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Staring down a 100 mph slap shot is terrifying at the best of times, so it takes a special kind of insanity to willingly volunteer to face dozens of them on a nightly basis. Goaltenders are as diverse a group as you’ll find among NHL players, but the one thing most of them have in common is their love for their mask. In my last article, I began a chat with Greg Harrison, the man behind countless masks in the NHL, and arguably one of the founding fathers of not only the design and safety of masks but artistic design as well.

Here is part two of our conversation.

Ryan Hank: Speaking with Kirk (McLean), you created the deflection holes on the mask, did you start that?

Greg Harrison: Not totally, when you say deflection holes what do you mean?

RH: The slots on the side of the mask.

GH: They’re there to not give you the muffled sound when you get hit with a shot. It works as part of the integral design. When I first did the cage combination, they were there but they were tighter to the cage because the mask didn’t go back as far, it was straight down. If you look at Barrasso’s early two that I did, his Buffalo and his Pittsburgh one, the mask goes down straight.

Chico Resch and [Mark] Laforest early one in Detroit; they all went down straight. As the mask started to go back further, esthetically it looked better to flare the mask out over the ear. It was a neater looking design. A lot of the time, the aesthetics governed how I did things. Primarily, it was for protection but aesthetically I wanted it to look good even if it wasn’t painted.

I can’t stand a plain mask but the odd guy wanted it white but it still has a good look even without the paint job. The angles are doped over the top and the foam is accommodated for and it’s not an afterthought across the forehead. Really, all of these other ones, everybody on the planet that’s copied them, they’re all basic copies of what I did.

They might change the hole configuration, the shapes or whatever but they haven’t changed a hell of a lot on them.

RH: I guess you figured out a good way to make them so there was no need to change anything.

GH: Yeah, I wanted the best thing available for the goalie. I was a goalie myself. When I first did the cage combination mask, I was still wearing a Liut style mask, that Team Canada one that I made for myself. If you saw that post where I designed the Team Canada uniform.

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Team Canada 1977, For the 1977 World Hockey Championships I was asked to submit a design for a new uniform for Team Canada. Their uniforms to that point were red and white and sometimes had blue pants. I worked on six different variations and settled on this final design, red white and black. It was in a competition with designs submitted by Carling Okeefe Breweries and General Motors. My design came second to the entry from Carling Okeefe. I have included a shot of the winning jersey. I always wanted to get a sample jersey made, but only had the black pants made and made this mask for myself to go with the uniform. It was the last full fibreglass mask I wore. The uniforms are now Red, White and Black and are worn by the World Championship, Olympic, Pro, Amateur and Junior Teams alike. #teamcanada #teamcanada77 #hockey1977 #hockeycanada #vintageteamcanadajersey #vintageteamcanadamask #teamcanadamask #vintagehockeyjersey #vintageteamcanada #vintagegoaliemask #vintagegoalie #hockeyjersey #vintagehockeyjerseydesign #jerseydesign #carlingokeefe #carlingokeefebreweries #gregharrisonthemask #harrisonmasks

A post shared by Greg Harrison (@gregharrisonthemask) on Dec 26, 2019 at 7:58pm PST

I was still wearing that and the player, his father played with me in Bolton, I can’t think of his last name, he got ALL of a slap shot inside the circle. I had time to wince and try and get out of the way and I couldn’t. I got nailed right above the eye and because I winced, the edge of the mask sliced me wide open.

When I did a mask, I made sure there was not one rough edge anywhere on the mask. From the time Roy Weatherbee taught me the proper resins and how to mold it by hand, I took that and finished the mask that much better. His was a functional item, I wanted mine to be a piece of art. It was done in such a way that there was no chance of getting cut by a sharp edge and the finish was much better too!

I got nailed with that shot and I hadn’t made a cage combination for myself yet and I go to the hospital and they’re stitching me up and the nurse is chatting with me and asks “What do you do?” I said, “I make goalie masks”.

RH: She’s thinking “not very well by the looks of it”.

GH: She didn’t say anything then but I can hear her behind the door and says to them “You know what he does? He makes goalie masks.” And they start killing themselves laughing!

I got stitched up and wore a cage and helmet for one week and from then on I wore my own various cage and helmet combinations. I haven’t made one for myself in over 20 years.

RH: So custom, everything you make is custom, how much time is needed for a mask, and what’s the quickest you’ve ever put one out?

GH: When Potvin got traded from LA to Boston. I found out about the trade before he did,  was on the phone with him, and in three days I had a mask ready for him to wear and I had a friend deliver it to him in Boston at training camp. Painted and everything.

With Potvin, I had basic patterns, I had to just draw the claw, but each mask takes on average 40-50 hours to make the mask and the paint job should take that amount of time as well. I never, with only one exception, did I ever agree to do drawings first before I did a mask for anybody.

The reason I never did was that I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to do. Sometimes, as I got into the design and how the holes might interfere with the design I would alter the holes slightly if I felt it was going to give me a more crisp design. I’d move them a little bit, not a lot, just enough to make the difference. A lot of the time you’d be working on a design and it wouldn’t work, I wasn’t happy with it and I’d change my mind.

Once you commit to a design that somebody has approved, that’s what you’re stuck with. I never wanted to do that.

RH: How many masks did you normally have on the go during your time, in a given year?

GH: I never really kept track of that. I made around 2000 masks in my career, that’s all I can really tell you. I do it by myself and a lot of stuff goes on where you’re working and things get in the way for whatever reason, life. We didn’t have a Coronavirus but we had a lot of other stuff going on.

RH: I have two more for you, and I’ll let you go.

GH: Did Garrett talk to you about his mask in Vancouver?

RH: We had a good chat about his, yeah.

GH: He told you about the original one that had been painted a million times and got stolen?

RH: No! He didn’t.

GH: OH, I don’t know where it was stolen but it was stolen and I had to immediately make him one, I made him one like [Murray] Bannerman and [Gilles] Meloche that went under the chin, that design. I just got it finished and sent to them and they got word from one of the sporting stores in Vancouver that some guy had contacted him that some guy was trying to sell this mask.

So the cops set him up and brought him in. They got it back and the guy too!

RH: The mask you made was never worn then?

GH: No, it did. It was made though because the other one was stolen. The trainer sold his original one to somebody. John wasn’t very happy about that.

RH: Of all the ones you’ve done, what are your top three that you’ve designed?

GH: I would say Darren Pang’s headdress in Chicago, probably Belfour’s and Potvin’s. Again, I don’t have a favorite. I have ones that I don’t like as much. I don’t have a favorite. The earlier ones, I’d say Rutherford’s first with the Wings, my first design, that was something that was not asked for or not wanted at the time at all.

I’ll tell you the Rutherford story: when he was traded back to Detroit from Pittsburgh, after originally being from Detroit. I had to pick it up from a flower shop at a hotel by the airport and had to paint it overnight. At that time I was putting colored straps on the masks and so I put the red straps on it and I thought it looked pretty plain, I didn’t like it.

So there was a thing at the time called Mack Tack, it was used for doing illustrations and it was like a clear film that was colored. I took some red and I cut out a set of wings and stuck it over his eyes. I held it up in my parent’s garage and thought “that looks pretty good”. So I took it, drew it, painted it, baked it, and then drove it to the rink the next day.

He only had one mask and he had no choice to wear it. He didn’t like it, he didn’t want to be back in Detroit and didn’t want to draw attention to himself. But then after a couple of days, people noticed it and really loved it so it stayed.

RH: Last question, You’ve been doing this a long time but do you have any tricks up your sleeve for the mask’s structure and design going forward?

GH: No, not really. I’m doing a little bit of work now along with a friend that owns a retail mask company. I did initially his custom ones for his design, I did all the clay work. Then another friend who bought that company, the son who runs it now, he said to me if we put it out there that we could get a custom Greg Harrison mask, would you be interested?

So, I said yeah, take a flyer on it and see if you can get any interest. Right away, I had 12 guys that wanted it. I have done nine of them so far. There’s still a waiting list and they have to send the molds.

But, I’m doing a book on my masks and all the guys that came before me. What I’m going to do, on the back page, I’m going to have a design of what the mask would like in the distant future, some obscure, crazy thing. Nothing that would function. That’s as close as I would come to doing something new.

The design is sound. Other than materials, which are as strong as you can get them now unless they come up with something. The material has to stand up to the shot but it’s what’s transferred to the brain that needs to change a little bit. There are various foams but the fit is the most important thing.

All these guys, CCM and Bauer, having their masks made in China which half the guys use in the NHL. You wonder why there are concussions, and cuts and busted teeth? They don’t fit right. The fit is the most important thing. When you get hit with a mask that fits with the foam that’s built into the mold before you even make it, it’s not an afterthought, that’s what gives you the protection.

RH: Whenever that book comes out, I’ll own a copy of that. If it came out tomorrow, I’d be waiting in line.

GH: Well, thank you. One of the reasons why I want to do this book is to straighten out a bunch of things. There is a lot of misinformation that’s been proliferated over the years of how this happened, who did this, how I did the cage combination mask.

It’s gone from Dave Dryden making it and giving it to me and asking me to make it to him taking one of my masks and cutting it up, it’s all bullshit. It never happened like that at all. And the same like the history of how the design came from (Gilles) Gratton’s. Even Gratton has created his own fantasy of how it happened. He had a vision one night that he was a reincarnated jungle cat; it had nothing to do with that at all.

RH: Make sure you have nice big pages in there so the photos can stand out.

GH: One of the reasons why it’s taken so long to do it, I’ve been working on this for six or seven years, I wanted to make it unique, not like one of the cookie-cutter ones that come out at Christmas. I’m trying to source stuff that hasn’t been seen but I’ll use some of the predominant ones but I want it to be unique.

That’s what I’m finding now, I have to watch what I’m doing with this Instagram.

RH: You’re giving away all the good stuff.

GH: Yeah, exactly.

RH: Greg, thank you again. I appreciate it. I would love to meet you one day as this has been great to chat with the man behind the masks. Thank you.

GH: OK, you’re welcome.