For a club with nearly 50 years of history, the Sabres sometimes lack a laundry list of alumni at certain positions. Goaltender is one of these, where the Sabres have seen quite a bit of longevity and their fair share of star power compared to their league brethren.
This longevity has bred quite a few hare-brained debates regarding starters at the position but also leaves the team with a smaller pool of alumni than other teams can claim when it comes to trivial things such as ranking goalie helmet designs. With the Sabres at the center of their fair share of negative articles, it seems like a good a time as any to share my favorite Sabres goal mask designs as a way to distract, even for a short while, from a season that’s as dreary as anyone can remember.
I’ve put together what I feel are the ten best masks in Sabres history with a few honorable mentions filtered in when appropriate. Each ranking was based on a single mask a goalie wore as a Sabre (except when multiple masks were considered) and the overall paint job was considered. Bonus points for minute details common on modern masks didn’t factor in since that created the potential for excluding older masks.
Like any good listicle, I’ll go in order from ten to one, so if you’re impatient just scroll to the bottom. Disagreements and debate are welcome, be sure to share them in the comments section or via Twitter.
10. Darren Puppa – Puppa had a couple of solid masks during his time in Buffalo but the blue one pictured here was definitely the best one he wore. It’s not exactly my favorite mask but the bold, clear design passes more modern, complicated designs of recent years thanks to the clever incorporation of the team’s marks.
I’m not too fond of the cascade of buffaloes on either side but this is a case where the whole Is greater than the sum of the parts. The chin art is terrific and when it all adds up the mask looks great.
9. Jhonas Enroth (2011-12) – One challenge with this list was separating the multiple masks goalies wear throughout the season. Up until the 2000s goalies would wear a single mask and a single paint job for at least a season, if not more. Now it’s commonplace for goaltenders to wear two or three paint jobs in a given season.
Enroth typically introduced a design in the fall of each season and stuck with it for the duration. He had a few terrific mask designs over the years but may favorite is the mask he wore in 2011. The subtle differences in the jersey stripes that trim the bottom of the mask are excellent as is the vintage treatment Dave Gunnarsson (DaveArt) gave to the 40th anniversary logo. This mask isn’t too heavy on features you need to check out up close, but the overall look is bold and hyper realistic, a feature Gunnarsson has come to own in the world of mask art.
8. Robin Lehner (2018 Winter Classic) – Lehner’s mask for the Winter Classic featured many of the most modern paint features; a matte finish, small details that come into focus as you get closer accompanied by big, bold features. The stunning Sabres faux-throwback logo is a perfect centerpiece for the top of the mask and the adapted jersey stripes stand out beautifully from the white base. I love the Hasek tributes that were included and even the understated Winter Classic and Sabres logos look good.
7. Tom Draper (1992) – An underrated mask, in my opinion. Perhaps because Draper’s tenure in Buffalo was quite short, eventually making way for the Fuhr/Hasek duo in 1992-93. However, the mask featured a terrific, bold design that is probably the best of the quasi-modern masks in franchise history. The blue bisons on the top jump off the white base while the blue and gold features along the side and chin combines with the outward facing sabres makes for a very cool and complete mask design.
6. Steve Shields (1996-97) – Despite appearing fairly nondescript from a distance, this mask ranks for me for what’s tough to see on a trading card or from the stands. The mask Shields wore for his most memorable Sabres moments features a dark buffalo head with red eyes that adorns the upper portion of the mask. A trio of sword tips, which mimic the sword in the alternate logo highlight the side of the mask while the B alternate logo puts a shock of color on the chin. The buffalo is hard to make out in most pictures of this mask but the design worked beautifully with Buffalo’s jerseys of the era, making it one of the very best of the red and black years. Factor in my general love for Shields as a Sabres goaltender and it was easy to include this on my list.
5. Matt Hackett (2014) – It’s a shame Hackett’s Bills/Sabres mashup didn’t enjoy a longer lifespan. Hackett’s time in Buffalo only lasted two years and this incredible mask was only around for a month or two before Hackett ditched it as it was it didn’t fit him properly.
Even though it was short-lived, the thought behind the mask is second to none and the execution is just as impressive. Hackett’s usual mask artist was Dave Arrigo whose work is usually…not…good, but he knocked it out of the park with this version, one that I wish we could have seen more of.
4. Ryan Miller (2012-13) – Aside from a couple of examples (Olympics and St. Louis), Miller has always gone with a design that takes his team’s logo or mascot and wraps the entire mask with it. In Buffalo Miller sported an ever evolving version of the team’s goathead logo. The final product was one of the most detailed and striking masks in the league. I feel that his Bishop Designs paintjob reached it’s peak in 2012-13 when the charging buffalo was incorporated, coming up from the chin of the mask. The bison’s head wrapped the rest of the old logo’s design and the 40th anniversary word mark and crossed Sabres were an excellent addition to the chin.
My favorite feature of Miller’s mask was always the intricacies of the overall design. Bishop did a phenomenal job of incorporating the original goathead logo with new patterns and shapes which fit the overall theme of the mask perfectly.
3. Grant Fuhr (1994) – I’ve often referred to Fuhr’s longhorn mask as the greatest in franchise history but I’ve ultimately chosen to rank it third. For a long time Fuhr’s mask was one of my favorite’s ever. The cage was painted to blend with the design and the longhorn head with its red eyes was detailed and paranormal. If there was ever some sort of collectible line produced by the team, I’d hope this mask was part of the initial offering. It’s too cool not to get more love.
2. Gerry Desjardins (honorable mention to Gary Bromley) – Gerry Desjardins Sabres mask is probably the most iconic in franchise history. The blue mask with the logo placed right over the top is a beautiful example of what the original goal masks offered when it came to artwork. Without the cage and window to interrupt designs, goalies had the ability to get extremely creative with the designs they chose. Desjardins – and Bromley, who had a nearly identical design – went with the obvious choice but it doesn’t make the mask any less awesome. Desjardins gets the edge for me as I love the hard lines and angles of his mask as opposed to the rounded design Bromley sported.
There was some confusion at the Winter Classic with the mask Robin Lehner was skating around in (it turned out to be Paul Harrison’s) and even though Lehner didn’t get to rock Desjardins iconic mask, the design lives on as one of the coolest in franchise history.
1. Martin Biron – For me, the coolest mask in franchise history is Biron’s red and black split mask. Everything about it was killer. The bright red contrasted with the black half of the mask. The lightning bolt splitting the design in half, the font used on either side and incorporating both of the Sabres’ logos in the design.
Biron gets a boost in the rankings for his equally stellar Amerks mask which, although it’s not technically a Sabres mask, might actually be the best mask in Sabres history. Both a really terrific, bold designs which look great on TV, a hockey card or up close and personal. Like with Fuhr’s mask, both of Biron’s would make terrific collector items like a mini mask or a cool print of the mask’s artwork.