By Matt Miller
There are far more storytellers in the world of hockey than one might presume. The ornate decorations of a goalie’s mask tell the intimate stories of the men wearing them. In both a literal and figurative sense, it is his crown. Aside from providing cranial protection, a goalie’s mask is a canvas on which they can share bits and pieces of their individuality.
For Rochester Americans goaltender Linus Ullmark, the banana-loving “Minions” that have adorned his masks are somewhat of a calling card for him. But as the 2016-17 campaign comes to a close, fans have noticed Ullmark sporting a new look that he says was a great opportunity to pay homage to his boyhood heroes.
“There are two Swedish guys that have done a tremendous job while they were active,” said Ullmark, a former Swedish Goaltender of the Year who’s in his second season with the Amerks. “Putting Sweden on the goalie map in the world, Pelle (Lindbergh) and Stefan (Liv) have been great idols for me. Pelle was the first European-born goalie to win a Vezina trophy in the NHL, while Stefan was, I would say, one of the best to ever come from Sweden that didn’t play really in the show. He was really one of the goalies you kind of wanted to be. The guy that really stepped up in the playoffs, and really dominated whenever he wanted.”
Lindbergh gained worldwide attention while playing for the Swedish national team in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, winning the Bronze medal and earning the distinction of being the only goaltender to not tally a loss against the eventual gold-medal-winning Team USA. During his five seasons in Philadelphia, Lindbergh posted an 87-49-15 record with a 3.30 goals-against average and .886 save percentage; an impressive resume in the Islanders/Oilers dynasty years.
Over the course of his Vezina winning season in 1984-85, the Stockholm native led all NHL goaltenders in wins (40), saves (1,735) and minutes played (3,858). He would backstop the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals against the reigning champion Edmonton Oilers, compiling a record of 12-6 with a 2.50 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 18 playoff games. On November 10, 1985, Lindbergh was critically injured after losing control of his Porsche in Somerdale, New Jersey and would pass away the following day. Lindbergh led the 1986 NHL All-Star Game fan ballot, becoming the first athlete to be chosen posthumously as an All-Star in a major North American team sport.
Liv spent most of his career playing for HV71 in the Swedish Elite League, and holds to this day the club records for total minutes played (13,231), shutouts in a season (6) and career goals-against-average (2.17) along with the league records for career shutouts (37) and playoff shutouts (5). Playing just one season for the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, in 2006-07, Liv returned to his former Swedish club the following year. Standing tall between the pipes for HV71 during the 2007-08 postseason, the league’s Player of the Year helped secure the Swedish Championship by recording a stingy 1.82 goals-against average and three shutouts in 17 games. Having earned KHL All-Star honors in 2011 playing for Sibir Novosibirsk, Liv would join Lokomotiv Yaroslavl for the 2011-12 season. On September 7, 2011, while taking off for their season-opener in Belarus, the team’s aircraft ran off the runway before liftoff and crashed. Of the 45 passengers on board, 44 perished and the KHL postponed the start of the season by five days. Starting in the 2012-13 season, the Swedish Hockey League honored Liv’s postseason heroics by naming their playoff MVP award The Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy.
The man responsible for bringing this tribute to life is airbrush artist and fellow Swede, David Gunnarsson. The founder of DaveArt has been creating highly detailed masks for over 20 years and is proud of his company’s exclusive service to professional hockey goalies. Within that time span, Gunnarsson designed countless creations for Liv, whose untimely passing had a significant impact. Between Ullmark’s vision to pay homage to two of Sweden’s top goalies and Gunnarsson’s artistic flare, the concept soon became a reality.
“It was up to Linus, I just paint what he wants,” said Gunnarson about how the idea, and ultimately, the finished product, came about. “This time he wanted a subtle tribute to these legendary goalies. I loved it. I talked with Stefan’s family and they also loved the idea.”
After a healthy amount of games sporting the design, the 23-year old carefully inspected the craftsmanship.
“There are some really nice things, we got the Sabres’ swords a little bit all over the place. It’s just kind of a clean look, with the two portraits being the center.”
And as for the break in his notorious Minions’ motif?
“I would say this chapter has not really ended yet with the Minions. I’m sure they’ll come back in the next one, but this is just one thing I wanted to pay tribute to.”