WASHINGTON — For Washington Capitals goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, a new team means a new mask. The Capitals signed Kuemper to a five year, $26.25 million dollar contract this offseason, fresh off his Stanley Cup Championship with the Colorado Avalanche. When Swedish artist, David Gunnarsson learned of the signing, he immediately got to work on a new mask design for Kuemper.
"Dave Gunnarsson does all of my helmet paintings so usually he sends me a sketch, and usually they look good right away so usually I don't have to change a lot," Kuemper tells me.
Gunnarsson lives in Sweden, and spoke with me via Zoom, saying "I've been working with Darcy for many years. I think it's more than 10 years, and so I learn what he likes. When he signed with the Capitals, I started to brainstorm and came up with this design with a lot of details."
The details are important to Kuemper. On the back of his mask, the veteran goaltender was specific about three designs he wanted. He showed me the intricate artwork, saying, "This is crest of Saskatchewan, which is my home province up in Canada. This is a cross for those I love which reminds me of who I'm playing for and my motivation. Then this is a cancer ribbon with my uncle and my buddy's initials, who unfortunately passed due to cancer so I keep them in my memories as well."
Kemper first learned of Gunnarsson's mask designs after signing with the Minnesota Wild in 2011. "My first year in the NHL, my trainers just hooked me up with him, introduced us, and we've worked together ever since," says Kuemper.
Gunnarsson has been designing hockey masks for 26 years. He designs and paints several hundred professional hockey masks each year, and this year, Gunnarsson tells me, his masks will be worn by a goaltender within every NHL organization.
"It's every artist's dream to have their paintings being watched my many people, so it's a dream for me," says Gunnarsson.
Each mask takes Gunnarsson about 10 hours to paint, but he says much more time is spent brainstorming. "At first, it's a brainstorming process. I just walk around and think. Then, I do sketches," Gunnarsson said. "Every goalie wants something unique for just him, so by far, that's the most fun thing."
Kuemper was all smiles when he saw Gunnarsson's original design for his first Capitals mask, and has already placed more orders with Gunnarsson for more masks this season.
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