February 16, 2014

The making of Jonathan Quick's 2014 Olympic mask

By Jesse Connolly

Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) backstopped the U.S. to victories over Slovakia and Russia in his first two Olympic starts. (Getty Images)

After T.J. Oshie scored four times in Saturday’s shootout to lead the United States to a riveting, 3-2 victory over Russia, the label then bestowed upon him by a jubilant fan base back home was almost too obvious: American hero.

When the St. Louis Blues forward spoke after the game, he made it known that the real heroes in this world aren’t decked out in red, white and blue hockey sweaters.

“The American heroes are wearing camo,” Oshie said, referring to the men and women of the U.S. military. “That’s not me.”

Oshie used his opportunity in the spotlight to express those sentiments. Goaltender Jonathan Quick echoes them with the mask he’s donning over in Sochi. The backplate depicts the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, paying homage to the American soldiers that have lost their lives in battle.

Quick stuck with the "battle armor" theme he's used in L.A. for his 2014 Olympic mask. (Photo: EYECANDYAIR)

The former UMass Minuteman entrusted an artist he’s been working with since he broke in with the Kings with the creation.

“That’s when I first met him and started working with him, his rookie year,” said Steve Nash, who’s officially been working under the name EYECANDYAIR for the last 12 years after a hobby fueled by a love of art and goalie masks morphed into something much greater.

“Jon wanted to work with an artist that could do something he wanted, rather than what the artist wanted. I was open-minded and listened to him. We went back and forth a lot until we got a concept down, and he’s stuck with it ever since.”

That concept, which has been the foundation of nearly all of Quick’s masks during his time in L.A., is appropriate dubbed “battle armor.”

“He basically wanted to stay in the theme he already has in L.A.,” Nash said of Quick’s mask for the 2014 Winter Games. “That’s a staple mask for him. Everybody knows that’s his mask. We put a lot of time and thought into it, when we originally designed it. We wanted to stick with that battle armor theme and just switch up the colors a little bit for the front. So we just added some blue in the voided areas and hits of red. He wasn’t allowed to put his name on the chin, so he put the crest on the chin because of the IOC rules.”

Steve Nash had to receive permission from the IOC in order to paint the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the back of Quick's mask. (Photo: EYECANDYAIR)

Those IOC rules forced Quick, Nash, and his wife, Steph, who runs the business end of their Ontario-based company, to do some major brainstorming.

“There’s quite a lot,” Nash said when asked about the limitations the International Olympic Committee puts on mask designs. “They don’t want anything that’s going to suggest propaganda, advertising or personalization. That’s all out the window.”

Nash said they began to hammer out details in November.

“My dad was in World War II, so me and my wife came up with the idea of doing something like that,” Nash said when asked what spawned the idea to do the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. “Jon’s very patriotic. If he had his way, he’d totally salute the military in every way possible. I passed the idea by him and he said, ‘that’s a wicked idea. You can’t get any more patriotic than that.’”

Nash then got permission to use a photo taken by Sgt. Jose A. Torres Jr. of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is traditionally known as “The Old Guard.”

“We contacted the Old Guard and spoke with someone from the Public Affairs office and they gave us permission to use a photo from their website,” said Nash, “and then we went from there.

"It was pretty much the same kind of layout as his [NHL mask], just switching colors and adding stars and some simple things on there. He didn’t want to stand out. He wanted to be a team guy. One request was, ‘I don’t want to have a big, flashy helmet. I want to blend in. This is my helmet. We’ll do something nice on the back and keep it clean.’ That’s what we did for the backplate. It’s there, but it’s not. We got approval from IOC, which we’re lucky there. So it was a go."

From beginning to end, Nash said it was a solid 4 ½ days of work to complete the mask. Since its unveiling, folks on Twitter have been abuzz, heaping plenty of praise upon the airbrusher extraordinaire. This isn’t Nash’s first time being the man behind a much-talked-about mask.

Tim Thomas' white mask, which he wore during his final two seasons in Boston, is among Nash's creations. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nash has worked with a number of NHL netminders over the years, painting hundreds of pieces of goalie headgear. The first belonged to former Bruin and two-time Vezina Trophy winner, Tim Thomas.

“He was my first pro,” said Nash. “I was referred to him by the mask manufacturers, Sportmask. He and I hit it off, luckily for me, and I got to start working with him.”

Among Nash’s many creations for Thomas – including his current John Vanbiesbrouck-esque, gold helmet for the Florida Panthers – was the netminder’s black-and-gold-less mask that was introduced in 2010, following a summer filled with speculation that Boston might be moving the veteran goalie.

“My favorite Timmy mask was his white one, which he won the Cup in,” Nash said. “That one caused a lot of trouble. It was around the time everyone was saying to trade him. Timmy and I were like, ‘let’s just do a whiteout,’ and we were just talking about paint. And I said it would work because (Gerry) Cheevers had a white and black mask.

“That was the only reason we did it, and it turned out really nice. And then that set off all these trade rumors and it just got so stupid and silly there for awhile, and then he wins the Cup in it, which was the coolest thing ever for me. I loved that whole stretch. Timmy just gave me goose bumps when I watched him play.”

After Thomas backstopped the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in 39 years in 2011, Quick led the Kings to the franchise’s first-ever championship the following season. It was a treat for Nash to watch his two clients – and friends – reach such great heights. The same can be said of playing a helping hand in a patriotic hockey player being able to give a well-deserved salute to military members past and present.

“The soldiers, people from the military, they’re all very honored that someone like Jon Quick recognizes them,” Nash said. “They’re the real heroes. If anyone says anything or tributes them in any way, it just shows a lot of respect for what they do.”

While Nash grew up in the Toronto area, he said he doesn’t have to think twice about who he’s rooting for throughout the remainder of the tournament in Sochi. If Quick – who earned the win in Team USA’s first two games of group play – can backstop the Americans to their first gold medal in 34 years, the corks will be flying next Sunday in Woodbridge, Ontario.

“You know what?” Nash said. “There’s going to be a lot of champagne popping in my studio. It’d be through the roof. We’ll celebrate big time.”

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com