The 2021 Bucket Bracket Showdown: Round 1
Well guys, we made it. After last year’s bubble hockey experiment, we finally have playoff hockey in home arenas. With fans. The way our lord and savior Patrice Bergeron intended.
Now in its seventh (!!!) installment, this year’s Bucket Bracket Showdown is once again going to look a little bit different, with two series each in four new divisions getting us started. As a reminder, each mask will be evaluated on artistry, creativity, legibility, use of team branding, and overall aesthetic value.
Without further adieu, let’s dive in and make our picks for which starting goaltender’s mask would reign supreme in each first round series.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders
Tristan Jarry (Dave Fried, Friedesigns) vs. Semyon Varlamov (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart)
With the Islanders’ overtime loss in Boston Monday night, they officially locked in the East division’s four seed and a first round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Since moving on from Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, Tristan Jarry has been the Pens’ primary backstop this season, and has taken on the role with a new mask and new artist. Created by Alberta-based artist Dave Fried, Jarry’s primary bucket this season is a tribute to the healthcare workers fighting the COVID pandemic. Still sticking with the Tom and Jerry theme, this time the cat and mouse duo are masked up and fighting the virus on either side of the Pens’ logo.
Varlamov’s most recent Daveart bucket follows a similar template that we’ve seen from the goaltender in recent years – with an illustration of the Brooklyn Bridge on one side, and “Long Island” in script on the other, where it’d previously said “Brooklyn.”
This match up is close, because both of these masks – while similar in overall aesthetic value – have different elements that really shine. On Varlamov’s, the sketchy bridge illustration stands really strong with a great use of color, yet on Jarry’s, the playful cartoons and healthcare worker tribute makes this mask more special. It’s a close series, but the Penguins ultimately sneak away with a win.
Result: Penguins in 7
Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins
Vitek Vanecek (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart) vs. Tuukka Rask (Ron Slater, Slater Lettering & Graphics)
In our second East division match up, Tuukka Rask and the Bruins take on the Washington Capitals, who following the departure of Braden Holtby and subsequent heart surgery of Henrik Lundqvist, are in a much more peculiar goaltending situation than many expected heading into this season.
Rookie Vitek Vanecek has been between the pipes ahead of schedule, sticking with the mask Gunnarsson crafted for him in 2019. Titled “The Caps Chronicles,” the mask is purely derived from the Washington brand, leveraging the beautiful and perfect Weagle logo on the chin and closely cropped eagle heads in a graphic formation on each side.
• More: HbD Interviews: Ron Slater
Rask’s bucket by Massachusetts artist Ron Slater has remained almost entirely unchanged throughout the goaltender’s career in Boston. From the first round of our 2018 BBS:
Tuukka’s bucket has been the picture of consistency since his arrival in Boston from, ironically, Toronto. “Part of me wants to do something different for him,” Slater told us back in 2015, “but I think he’s kind of superstitious about stuff and doesn’t want a change either.”
Superstitious or not, the cleanliness and simplicity of Vanecek’s mask is going to give Rask a run for his money in this round. Both lean heavily into their respective team’s branding, and while the graphic minimalism on Vanecek’s is quite nice and refreshing, the detail and depth in Rask’s gives the Bruins the slight edge.
Result: Bruins in 6
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
Frederik Andersen (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart) vs. Carey Price (Jordon Bourgeault, J Bo Airbrush)
Two goaltenders expected to return to their teams just in time for the playoffs, Frederik Andersen and the Leafs are set to take on Carey Price and the Canadiens in this year’s first all-Canadian match up. With Andersen having just made his return to the Toronto net this week, he’ll have a brand new Daveart bucket to debut, just revealed by the artist earlier this month.
Titled “Legendary Leafs, Retro Edition” Gunnarsson describes the mask as “a clean cut design design built on the beautiful team logo.” The bold monochromatic look is just that, with layers of Leafs logo to create visual interest throughout.
• More: HbD Interviews: Dave Gunnarsson
Price on the other hand, once a long-time Daveart client and the picture of consistency, switched things up this season and worked with Calgary-based artist Jordan Bourgeault to create a cyborg-like biomechanical design. As the artist told Kevin Woodley from NHL.com, “the thought was to put some of the information of past goalies from the Canadiens and that would be directly wired into his brain… so, it’s almost like all of the skills and everything learned from all the goalies of the past are now transferred into him and making him this ultimate cyborg goalie.”
While there’s no doubt Andersen’s is more legible and on the surface incorporates more team branding, the artistry and storytelling behind Price’s mask is pretty remarkable. In this round, the “H.A.B.S.” (Habitants Archival Blocking System) cameras get Montreal the win.
Result: Canadiens in 5
Edmonton Oilers vs. Winnipeg Jets
Mike Smith (David Arrigo) vs. Connor Hellebuyck (Steve Nash, Eyecandyair)
In our second north of the border match up, Mike Smith and the Edmonton Oilers take on former Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck and the Winnipeg Jets. This is going to be a doozy, because both these goaltenders have a history of amazing mask style, and this season is no different.
First up, Mike Smith’s primary mask (we’ll get into his Reverse Retro one in a moment) pays homage to Oilers great Grant Fuhr, as well as long time Edmonton equipment manager, Joey Moss, who recently passed.
“[Smith] wanted to go back to our old concept of the goalie ‘wrapping’ around the mask, similar to the ones we had done in Arizona while he was playing with the Coyotes,” Smith’s artist for the past decade, David Arrigo, shared on his website. “We took one of Fuhr’s many masks (which were painted by paint legend Greg Harrison) and then referenced the actual equipment set up he used while wearing that mask.”
In addition to the beautiful and crisp paint job, the layout of this concept could’ve easily gone awry, but the flawless composition and execution are a true testament to Arrigo’s talents as an artist.
Now this mask alone is worthy of talking about in great detail, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Reverse Retro mask Arrigo also designed for Smith this season. “With Smitty’s second mask of the 2021 season, he wanted to go back to a similar concept we used while he was in Calgary,” Arrigo posted. Using Andy Moog as inspiration, and once again paying tribute to Joey Moss, this mask tandem is one that’ll be hard to top.
Now moving on to Hellebuyck, the goaltender’s long-time artist Steve Nash once again created a beautiful Manitoba nature scene for his client that stands out amongst the trendier styles we tend to see around the league. “I wanted it to be a little more country because I feel like that is what Winnipeg is,” Hellebucyk shared. “It is surrounded by farmland and country, and I really like that feel.”
The design also incorporates some personal touches, like the goaltender’s Husky pulling him on a sled, and a UMass Lowell Riverhawk on the back plate, an homage to Hellebuyck’s alma mater.
Both these masks are stellar, so it’ll be a shame to see one go in the first round, but it’s really tough to give a W here to anything other than Mike Smith’s knockout tandem. Edmonton takes this one by the slimmest of margins.
Result: Oilers in 7 (2OT)
Carolina Hurricanes vs. Nashville Predators
Alex Nedeljkovic (Ray Bishop, Bishop Designs) vs. Juuse Saros (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart)
With some new-ish faces for both these teams, the top seeded Hurricaness take on the Nashville Predators, backstopped primarily this season by Juuse Saros and not longtime starting netminder Pekka Rinne. For the Canes, Alex Nedeljkovic has emerged as a promising young goaltender, supported by veterans Petr Mrazek and James Reimer and ready to make a deep run into the postseason.
Nedeljkovic recently debuted a new toque-style mask by Bishop Designs, a concept we’ve seen mastered by fellow artist Sylvie Marsolais, but one that’s yet to trend widely across the league. Bishop does a fantastic job with the stitching details and textures, giving this mask a lot of dimension and visual interest.
Across the ice, Saros has been sporting a Daveart creation entitled “Pred Rogue Zone” that pulls out all the usual Daveart stops; light flares, sketch pen techniques, and roughed up textures over the top. Both these masks do a great job of tying in the branding, but the concept and excution of Nedeljkovic’s really push his over the top and give Carolina the easy sweep.
Result: Canes in 4
Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris Driedger (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart) vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy (Sylvie Marsolais, Sylabrush)
In a history-making all-Floridian playoff series, the second-seeded Panthers are set to take on the defending Stanley Cup champs in the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Panthers’ goaltending situation has been an interesting one, with $10M man Sergei Bobrovsky splitting time with newcomer Chris Driedger, whose mask we’ll use for the purposes of this match up. Tampa has a much easier decision in net, with Vezina winner and dependable backstop Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the charge.
Having recently retired his popular Baby Yoda mask, Driedger’s new bucket is a tribute of sorts to his teammates – Huberdeau and Yandle in a Lamborghini on one side, and a vignette of four flexing teammates on the other.
Across the ice, Vasilevskiy has strayed very little from his signature Sylabrush design that the goaltender has sported the last few seasons. The crisp chrome-accented design features lightning bolts and hyper-realistic illustrations, all in an electric cobalt palette.
• More: HbD Interviews: Sylvie Marsolais
While Driedger’s sense of humor steals a game for the Panthers, the artistry in Vasy’s takes the series by an easy 4-1 margin.
Result: Lightning in 5
Colorado Avalanche vs. St. Louis Blues
Philipp Grubauer (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart) vs. Jordan Binnington (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart)
Coming down to the last day of the season, the Avs finally clinched the Presidents Trophy and secured a first round date with the St. Louis Blues. In our first all-Daveart match up of 2021, Phillipp Grubauer’s Rockies-inspired bucket is pitted head to head against Jordan Binnington’s “Raw Blue Tones Evolved” design.
Described by Fansided as “alright, but nothing special,” (yikes) Binnington’s latest mask centers around the Blues’ primary note and secondary trumpet marks, with the logos layered symmetrically on each side. The goaltender’s initials “JB” are stenciled on the chin, but overall, this mask is pretty generic, not unlike what we’ve seen from Binnington in past seasons.
Across the ice, Grubauer’s mask is also very team-centric, pulling inspiration from the Rockies and the Avs’ third jersey logo. The composition is super geometric and graphic, which provides a much needed sense of structure to Gunnarsson’s detailed and special effect-laden style.
Binnington really doesn’t put up much of a fight in this series, giving the easy win to Colorado in a short four game sweep.
Result: Avs in 4
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild
Marc-Andre Fleury (Stephane Bergeron, Griff Originale) vs. Cam Talbot (Dave Gunnarsson, Daveart)
Last but not least, our final first round match up has Marc-Andre Fleury and the powerhouse Golden Knights, facing off against Cam Talbot and a somewhat surprising Minnesota Wild team.
Fleury’s mask has been the picture of consistency since joining the Golden Knights. Painted by the goaltender’s long-time artist Stephane Bergeron, the bucket cleverly showcases the Knights’ logo straight on, with a hyper-detailed Vegas scene on the left and a gilded secondary logo on the right.
Talbot, sticking with tradition, kept his signature Ghostbusters theme alive that was born during the goaltender’s time with the Rangers. “[Gunnarsson] always wanted to do (a Ghostbusters theme) for a goalie that played in New York,” Talbot shared. “Once my first mask came out, everyone loved it and it became kind of my M.O.”
My issue with these masks is how busy both designs are – Fleury’s within the Vegas landscape, and Talbot’s, well, everywhere. Because of the smart composition on the front view of Fleury’s mask, he takes the win in this series by a slim margin.
Result: Golden Knights in 6