Consider the goalie mask: part art, part tribute, part protection. Ever since Gerry Cheevers started painting stitch marks on his mask in the 1970s, goalies have been making their headwear unique with cartoon characters, insignias and flamboyant color schemes.
It’s no different in lacrosse, although it is a little rarer. After all, professional lacrosse players only make $1000-$2000 a game; the cash outlay for a customized mask isn’t always possible.
Which is why Philadelphia Wings’ goalie Brandon Miller’s new mask is all the more remarkable – for how it looks, what it means, and how he got it.
The mask exists basically as a tribute to the 25th anniversary of the Wings, and the National Lacrosse League (Philadelphia is the only team to have been around since day 1). The league’s 25th anniversary logo is painted on the chin, and the rest of the mask bears tribute to the best of the league’s years.
“I had 25 years of history to draw from,” Miller said.
“It was just a matter of brainstorming different ideas until I found one that worked. In the end I knew I wanted to recognize some of the past greats, the championships, and the fans.”
To do that, Miller worked with Sportmask and Image Air Brush to create a design that splits up into different areas of art, while flowing into one unique piece. On the right side of the mask is a rendering of Dallas Eliuk, the wings’ all-time goaltending leader and Miller’s childhood favorite. On the left side of the mask, Miller wanted to honor the sport’s fans, so he included a painting of “Chopper”, the Wings’ most noticeable fan.
“Chopper has been a Wings icon for 25 yrs, and really is the leader of the craziest fans in the game,” Miller said. “No matter who you play for everyone knows who Chopper is!”
On the backplate, Miller included his number #36 (he usually wears number #35, but that was retired for Eliuk in Philadelphia); the years of the Wings’ six league championships, and the names of his two children, Avery and Evan. He’s been putting their names on his masks since they were born; Avery looks for her name whenever the Wings are on TV.
The mask didn’t get everything Miller had thought of; he originally wanted to include a picture of Wings’ legend Tom Marechek, but the painter thought it would look too cluttered.
So, the cost? About $600, Miller said. But it didn’t cost him a penny. He though of the idea at the end of the 2010 season, so when it came time to negotiate his 2011 contract, he simply included the cost of the new mask.
“The Wings were happy to pick up the tab,” Miller said.
Andrew McKay is a former head scout with the National Lacrosse League’s Chicago Shamrox, and former scout with the Toronto Rock and Peterborough Lakers. Founder of The Lacrosse Journal and The Laxist. Lacrosse writer for Yahoo! Sports. You can contact Andrew on Twitter @apmckay.