There's a certain sort of mystique about goalie masks. Perhaps it's the word "masks" or "masques," which makes people think of heroes like Zorro and Batman. Maybe it's because they render the goaltender a faceless entity, so that you can't see how he's feeling or what he's thinking.
It could be the position itself, and the masks are a still a constant reminder of the days when goaltenders didn't wear anything to protect their heads and faces.
Whatever the reason, and I'm sure that it's different for many people, we're all fascinated by goalie masks.
They offer a creative window into the personality of the goaltender, which is impossible for the rest of the team in their same uniforms and helmets. Masks are custom-made artistic ventures which the goalie and/or the artist create an identity for themselves and the team. Some are tributes to their country and loved ones, a few are funny while others ironic, but all of them are different.
There are goalies that carry the same design with them for every team they end up playing for, wearing their mask as a symbol of their personal identity. Then others change the design, not just from team to team, but from season to season. And others forego the popular, face-fitting mask and instead opt for a regular helmet with a goalie cage.
No matter what it says, no matter what images are on it -- even if it's completely blank -- each mask has a story behind it. Every single one. Some masks say that this is me; whether that's shouting it at the rooftops, whispering it to the goal posts, or simply explaining who they are. Others say that this is the team or country they proudly play for. And a few say that they'd rather have the focus on people other than themselves - such as the New York Islanders', and long-time USA Hockey goalie, Rick DiPietro's military service member's mask.
The designs started out basic, but have become increasingly complex. Martin Brodeur's goalie mask for many years had always be a simple statement that he was proud of playing for his team, the New Jersey Devils. A few over the years have used the physical characteristics of the mask to create an image, such as Vesa Toskala's skull mask when he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs where the cage part of the mask is supposed to be like looking down a gaping maw. Now, pretty much anything goes.
The problem with adding subtlety and complexity to anything is that the message often gets lost. And that's certainly true with goalie masks. If the design is too detailed, too complicated, then the fans can't figure out what's on the mask unless there's a close-up picture of it. It just turns into a muddle of colors and shading from the seats.
Sports Illustrated online has a few photo galleries of goalie masks for people to enjoy: NHL Goalie Masks by Team (2010-2011), Top 10 Goalie Masks of the 2000s, Top 10 Goalie Masks of the ‘90s, Top 10 Goalie Masks (1967-1982).
If you were crazy enough to think that diving in front of a 95-mph slap shot was a good idea, what would your mask say about you?