachina” jersey.

Most people seem to agree this is an “ugly” jersey, but I loved it. It was unlike anything else in the league. And that logo is pretty unique! I admit I’m less fond of it now, but I still like it better than many “classic” jerseys (and better than the team’s current jersey).

The fact that this logo and jersey looked “on drugs” probably helped inspire the Coyotes starting goalie Nikolai Khabibulin’s mask design:

That’s right! A glow in the dark goalie mask!

But this logo and jersey design didn’t last, and the team (now the Arizona Coyotes) now uses a much more generic logo and jersey (as most teams inevitably seem to).

The Art of Logos

Let’s talk logos for a second. As I said, most teams have pretty simple logos. Understandably, you don’t want them to be too detailed/busy because you can’t see that well from a distance or when it’s shrunk down, but at the same time, you want at least a little bit of creativity in a design.

You can have a simple logo that is still creative. A great example of this was the logo of the Hartford Whalers (who relocated in the late 1990s to become the Carolina Hurricanes):

This logo is famous for use of “negative space.” You can see the W for Whalers, and you can likely see the blue whale tail, but in between them, the negative space forms an “H” for Hartford. This is a simple, but artistic logo. The colour scheme also fits the theme of the name. In fact as of 2015, Whalers gear was still the best selling gear of a no longer active team according to Reebok.

My favourite sports team logo of all time is also artistic, very creative in fact. 
I think it strikes a great balance between including details and intricacy without being overly complex and busy:

The Minnesota Wild logo

I have shown this logo to people before, and they have literally told me “I don’t know what I’m looking at.” It’s impossible for me to not see everything that’s here anymore, but I can understand to someone who doesn’t follow sports or have a lot of familiarity with sports logos, this would be confusing.

The logo itself is a silhouette of a wild cat or a bear (depending on who you ask). The nose is at the far left, the mouth below (shaped like a river). This is often the last thing that uninitiated people see. They notice the stuff inside first.

If you look inside the silhouette, you can see some very cool stuff. A river, a mountain and trees, a full moon (with partial cloud obscurement), a north star (which is tribute to the previous Minnesota NHL team the Minnesota North Stars).

I don’t think every logo should necessarily be this intricate and involved, but I do appreciate that logos like it exist.

I currently cheer for the Minnesota Wild, despite neither being from Minnesota, or having ever even set foot in the state, because I love their logo so much.

Examples of some other creative/artistic logos from NHL teams:

From top left to bottom right: Colorado Avalanche, Vancouver Canucks, Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets 2.0), Nashville Predators original logo (they currently use a less intricate version)

The Art of Masks

Goalie masks are where the art of hockey really gets to shine. Back when I first started to notice hockey and the cool designs, I started to doodle my own designs. I would trace goalie mask shapes off the pages of hockey magazines and draw in my own designs and then colour them. I even made up my own teams and did designs for them. It was either goalie masks, band logos, or battle mechs.

Every team has a starting goalie and a backup goalie (and in some cases a 3rd string goalie), plus goalie prospects on their minor league team. So between 30 NHL teams, minimum 2 goalies per team, that’s 60 mask designs at minimum.

Some team logos/themes don’t leave a lot of room for unique designs (the Edmonton Oilers come to mind). Sometimes goalies go with the history of the team or the city for their designs (like in Philadelphia or Los Angeles).

Goalie masks have come a LONG way. Goalies didn’t even used to wear masks. Shots didn’t used to get up to head level very often.

Here’s a short visual history:

From the very first crude designs, to something resembling something closer to the current.

Here are some examples of “classic” goalie mask designs of the modern style:

L to R: Mike Richter (New York Rangers), Eddie “The Eagle” Belfour (Chicago Blackhawks), Curtis “Cujo” Joseph (Toronto Maple Leafs), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)

But nowadays we have some really spiffy “cages” to look at. Here are some examples:

Ben Bishop’s “Tron” mask for the Tampa Bay Lightning (which like that Coyotes mask before, glows in the dark)
Jonathan Quick and his Roman Guard style mask.
A Phoenix (Arizona) Coyotes mask design that harkens back to their original logo/theme, but also with a modern twist.
Kari Lehtonen’s Dallas Stars Mask
Michael Neuvirth from his time with the New York Islanders
Jonas Hiller and one of his *many* interesting mask designs, this one for the Anaheim Ducks, paying homage to Southern California. Got to love the gold cage and trim.
Carey Price’s Team Canada Olympic Mask

No other sport really has this visual element so far as I’ve noticed (if you have, feel free to ping me and tell me where!). I know catchers in Major League Baseball adopted similar masks more recently, but they don’t quite compare:

Jon Buck

Until the day comes where the NHL allows ads on jerseys (which sadly may not be that far off), we can enjoy these designs being the focal point aside from the display of athleticism.

The Art of Athleticism

I came to the realization as an adult — after having gone to school for design and having held many creative hobbies over the years — that I’m honestly more interested in hockey for the artistic aspect than for the actual sport/athleticism, though I’ve come to appreciate that as well. And that is the most recent part of my fandom.

Ice Hockey goaltenders have to be very athletic, and probably the pinnacle example is Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings:

Quick is known for this kind of save.

Quick is known for utterly “ridiculous” sliding saves across the crease doing the splits. Here (above) he doesn’t even have his goal stick. Here’s a YouTube compilation of his saves.

But even aside from him, the way goalies often move to make saves, you’d wonder how they don’t break apart at the waist. In the last couple of years I’ve been exposed to a lot of acrobatics videos and it made me realize that “physical intelligence” is absolutely a thing, and goalies have to have it.

I’ve heard it said a few times (to paraphrase):
“We all love a great save, but what does a great save mean? It means the goalie was out of position. When they’re in position the saves look very easy and boring, the exciting saves come from the goalie scrambling to get back where they should have been.” That’s the art of making a great save.

Here are some goalies making it look awesome:

Pekka Rinne at the Olympics.
Same guy, different save.
Jonas Gustavsson of the Boston Bruins.
Quick again.
Dramatic paddle save by Petr Mrazek.

Here are some guys making it look awkward:

Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins
Kari Lehtonen of the Dallas Stars.
Quick doesn’t always make it look amazing.
Jimmy Howard
Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Quick so “in position” he’s literally IN his own net

Making it look really awkward:

Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In Closing

Like I said, you gotta be a little wacky to be a goalie, and apparently to appreciate them as well. Both some of the wild logos and jerseys, the eye-candy mask art, the eye popping saves…

So, here’s me in my wackiness:

attempting a thumbs up on the left, attempting a Brian Elliott tribute selfie on the right

And here’s me being a very non-legendary goalie myself:

Thanks to Trevor Kidd being an inspiration, despite his non-legendary status. Aside from music, hockey is the one thing I’ve been consistently interested in throughout most of my life. And lucky for me, right now is one of the best times to be a fan of hockey, both for the art and the athleticism.

And maybe one day, I will actually finish my own mask design:

an intended halloween project

Adam Emanon is a writer, speaker, resource curator, and general think-about-all-of-the-things-er. and @AdamEmanon for more.