Greg Harrison crafted his first creative National Hockey League goalie mask about a million slap-shots ago, in 1972. It was a powder blue number for Jim Rutherford of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
After Rutherford was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, Harrison redid the mask, adding red leather head straps and red wings over the eye holes.
Other goalies liked the signature style and began clamoring for customized masks to replace the old-style helmet with face bars. Harrison was spurred to new design heights.
Last weekend, "probably 800 to 900" masks later, he was in Marine Midland Arena working on his next piece de resistance for Steve Shields, the Buffalo Sabres' backup netminder.
As Shields lay comfortably on his back on a training table, knees pulled up, Harrison made a plaster mold of his face. Back home in Brantford, Ont., he will make a clay mold and then form by hand the fiberglass shell of the mask, leaving room for the padding and sweat band. Next, the shell is sanded to a smooth finish, inside and out.
"Then the creative part takes over," he said. "I do the design based on the fellow's nickname, or something to do with the team."
The final touch: Adding the stainless-steel cage, which he custom-welds.
The process takes 45 to 65 hours, start to finish. Shields can expect to be wearing the product, which will cost $1,100 to $1,600, in about a month.
The Indian headdress on a mask worn by Darren Pang of the Chicago Blackhawks is Harrison's all-time favorite design, although he has shaped many distinctive masks for NHL goalies.
"Anybody who ever fixed a boat thinks he can make a mask," said Harrison, a practice goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs who is "pretty competitive" between the pipes at the amateur level.
But he deems himself and Michel Lefevre of Montreal to be true masters of the craft.
The proof is in the repeat business, he said, after finishing Shields' plaster mold and heading off to the St. Louis dressing room to visit another customer, Blues backup goalie Jon Casey.
"Whenever a guy goes from one team to another, I try to carry on the theme. When Don Beaupre was with Washington, I put the Capitol on his forehead. When he went to Ottawa, I changed it to the House of Commons. In Toronto, the mask has Maple Leaf Gardens and a maple leaf on the forehead."