Leeds Knights: The stories behind the new mask of netminder Sam Gospel
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In most sports, goalies are regarded as being unique characters, largely because of their specialist role on the team. Hockey is no different and, with their masks, some prefer helmets, they have a small platform on which to express themselves.
At the start of the season, Gospel - regarded by many as the top netminder in the second-tier NIHL National - donned the mask left from the previous incarnation of hockey in the city, the Leeds Chiefs.
It did the job, clearly, but there was a need to replace and update the imagery and wording on the mask, given owner Steve Nell’s decision to ditch the Chiefs name and herald in the Knights’ era.
Since they were first used in the late 1950s, goaltenders from the NHL down to juniors have used the mask not only for protection – something which has become even more necessary given the ever-increasing power and speed of the sport – but also as an opportunity to reveal a little bit about their character, or their personal interests, some would argue, passions.
Over the years there have been a number of eye-catching, at times outlandish, designs – particularly at NHL level – many giving an insight into the goalie’s personality, while other netminders have taken a team-orientated approach.
What Gospel has gone with – courtesy of Colin Lees at Anarchy Airbrushing in Hamilton, Scotland - is a mix of the personal and the team.
Sporting a simple overall design in team colours of blue, white and yellow, there are Knights-related logos on either side, while his surname is emblazoned across the chin.
But it is on the back where it gets personal for 27-year-old Gospel, with artistic references to family members and pets, both past and present.
“Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to design the mask, I’ve jumped at the chance, it’s a nice piece of individuality for me,” said Gospel, who this weekend will back-stop the Knights in a double-header against Milton Keynes Lightning.
“And when you can do it, it’s nice to put all the personal stuff on, as well as associating it with the team.
“It’s a really good opportunity to express yourself.”
The back-plate is dominated by images of two family dogs – Cavapoo ‘Cali’ and ‘Millie’ a treasured labrador who passed away last year.
Beneath lies a micrometer – a recognition of his grandfather Bob Wilson’s engineering career and a passion of Gospel’s – and a fox, which relates to someone close to Gospel.
On either side, are war medals, a tribute to his other grandfather, Kenneth Gospel, who – after falsifying his age – fought in Europe and North Africa during World War Two.
“With the Chiefs’ helmet, I stayed very team orientated but, this time around, I wanted to do something a bit different,” added Gospel.
“So we made sure we got the new Knights logo on there, stuck another Knights image down the opposite side and the name Gospel has stayed on the chin, that’s something I’ve had since I was in Nottingham – a bit of a signature, if you like.
“Then with the back-plate, I’m sure people behind the net will have noticed that it’s a lot more personal than I have previously gone with.
“Everything on the back means a lot to me and it’s just a small way of expressing myself.
“I’d love to be able to say it’s all my own work, but I’m not that talented! I’ve used Colin at Anarchy twice now.
“He’s an amazingly talented guy and his artwork speaks for itself really – in my opinion he’s the best there is.”