Team USA hockey goalie masks face hurdles to create ‘special’ ones

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BEIJING — Drew Commesso wanted Uncle Sam on his goalie mask. Alex Cavallini wanted to pay tribute to former American Winter Olympic legends. Strauss Mann asked to honor a tragic loss in the hockey community.

However, none of these images appear on American goalie helmets at the 2022 Games.

Thanks to the International Olympic Committee for that.

The IOC has some pretty specific rules and approval processes for the art that adorns goalie helmets, designer Mark Magnanti told USA TODAY Sports recently.

“They don’t want any (political sentiment), they don’t want to offend any country,” Magnanti said in a phone interview.

According to the IOC, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) are encouraged “to use their national colors, name, flag and emblems, as well as NOC emblems, to visually reinforce national identity on sports equipment”.

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Magnanti designed and “wrapped” – it’s not a paint job, and there’s a difference – all three helmets for the US men’s team and worked with Cavallini, a women’s team goaltender, on his Beijing mask.

Mann, one of the male goalies, wanted to have “Strauss” on one side and “Mann” on the other. He also wanted to pay tribute to Teddy Balkind, the Connecticut high school hockey player who was accidentally killed last month during a game after colliding on the ice, with his name and number on the back.

No, the IOC said.

“Nothing personal,” Magnanti said.

“They want country-focused team logos,” he added, “the stars, the stripes, that was basically what they were looking for.”

‘A pretty little niche’

Five years ago, the goalkeeper for the Magnanti men’s team asked him to “wrap” his helmet. Magnanti, a 39-year-old from Rochester, New York, had a lot of design experience. He has worked with his uncle, Steve Magnanti, in the family business called “The Signery” for 24 years. There they make signs for boats, buses, cars, banners – and just about anything else.

Magnanti’s pal posted the first design on a Facebook page for beer league goalkeepers, which had around 30,000 members.

“Since that day,” Magnanti said, “these have been non-stop goalie helmets for me.”

He’s made more masks every year since and eclipsed the 200 mark in 2021. Along with his job at “The Signery,” it’s become another full-time job.

“There are a lot of 3 a.m. nights that I work,” Magnanti said.

He’s also worked with a few NHL teams, including the New Jersey Devils (he’s produced nearly a dozen, he says), Buffalo Sabers, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.

“It’s a nice little niche that I got into,” he said.

About three years ago, he started working with the USA team before their international tournaments, such as the world junior championships, world championships and, now, the Olympics. Scott “Scooter” Aldrich, USA Hockey’s equipment manager, prefers bandages to painted helmets because this method proves more cost effective for a helmet that will only be used for two weeks.

A paint job requires many more steps, and it can take a week to create a high-quality product, Magnanti said. Painted helmets tend to be more durable, although Magnanti said hockey equipment company Bauer asked him to wrap a helmet so he could test his process’ resistance to pucks fired at higher speeds. at 100 mph.

“They showed me pictures,” Magnanti said. “They couldn’t believe how resistant he was to the abuse of a puck.”

It’s an honor for Magnanti to help represent the United States, he said, but it’s also a business — another mask he has to make. And the restrictions put in place by the IOC can make it a stressful process.

Whether it’s the Olympics or someone playing recreationally, Magnanti’s process remains the same. The design is approved and the helmet is sent to him in Rochester. Although each helmet is goalie specific, they are all relatively standard and he will print out the final adjustments on paper to ensure everything is sized correctly. Then he prints the image onto pressure-sensitive vinyl, the same material used for a car or bus panel, and wraps it around the helmet.

“Once you get past the stressful part,” he said, “you can sit back and look forward to watching the games.”

“You want to be able to make it special”

At the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, there was controversy over the helmet in the women’s team. US goalkeepers Nicole Hensley and Cavallini had the Statue of Liberty painted on their masks, and the IOC appeared to dispute that.

Fast forward four years, and Cavallini was once again going back and forth with the IOC. She wanted portraits of four former US gold medalists: Lindsey Vonn (skiing), Bonnie Blair Cruikshank (speed skating), Kristi Yamaguchi (figure skating) and Cammi Granato (women’s hockey) on her helmet.

USA goalkeeper Alex Cavallini blocks a shot during a women's hockey quarter-final match against the Czech Republic at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The IOC said the portraits would have violated general guidelines regarding permitted identifications on sports equipment and were considered “third-party references”, even though the four athletes contacted Cavallini and gave permission.

“No reference to a third party may appear on an article,” the IOC said.

Cavallini also wanted to shout out his alma mater, Wisconsin, with “W” hands behind his back. This was also cancelled.

“Hopefully I can use this mask at some point,” Cavallini said. “But I was super excited about the idea, just to pay tribute to these legendary athletes and the people who inspire me and who I have been able to look up to.”

Cavallini understands that the IOC doesn’t want to stir up controversy with something like a hockey mask.

“But at the same time, when you have the ability to design a mask, you want to be able to make it special for you and personalize it for you,” she told USA TODAY Sports. “It gets to a point where it’s pretty limited and (gets) pretty boring just to have basic stuff on it.”

Cavallini can understand the stress felt by Magnanti. His 2018 mask was delayed and had to travel with the men’s team. This time, Magnanti had to spend the night the mask in Los Angeles, from where the women’s team departed. His custom mask took a while to reach him. Fortunately, Magnanti said he could work quickly once the design was locked in.

“All of a sudden we tried to go through this whole approval process, thinking the design was locked in, but it didn’t get approved,” Cavallini said. “So we had some quick changes. did a great job and it was great working with him.

Cavallini is always happy with the end product she wears in Beijing – an eagle on one side and the Lady Liberty on the other. The word “United” is on one side, “States” on the other.

“That’s great,” she said. “You can’t even tell it’s a wrap.

“He did a great job and it was great to work with him.”

Commesso is also pumped with his headgear and agreed that it looked painted on, not like a wrap. Magnanti worked with him before the world junior championships, which were canceled for several days due to COVID, and they also had to regroup to meet IOC requirements.

“He does such a good job,” Commesso said. “He is so talented. Looking forward to working with him in the future.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.

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