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Three goalies masks at Bird Arena on October 18th, 2016 MATT STARKEY|FOR THE POST

Hockey: Goalies use their masks to show personality behind them

Goaltender Jimmy Thomas took the Bird Arena ice Oct. 7 against Colorado like it was any normal game. 

He had his pads in position, his skates laced up and his helmet on.

The only difference was for the first time as a Bobcat, Thomas was not just wearing an all-white helmet. Instead, a bobcat graced both sides of it.

Thomas is one of three players that defend the net for Ohio, but they all share common ground –– the helmet is their fun way of expressing themselves while they play the game they love.

“The other goalies have a lot of detail on theirs,” Thomas said. “They are inspiring me to put other things on (mine).”

The other two goalies, Ryan Heltion and Aaron Alkema, each have different approaches to how they go about designing their helmets, but both make sure the “buckets” look good for when they take the ice.

Heltion makes sure his helmet is as personal as he can make it. Since his youth, he has been drawn to skulls and grim reapers, and his mask reflects that amusement.

Not only are there skulls and a zombie bobcat on it, but the helmet also shows school pride by paying tribute to The Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Mental Health Center, a way for Heltion to show he loves playing for the Bobcats while still making a personal message appear on the playing gear.

“I have (the Ridges) on there so I kinda fused that together to give a good, creepy but Athens-oriented goalie mask that would be something that fits with what I had going for my whole career,” Heltion said.

Alkema, on the other hand, keeps his helmet simple and about Ohio, but still finds a way to add a personal flare.

His helmet features a green base with a big bobcat on both sides. The school pride can be seen and known easily at first glance, but if someone looks harder, there's more.

On the chin of the helmet is a pair of aces, something Alkema said he came up with to go along with his nickname, "Aces." The helmet also has small personal details on the back.

Those details and fancy designs don’t come cheap and they aren’t easy to do. The three all have artists do the work for them to make their helmets look as nice as possible.

Heltion decided to reach out to a little-known artist that works on motorcycle helmets, motorcycles and airbrushings to spice up his helmet. After talking and discussing the design, the two worked out a deal for what Heltion called a “fair price.”

Although the players are the ones wearing the masks, often the artists have some control over how they will look.

“They got the creative mind,” Thomas said. “They’re the artist so you kind of lay it in their hands and then you kind of move things around the way you want them to layout.”

Once the mask is finished and ready to be worn for play, it becomes a losing battle trying to keep the paint nice and fresh.

In Thomas’ first game wearing his freshly painted helmet, a puck deflected off it, leaving a black scuff mark across one of the Bobcat logos. Since it takes at least a week for the helmet to be painted, there is nothing he can do to have the mask fixed until the end of the season.

Some goalies, like Thomas, want to have those marks buffed out, but others, such as Alkema, let the scuffs and chipped paint stay.

“It’s going to have wear and tear because you’re using it every day,” Alkema said.

As flashy and exciting as the helmets can be, the design of the helmet is not the only aspect on Thomas’ mind with purchasing a new one.

Thomas has his helmet custom-fitted by a man who does similar work for goalies of all-ranks, even some for other college players and NHL goaltenders. Thomas goes to him and has his helmet fitted perfectly for his head and said the comfort makes a difference.

“I go up there and he just tears out the old padding and cuts it to size and shape,” Thomas said. “It’s like putting gel on your face.”

Not only is comfort of the essence, but it is important to be able to see well through the mask. Heltion said having the sight lines right in a new mask is one of the biggest challenges, and the different brands of masks make seeing through them difficult.

Purchasing a new helmet with padding and a fresh paint job is always exciting and refreshing for a goaltender, but the old ones have the character and history to remind each goalie where they have been, who they have played for and what brought them to Ohio.

All three goalies still have their past helmets.

“I have (the old helmets) on a shelf in my room,” Alkema said. “I think I have four of them sitting up there, so yeah, it’s something personal and something special you try to keep with you as long as you can.”

Wearing it every day creates a bond between Heltion and his mask. He has sold all his past equipment since his time in junior hockey, all except the masks.

For Thomas, the old helmets are filled with his prior teams and minor details from his past.

After all, the masks are personal and Thomas made sure to add a special memo on the back of his newest one: his area code, to remind him what brought him to that Bird Arena ice to face Colorado.

“You know, never forget where you’re from,” Thomas said. “That’s one of my favorite quotes.”


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