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Behind the Mask with Penn State's Goalies

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By Erin Neri, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A goalkeeper's helmet is far more than just a piece of safety equipment worn during each game. Instead, a goalkeeper's helmet represents individuality and all the things they hold close, acting as a personal canvas.

The Process
For Penn State men's hockey's three goalies, the process of designing a helmet took each one of them in a different direction but each one started in the same place with the same person. The team's equipment manager, Adam Sheehan, is tasked with initiating the process, handling the logistics while giving them suggestions and ideas or helping with sketches. 

"I tell [Sheehan] what I want to do and he gives me his ideas back, so it's not all me or all him," sophomore goalie Peyton Jones said.

Another key figure in the early parts of the design stage, is typically painter Jason Livery, head of Head Strong Grafx. A custom painter for 28 years, Livery traveled all over the world before creating his own custom goalie helmet painting business.

"Once we get the ideas from the goaltender my designer creates a pre-paint rendering of what all the elements will look like on the mask," Livery said. "Once they approve it, I paint it based on that rendering. I might change it and add is some elements of my own style but for the most part it will be pretty close to the rendering."

The often intricate masks fans see each goalie sporting this season are special to all of them, but each for unique and individual reasons. For some, the first of a few helmets, but for others it's either the only or the last helmet they'll ever have for the rest of their career in Hockey Valley.

Fortunately for Nittany Lion fans, this is only Jones' first gameday helmet, which means he'll get one more with two more seasons in net. Not only was this Jones' first helmet of his Penn State career, but the first helmet he has ever had a hand in creating for himself.

"I went online right away looking at different things different goalies did," Jones said. "This was my first real helmet I designed and it was pretty special to me because it was a school that I dreamed of going to."

For senior goalie Matt Erlichman, his helmet is his first as well as his last. The Pennsylvania native joined the team his junior year after playing two years with Penn State's ACHA Division II Ice Lions. 

Joining the team late, his mask junior year looked similar to those around him, but for his senior year when asked if he wanted a custom helmet, it was a no-brainer. 

"[Sheehan] asked me if I wanted a helmet and I said, 'Yeah, I'd love a helmet, I never had actually had a helmet designed,'" Erlichman said. "I just started throwing some things together, looking at different helmets." 

Junior goalie Chris Funkey was on the opposite end of the spectrum from his teammates, with his current helmet being the last of his college career. With a passion Penn State evident on all three masks,   Funkey knew he had a few adjustments he wanted to make headed into the process off designing his current helmet to make it better than his last.

"I didn't want to do as much for myself for the helmet as I wanted to do for the university," Funkey said. "So I definitely wanted to make sure I fashioned in some important things."

In addition to the multiple Penn State logos on his helmet, Funkey wanted to do something to make his last helmet even more special. On the chin, Funkey's helmet is painted with temperature magic FX paint which shifts color in temperatures less than 65 degrees, revealing hidden snowflakes and an image of the historic Nittany Lion Shrine.

Funkey is among a group of very goalkeepers in all of college hockey and even the NHL with temperature magic FX paint technology on his helmet.

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Inspiration Behind the Mask
Many young goaltenders grow up watching hockey, dreaming of the day they will have their own custom helmet like the pros they watch on TV or from the stands.

While some look to professional goalies for inspiration, some find it in their own locker room. For Funkey, his helmet is modeled after former Penn State goalie and his own former mentor, Matthew Skoff (2012-16).

"[Skoff] had the toque version of the helmet where it looks like a winter hat and I thought that was really cool," Funkey said. "I wanted to get that to honor him being one of the first Division I Penn State goalies for four years."

Penn State's two other goalkeepers though, decided to look a little farther outside of Hockey Valley for inspiration.

Every young goalie has a role model at the professional level they watch and try to emulate, not only in their style of play, but also in their mask design. Jones looks to one of the best in the world who happens to be a five-time NHL all-star and an Olympic gold medalist.

"My favorite goalie is Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and on a lot of his helmets he puts the laces of the jersey," Jones said. "So on my helmet, that's one thing I wanted to incorporate." 

On the front part of the chin is where Jones chose to put the jersey laces on his helmet. 

Things were no different for Erlichman, who looked to the same goalies he had been admiring for years when it came time to design his helmet.

"I always loved [Sergei] Bobrovsky's because he was my favorite goalie in the NHL and Tuukka Rask just because all his helmets are awesome," Erlichman said. "I based the helmet off those two." 

Erlichman drew inspiration from the classic brick wall design from Bobrovsky's old-style helmets, adding a bit of a twist. What looks like drops of spray paint all over the brick wall were added to shake up the traditional design.

Favorite Feature
All three goalies utilize their own mask to tell their own individual story, including things they hold close, opting to showcase these elements on the back plate of their helmets. While the elements might not be on full display all the time, they are always close.

Funkey's back plate showcases a Penn State tradition very dear to many students on campus, THON. With Funkey's busy hockey schedule, being a part of the 46-hour dance marathon can be a challenge. With THON weekend typically taking place in the middle of the season, it is not always a guarantee he can attend.

Fortunately, last year, the Illinois native was given the opportunity to attend THON with some of his teammates, an experience he will never forget.

"We were there for the last 15 or 16 hours and it was honestly a really life changing experience," Funkey said. "I just couldn't think of a better way or a better thing to represent the school than by putting the four diamonds of THON on the back of my helmet."

Jones' back plate honors two friends and teammates, Eric "Ebo" Eberling and Alexander "Zander" Thomas, who he lost his senior year of high school.

"My two buddies are on the back who are the most special to me," Jones said. "I put that on the back of my helmet to have them with me every time that I play." 

Accompanying the numbers of his friends is a quote that reads, "Life is not measured by the years you live, but the lives you touch."

For Erlichman, playing on the varsity hockey team was a goal he was hoping to reach before his time was up in Hockey Valley. Finally achieving his dream, it's been a surreal experience and he knew he wanted to make his team and school the focal point of his back plate.

"I wanted something more Penn State than just a logo, and I went with the Lion Shrine," Erlichman said.

Accompanying a hand-drawn version of the Lion Shrine is also Erlichman's nickname "Lichsy" which former teammate Vince Pedrie gave him just weeks into his junior season. 

"I got that nickname from the team a few weeks into the season when I walked into the locker room and Vince Pedrie looks at me and goes, 'Has anyone ever called you Lichsy?" Erlichman said. "I was throw off completely because it doesn't really come from my name."

 Needless to say the nickname has stuck around since, representing a special memory Erlichman will always carry with him on and off the ice.

The Reaction
After spending weeks on the design process followed by months of painting and waiting, the moment a goalie sees their mask for the first time is truly a magical one. All those long practices and conditioning sessions somehow seem worth it when a goalie gets to hold their mask for the first time. 

Even though almost every one of the team saw Erlichman's helmet before he had the chance to, it didn't take anything away from a moment he had been waiting for his whole career 

"I was blown away how great it came out, I couldn't ask anything better," Erlichman said. "I am so happy I got a helmet and I'm going to keep it forever."

Even though this is Erlichman's first and only mask Penn State, it will be one he can always keep to cherish a part of his college career.

Having been through the process before, Funkey was familiar with the moment having worked hard and waited for so long for. This time though, there was the bittersweet twist of this being his last mask, but he found solace in the fact that he got everything he wanted on his final helmet. 

"My jaw dropped, I couldn't get over how well it came out," Funkey said. "I was like a little kid on Christmas morning honestly, it was so cool."

Jones has experienced success in the relatively short time he has been in goal for the Nittany Lions and his current helmet has stayed with him through the journey. The sophomore will have a new helmet to start out his junior year which will also be his last in his college career.

Although getting his current helmet was very special to him, Jones is already planning for his next one. Just don't expect to get any insight into what will be on it. 

"I do actually have some stuff but it's a surprise I want to keep for when I get the helmet," Jones said.

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