GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) – The top of Florence Schelling’s goalie mask looks like a red toque, or boggan, with a gondola climbing the sides over the Matterhorn. A train chugs along the jaw line, while chocolate, cheese and a watch decorate the back.
Then there’s the Swiss cross over the chin and “SUISSE” across the forehead.
Somewhere else that might be too much. Not for Schelling.
“I’m here to represent Switzerland, so it has to scream Switzerland all over,” Schelling said.
Goaltenders are the only players in Olympic hockey allowed to get truly creative with such things. Their teammates are stuck with helmets featuring basic colors, uniform numbers and a small flag decal representing their country. Goalies decide what they want, then turn to artists who can air-brush their visions onto the hard-plastic helmets used to protect heads from those screaming pucks and wayward sticks.
“Anyone who plays goal, it’s our second Christmas,” said Canadian goalie Ben Scrivens, whose second helmet features a custom black-and-red maple leaf mask for the Olympics.
Playing in the Olympics means representing an entire nation, so International Olympic Committee rules limit exactly what goes on a helmet and anything deemed political, religious or racial propaganda is barred. The IOC tells athletes the rule is intended to keep them focused on their performance, limit commercialization and prevent the games from being used for protests.
All that aside, issues still come up.
There were questions whether changes might be in store for U.S. goalie Nicole Hensley, who has the Statue of Liberty covering the left side of her helmet, or fellow goalie Alex Rigsby, who also has an image of the statue on her helmet. U.S. officials said the masks had been approved and required no modifications.
Others have had to make changes, either to the helmets being worn at the Pyeongchang Games or during the design process. A handful of men’s goalies like Slovenia’s Gasper Kroselj are wearing blank white masks with Pyeongchang 2018 stickers, and goalie Nadezhda Morozova’s helmet is white with red tape across the forehead with the Russians competing only as Olympic athletes from Russia in these games.
Korea goalie Shin So Jung has white tape over a picture of her late father on the back of her helmet, though a beloved late dog remains visible. U.S. men’s goalie Brandon Maxwell wanted to honor former NHL goalie Mike Richter and simply change the New York Rangers to USA. The rules wouldn’t allow that.
“I just kind of wanted to do a little tribute to him, but the IOC’s pretty strict on what goes on the goalie mask, which is fine,” Maxwell said. “I’m really happy with how mine turned out. I have stars on my pads, so I wanted to stick to kind of a star cluster theme on my mask and throw in some different stripes and colors.”
American goalie David Leggio wanted “Land of the free, home of the brave” emblazoned on the side of his mask, but that wasn’t allowed. A buffalo to represent Buffalo, New York, was among the ideas he pitched for his helmet.
“You’re a little limited at the Olympics with what you can put on there, what kind of content,” Leggio said. “We had tried some different stuff that was rejected. I just wanted it to be unique and definitely be patriotic. I think those were the two words I told the designer. I’m really happy with how it came out.”
Leggio does have a feature that could draw the attention of his fellow goalies: Paint on his helmet changes color when the temperature dips below 70 degrees.
“So that was a really nice addition,” Leggio said.
Japanese goalie Nana Fujimoto designed her own helmet using a basic white base to show off Mount Fuji and plum blossoms. Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados’ helmet features the traditional maple leaf, and teammate Ann-Marie Desbiens says she tried to fit as many items from their country onto her helmet as possible.
“As a goalie, we get an amazing opportunity to showcase everything in Canada, so I try to do my best for that,” Desbiens said.
Schelling designed her helmet with fans voting on social media , while Swedish goalie Sara Grahn wanted a yellow handlebar moustache on the right jaw for a little style.
Hensley said U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter had the Statue of Liberty as the centerpiece of her mask at Sochi in 2014 and that they had sent in the design for her helmet.
“As far as I knew, it had been approved, so we put it on there,” Hensley said.
Tossing in the five Olympic rings is another no-no for the IOC that stymied U.S. goalie Ryan Zapolski. So he brainstormed for about a week or so with the artist who painted his mask, mixing in some stars and stripes.
“It’s pretty simple, but I think it goes well with our uniforms and everything, so I just wanted to kind of be simple and not stick out too much,” Zapolski said. “It’s about this team. It’s not really about me, so I’m happy to have just our team logo on it and the stars and stripes. It’s patriotic, I think, to have that, and hopefully we can do some pretty cool things here.”