What is it about a Goaltender’s new mask and equipment that generates such excitement? Visually, goalies are unique from all the other hockey players. Oversized and menacing, goaltenders are padded, masked, caged and confined on either end of the ice guarding their nets like ancient armor-clad warriors. Knights of the hockey world. And it is perhaps this element of romanticism that creates such an excitement over their masks, pads and gear. No other hockey player is allowed such leeway to display even the slightest personal preference on their gear. While some mask designs are confined to variations of team logos and themes, other mask designs are a pure reflection of the individual goalie. Occasionally the designs creatively combine those two elements, mixing personal preferences with team themes.

Above, Roberto Luongo revealed his most recent retro mask to reporters yesterday. The mask design includes the blue and green plaid shirted Johnny Canucks on the top, with a “Canucks” striped band along the lower edge. At the unveiling Luongo joked “It’s a couple weeks late, like my game.” (Yes, the Canucks won last night, 4-1 vs. the Nashville Predators.)

Some masks are pure cartoon taking the team logos to the extreme, such as Dan Ellis’ 2011-12 Anaheim Ducks mask by DaveArt. Browse through earlier designs for Ellis and you will find earlier themes along the same vein. Cartoon Ducks being tough, dangerous and menacing opponents.

Other masks falling within the pure design category are among some of the most beautiful works of art — Tim Thomas, Boston Bruins white bear mask by Eye Candy Air, and Jonathan Quick’s classic “metal” Los Angeles Kings mask also by Eye Candy Air. These two are among my all time favorites, simply on an overall design aspect. Look closely at Thomas’s mask and you will see the Bruins Bear — from far away, his mask is an elegant interwoven three-dimensional design.

In the case of Quick’s mask, the design recalls that ancient armor-clad warrior. The goaltender’s precursor — the Medieval Knight. The mask shown below is an earlier version with purple included and the most recent is all black and silver.

With his move to the Philadelphia Flyers, one of Ilya Bryzgalov’s new masks reflects historical Philadelphia, including Ben Franklin and the Constitution intermingled with the Flyers’ logo and colors by Drummond Custom Airbrush. Another new Flyers mask for Bryzgalov depicts a lush, intense green eyed tiger, a symbol of Russia by La Griffe Originale. Bryzgalov’s masks have always been individualistic and one of his earlier Coyotes mask even included artwork by his own children.

Among the most interesting new masks this year has been the Penguins Brent Johnson’s mask — another tribute to Led Zeppelin, by David Arrigo.

One of the most simple, yet one with an almost Darth Vader impact, has to be Jonas Hiller’s all black mask which is very much in the tradition of a medieval knight. Stark yet impressive.

Also among my favorites this year is Cam Ward’s new ominous red and black Blackbeard pirate themed Carolina Hurricanes mask, Dwayne Roloson’s Thor, God of Thunder (Thor’s Hammer) Tampa Bay Lightning mask, and Nashville Predator Pekka Rinne’s Honky Tonk mask and “Hardcorelicious” mask. All of these reflect the team and regional characteristics, but also the goalie’s personal preferences.

Of particulate note is Carey Price’s new pink mask depicting his native heritage (note the Habs logo reference in the headdress), and the pink highlights breast cancer awareness. Price’s mask will be auctioned off with all proceeds going to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.  Along with the pink mask, Price also had pads and gloves made with pink stripes to bring more awareness to this noteworthy cause.

Browse through In Goal Magazine for the most recent photographs, and visit I Love Goalies blog. The Goalie Guild also offers Mask and Pads Tracker for those of you keeping track of the specifics. Uni Watch previews the NHL season’s Goaltender Masks and Pads (ESPN).