Men's hockey goalie masks tell personal stories

by Jonathan Katzman | 2/13/17 2:25am

There is a certain excitement that comes with watching a hockey team take the ice before a game. The lights in the arena are often dimmed, strobe lights are turned on, music plays upbeat tunes and the crowd rises to its feet. Teams are typically led onto the ice by their starting goalie, the last line of defense, who typically sports a set of pads with customized color patterns to represent his institution. One may also notice the goaltender’s glistening chrome cage reflecting the spotlight as the team skates around. Look a little closer, however, and you will catch a glimpse of what a goalie would refer to as the most significant piece of his gear: the mask. Yes, the mask protects the one who wears it from the damage of 90+ mile per hour slap shots, but the reason why a goaltender’s mask is so special often has nothing to do with being on the ice. A thorough analysis of a goalie mask, therefore, requires not just insight into the design itself but also familiarity with the man who wears it.

“There are so many different things you can have on a mask,” Devin Buffalo ’18 said. “Some choose to have the design represent their institution, personal hobbies and interests and even personal background.”

When Dartmouth goaltenders are given the opportunity to design their mask every two years, it is an opportunity to not just add flair and color but also document one’s personal story. Here is a look at this year’s goaltenders on the men’s hockey team and the stories that their masks represent.

Devin Buffalo ’18, Wetaskiwin, Alberta

Buffalo recently had the chance to design his second mask since he’s been at Dartmouth. His first mask was self-described as “Dartmouth themed,” featuring the Dartmouth crest and a green “D” on both sides of the cage with a small “Lone Pine” and the silhouette of a buffalo. The only noticeable reference to Buffalo’s personal life on the front and sides of the mask was his last name painted in bubble letters across the chin. The image of a dreamcatcher and the word “Napekasowino” on the back plate commemorated his native heritage.

Buffalo’s new helmet, first worn for the Big Green’s game at Yale University on Jan. 20, is more representative of his personal background.

“The difference between my new mask and the old one is that I wanted to make more of a tribute to my native background,” Buffalo said. “The inspiration was that I want to wear a helmet that truly shows who I am. I am Cree from Alberta, and I am very proud to be native. This is a great opportunity to show others who I am and where I am from.”

On Buffalo’s new mask, one will notice patterns frequently used in native artwork near the forehead and chin, in addition to three green eagle feathers, considered sacred in native culture, on both the right and left sides of the chin which continues to don his last name. While the sides still feature a green “D,” the logos are overshadowed by portraits representative of Buffalo’s name. The upper left side of Buffalo’s helmet features the image of a fierce, gray buffalo that appears ready to go into battle. The upper right side of Buffalo’s helmet features a portrait of buffalo grazing on the plains.

“Growing up with a name like Buffalo,” the Alberta native added. “I have a lot of friends who have encouraged me to have buffaloes on my mask.”

Though the front and sides of a mask feature the aforementioned designs and color, the art on the back of Buffalo’s mask may speak loudest about who he is and what he strives to represent. The back sports the initials of his parents, which he has had on the back of his helmet since junior hockey, as a tribute to them for the support they have provided throughout his life. Also on the back is a famous native painting called “The End of the Trail,” which depicts a native warrior on a horse. Buffalo referred to the sentimental value of the image, noting that it reminds him of the “resiliency that my people have shown throughout history.” The most important part of the mask is reflected by the same word that could be found on the old one: “Napekasowino,” a Cree word representing courage and bravery.

“Having ‘Napekasowino’ on my helmet is my way of telling myself that I am going to be brave when I put this helmet on,” Buffalo reflected. “For me, there is a reason why everything is here.”

Adrian Clark ’20, Toronto, Ontario

For Clark, having the opportunity to design a Dartmouth-themed mask was nearly the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

“I was actually a big fan of Dr. Seuss growing up, and after I committed to play at Dartmouth, I was looking at some notable alums and noticed that Dr. Seuss went here,” Clark said. “It was cool to notice that he is an alum and that I have the chance to walk through the same halls and buildings as he did. The mask is a reminder of my childhood and what I enjoyed as a kid.”

Unlike that of Buffalo’s mask, Clark’s paintjob is symmetrical. It features a dark green base with a gray stripe down the center, with two white Dartmouth “Ds” on the sides and “Dartmouth” transcribed in script font on the top right and left sides. What stands out most is the tribute to Dr. Seuss, featuring three of Clark’s favorite references to the famed author. Above the top right and left sides of the chrome cage is “The Lorax,” while “The Cat in the Hat” makes an appearance on the “D” on the sides of the mask. Both sides of the chin also feature “Green Eggs and Ham,” and the red and white striped hat from the Dr. Seuss classic rests atop the “A” in “Clark,” transcribed in gray bubble letters across the chin. When asked about whether or not he will be inclined to alter the design over time, the Toronto native noted that while he likes the design the artist put together, he will look for a way to add “The Grinch,” which is fittingly green.

The back of Clark’s mask is also a tribute to his background. Like Buffalo, he was sure to include his parents’ initials and also added a Canadian flag. The phrase, “Shut the Door,” spans the bottom of the plate, indicating Clark’s goal every time he hits the ice. The tribute, however, stretches beyond his family and his homeland. Like his old mask, Clark’s new design features a sticker honoring one of his close friends who was paralyzed in a freak accident on the ice. Not only does the mask honor Clark’s roots, family and friends but it uniquely uses the Dartmouth theme to represent an additional chapter of his story.

Dean Shatzer ’20, Castle Rock, Colorado

Shatzer’s mask tells the story of where he is from and where he is today, while featuring a tremendous amount of Dartmouth pride. On one side, the mask features Colorado’s Rocky Mountains to represent his home state, while the other side features the Appalachians to symbolize the environment around Dartmouth. The chin is adorned with a Dartmouth “D,” with small “Lone Pines” spanning the bottom portion of the helmet. “Dartmouth” is inscribed above the cage, with a large, green “Lone Pine” above to represent the College on the Hill.

The back features tributes to all of the stops that the freshman goaltender has made on his way to Hanover. Most noticeable is an emblem featuring Culver Military Academy, where Shatzer attended high school before moving on to play juniors in Odessa, Texas for the Odessa Jackalopes of the North American Hockey League. Shatzer had the artist pay tribute to the West Texas oil country with a silhouette of an oil rig, as well as his birthplace of Hershey, Pennsylvania, which also features the phrase “EST 1996” to represent the year in of his birth.

“It was important for me to honor where I come from because everywhere I have been and the people there are the reason why I am here today,” Shatzer said. “It is a good reminder of what I am thankful for and remembering my roots.”

As for whether or not spectators should expect his design to change over the next few years, Shatzer seemed content with the mountain theme but hinted at the possibility of adding additional features. Perhaps the next few years will be full of experiences that give him plenty of options.

“I have not thought about my next design,” Shatzer said. “We get a new paint job every two years, so I have not thought about my next one. I like the mountains so far, and would like to keep the back plate personalized.”