In 2019, I had the privilege of meeting legendary mask maker, Don Straus.
Don is the inventor, developer and designer behind the innovative and ever popular goalie mask, the 'Armadila.'
In a collaboration of sorts, we shared Don's story; a unique narrative of his very interesting journey into the world of hockey.
Below is our 2019 narrative entitled a 'Legends Tribute' (originally told on our Instagram and Facebook pages).
This is a tribute to Don (and his Armadilla mask :) and his huge contribution to the goalie mask industry. We hope you find it informative, creative and inspiring!
Post 1. Sometimes you have to hit rewind to understand what shaped your character. Meet a young Don Straus behind the wheel of this 3.5Hp go cart (circa 1964, Erbsville Kartway, Ont. Canada). Follow Don's childhood from the racetrack, to an unlikey path that would eventually lead to him to the world of goalie equipment development.
This was a press, promo photoshoot to kick off Bert’s first Pro Stock season.
Thinking outside the box seems to be something that came naturally to Don. At a time when Pro Stock was dominated by Americans, using Dodge, Ford, and Chevrolet powered vehicles, his father, being one of (sometimes) 2 Canadians in the class, chose to campaign the lone Pontiac entry in the class. Races were won. Records were set. Certainly not the easiest of ways to do it!
While at the racetrack with his father, Don would sketch and refine his artistic craft. Then one day he was approached by a friend, a rec league goalie, who asked Don to paint his mask.
This would be timely because Don had already begun thinking about a new mask design for goalies. From his experience in the automotive racing field, he drew mask concepts, studied materials and fabrication. After about a year in development the Armadilla mask would take form!
A Legend's Tribute- Project Armadilla continues: This would be the very first Armadilla mask worn by an NHL goalie, Mark Laforest of the Binghamton Rangers (New York Rangers affiliate, 1990-92). In 1990, Don visited his local sporting goods shop where Mark was on site for a Brown's gear promotion. Don had his goalie-friend's mask in hand (which featured Don's first 'paint' job mentioned in our previous post). Mark liked Don's design and requested that Don not only paint his mask, but build it!! This opportunity would open the door for Don and propell the Armadilla into development. Note: Mark would wear this mask again on April 16, 2005 in a New York Rangers alumni game against the Islanders alumni - Hockey for Heroes Tournament, Nassau Coliseum. Mark would go onto play 103 games over 6 years in the NHL. (Source: Don Straus Design).
Throwback Thursday 1999 -A unique arial shot of Don airbrishing an Armadilla in his shop in Waterloo, Ontario (1,000 sq ft: office, lay-up space, press area, cut/dirty room, paint mix room, spray booth, assembly area). If you closer, you'll see mask shells ready to be trimmed, painted and final assembly. Not to mention a few of his 'masks of fame' from the early 90s!
Project Armadilla: In conversing with Don...what makes an Armadilla an Armadilla? It was all based on a ‘clean sheet’ design; with very little influence from the masks that arrived before it.
An important factor to note, Don was not a goalie nor a hockey fan. He was not conditioned or influenced by the position, in seeing the mask a certain way.His mission statement was clear: to design the best, excuse-free, no holds($) barred-piece of protective headgear for goalies. Style and fit had to be approached first. He knew that original masks were molded from a goalie's face, providng a good fit, however he also knew that it allowed/encouraged any impact to be distributed evenly.
Don's approach was to 'move' those forces from 'directly impacting' the goalie's face/head. Digging into the 'Indy car chest' of experience, he relied on what he knew; aerospace materials, prepreg resins, and crazy, overkill manufacturing techniques & processes.
"After all the dust, blood and tears settled, the goal was achieved - probably surpassed. The lightest and the most protective goalie masks ever built, the Armadilla was the first mask to successfully pass the CSA gauntlet." - Don Straus, maker of the Armadilla mask.
The Logo - At the time, Don wanted something better than 'Don's Mask Co' , and the protective aspect of the turtle shell was appealing. "Unfortunately the turtle shell was highly overused, in a mutant ninja capacity." Keeping with that protective shell theme, Don cracked open the encyclopedia (starting with the 'A' volume, finding 'armadillo'). If you are from an area where the critter was found, it would be pronounced Armadilla.
A New Franchise: one of my all time favourite Dilla designs is John Vanbiesbrouck's Panther (VGB). Don tells the story, "can you get me something like what you did for Hayward?" says the Beezer. The call came in after John found he was to be a Florida Panther.
"Off to the library I went for panther images. Remember 1993? No internet - research was done by searching through books! An awesome looking, realistic panther head, open jaws - just what he was looking for, arrived just in time for the pre-season team photo shoots and trading card sessions. As cool as it was, upper management suggested that something more ‘team coloured’ might be a good idea. Understandable, as their new uniforms - dark navy, red, and gold, were too striking to ignore.
It was a short trip back to the drawing board for this. Combining the requested ‘open mouth’ style, and the team’s request for colour adjustment, the layout rolled off my pencil very smoothly. No pre sketches, no renderings, no net! Sitting on my front porch that evening, it was laid out directly on John’s new shell. No struggle, no eraser, no grief - it just flowed. The next day at the shop, the paint process followed suit, and within 24 hours of getting the call, the shell was ready to move to final assembly!
I had a feeling that this one would be special. Didn’t quite know why. Just felt it in my gut. It just felt right having the pattern drop into place, and the layering of those distinctive colours! Doesn’t always happen, but when it does…
The original, realistic Panther did see some love over the years, with John bringing it to the show for a few games. After all these years, it still brings a smile to my face recalling this story.