The Masked Man

Tyger Allen, Sports Manager

The goaltender position in hockey allows for the most customization within a team sport. Their pads can be any color or design, but it’s their helmet that allows them to create a look unlike anyone else in the position. For the Roger Williams club ice hockey team, Ryan Shea guards his face with a blue, yellow and white work of art.

Shea, a transfer from Norwich University, needed a new helmet when he made the team. It would be out of place to display a mask made for one of the Hawks’ closest rivals. So, he searched for some images online and found the school’s official seal and the team’s hawk logo.

On one side of the mask is the bird logo that current students and alumni know. The Athletics department changed their logo at the beginning of the academic year, but it isn’t out of place as the team still wears jerseys with the old hawk on it. It pops out over a blue and yellow cloud effect to negate the white space.

Its wings stretch over the top of the helmet and overlap the team’s name that reads down the center and stops before reaching his white cat-eye cage. “Hawks” separates the logo from the school’s official seal on the other side. 

Shea got his painted mask from a man named Ron Slater in Woburn, Mass. Perhaps Slater’s most notorious customer is Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who wears a gold and yellow bear mask. On Rask’s helmet, his four-letter last name is positioned across the chin in a graffiti-style font — and on Shea’s, the same thing.

“The way that he painted it, if you run your hand over it, there are layers of paint where you can actually feel it,” Shea said.

The back plate is often where goaltenders get more personal. They step away from any intimidating design they have on the front and pay tribute to the people or places that mean the most to them. For a lot of goaltenders that come to America to play, they put their home country’s flag in the back. For Shea’s mask, “RWU” stretches across the back. But above the school’s initials is a purple ribbon.

During the time his mask was being painted, Shea’s grandmother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, passed away. Shea said he contacted Slater to make a change in the design by incorporating her life onto his back plate. A purple ribbon was painted on as a tribute to her. Alongside the ribbon, he has “R.I.P. Nana”, “6-4-34” and “6-9-16” on it.  The helmet served as a boost for his family in honoring her.

“[The tribute] was a good thing for the family, just an uplifting thing,” Shea said. “It was a mini pick-me-up.”

The final piece of Shea’s helmet is a saying from his high school team. He decided to carry it over to his new helmet as a reminder. The text reads, “It’s a great day to be great.”