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Bask in Rask's Masked Past

In an age when NHL goaltenders are constantly redesigning and revamping their masks, Tuukka Rask has mostly stood pat. Mostly.

Harry How

Tuukka Rask's mask is almost instantly recognizable, since it's covered in sparklies, gold leaf, and a crazy ass bear-cat creature (seriously though what the hell is that because it doesn't look like any bear I've ever seen). He's also been wearing it almost exclusively since the dawn of time, and by that I mean since he left Finland to join the Bruins organization in 2007. But there have, in fact, been other helmets, sparsely worn.

Let's rewind a little bit, just for the sake of posterity. Digging around in the archives (aka google image search) I unearthed some photos of Tuukka back when he was still with Ilves in the SM-Liiga. This collage is hardly a complete collection of masks he wore in Finland but I couldn't find very many good photos of other masks that were worth sharing.

Tuukka Rask - Ilves Tampere

Does that first helmet have a naked lady on it, cleverly censored with an ad? Hell yeah it does. Tuukka, you scamp. The second helmet is pretty simple. It's got some gnarly lightning bolts airbrushed all over it, and the the team's namesake, a lynx, painted on both the left and right side. Ilves' team colors of green, yellow, and black come directly from the city of Tampere's former coat of arms.

When Tuukka left the SM-Liiga to join the Bruins he turned to Pro's Choice for his new mask. Since Tuukka's Ilves masks were constructed in Europe, they were less durable and less carefully constructed than is typical of NHL goalie masks, and therefore less safe. Tuukka himself admitted that his Ilves masks were constantly breaking, and so with this in mind the Bruins sent him off to to Pro's Choice to get him a top-of-the-line mask, hand made by Dom Malerba (of Middleton, MA).

Since I had literally no idea how a goalie mask is constructed, I went straight to the source and asked Paul Cena, business manager of Pro's Choice, what the process entails. This is what he had to say:

"We do a mold of the goalie's face, which is then used to make a positive of the goalie's face. At this point Dom [Malerba] will add layers of high quality fiberglass and Kevlar over the positive, which is then bound together with an aviation grade resin. Once the materials dry, the now hard shell is ready to be cut out, after which the cage is fitted and the vent holes are cut out. The mask is then finish-sanded and ready to paint. "

For the artwork Tuukka turned to Ron Slater, of Slater Lettering and Graphics, who went all out with glitter and real gold leaf to create the mask we are all most familiar with--a slideshow of process photos for Tuukka's mask is available on Slater's website if you're into that kind of thing (you should be, it's neat).

Tuukka Rask - Boston Bruins

As it turns out, the mask he wears today is not actually the same mask he wore when he first made the leap to North America. I had noticed over the years that the paint was starting to chip off the mask, especially around the chin--this is because Tuukka wore the same mask for three straight seasons. Paul Cena tells me that unlike other pro goalies, who often have at least one or two new masks made each season, Tuukka doesn't like change very much and prefers to stick with what he has. From what I can surmise he's had at least three new masks constructed by Pro's Choice since he started playing in Providence, each time having Ron Slater repaint them to match the original.

Over the years, however, some small aesthetic changes to the design have been made, most evident in the bear's teeth (notice that in 2009 there were six, and that now in 2013 there are 8). The backplate has also been redone--the size of the Finnish flag was increased and the simple block lettering used for his first name was replaced with the Metallica font, because Tuukka is metal as hell. Also a true fact: the cage is plated with real 14k gold. Tuukka is obviously a baller.

When the Bruins hosted the 2010 Winter Classic, Tuukka was given a new mask to suit the occasion, also constructed by Dom Malerba. The original concept for the artwork was sketched out by Beverly police officer Mike Boccuzzi, who worked closely with Luke Dobie of LD Designs (another local guy, from Georgetown, MA), melding elements of Bruins history as well as the setting of the event, Fenway Park.

Tuukka Rask - Winter Classic

That torn Yankees jersey hanging out of the bear's mouth is just the greatest, isn't it? Unfortunately this mask didn't get much wear outside of practice, since Tim Thomas was the Bruins' starter for the Winter Classic. Tuukka just sort of hung out on the bench in a toque and that was it. Although the Bruins did wear their Winter Classic jerseys a couple of times during the latter half of the 2009-2010 season, neither goalie ever wore their corresponding Winter Classic masks again, which is really a shame because they were both beautiful.

For the 2010-2011 season Tuukka commissioned another new mask, this time by a Philadelphia artist by the name of Fran Drummond. This new mask was an ode to one of Boston's most famous landmarks, the Zakim Bridge, and paid homage to Bruins goalies of the past.

Tuukka Rask - 10-11 Boston Bruins

The Zakim bridge on the crown, Gerry Cheevers on the left and Gilles Gilbert on the chin. Also, the obligatory Finnish Flag on the backplate. Also, bears. A bunch of them. Tuukka debuted this mask in a game against the Detroit Red Wings on February 11th, 2011, in which he allowed 5 goals on 19 shots in 40 minutes and was pulled from the game. YIKES. After the game Tuukka expressed dissatisfaction with the mask's construction, stating that it was too uncomfortable to use because it pinched his cheeks. I swear to god. Although he claims that he's not superstitious and that he would wear the mask again after the necessary adjustments were made, he never wore this mask again.

In 2012 this mask, painted by Swedish artist Dave Gunnarrson of DaveArt, popped up on Facebook with a caption that it would be Tuukka's new mask for the season. Like Tuukka's Zakim Bridge mask, this mask also features some famous former Bruins.

Tuukka Rask - Unknown

I honestly couldn't tell you anything more about this mask or what the deal is because Tuukka has never worn this. Not once. Dave Gunnarsson is super talented and has painted some truly amazing masks for goaltenders around the world and this mask doesn't disappoint, which makes it really odd that it's just sort of hidden away somewhere. Did Tuukka commission this and for whatever reason decide not to use it? I can't imagine Gunnarsson would paint something like this just for the sake of strengthening his portfolio without intending it to be worn, his body of work speaks for itself.

Could there be other masks in the works? I can't imagine so, unless, of course, it's for Team Finland at Sochi. The one thing that is sure is that if he does have a new mask made, Pro's Choice will be responsible for its construction. Because safety is very important to Tuukka.


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