Attack of the Clones
Back in January, we touched on the concept of trends in goaltending. One of the trends I highlighted was the growth of the “Wright Clone”. It seems like in the past 12 months more companies are more boldly copying and advertising their copies of the Wright style mask; more commonly known as the Bauer 960 XPM. In the interim, an innocent post on here has become a side fascination of mine…
To paraphrase the post in question; after looking at a Potvin replica mask, a #GoalieCrowd member commented something to the effect of “Harrison would be furious if he saw that”. In the moment, I thought the poster was nuts. It’s a 25 year old design that has been replicated on probably 1000 masks since then. It’s been done by NHL guys, AHL guys, NCAA guys, CHL guys, and beer leaguers alike. But then I really started to consider this. This is Harrison’s creative property and no one is paying him a dime for its use.
So that got me thinking, what is a trend? What is plagiarism? And how do the people involved feel?
According to the international expert on everything, Google, a trend is “a general direction in which something is developing or changing”, “a fashion”, or “changes or develop in a general direction”. In the context of goaltending, I would call trends things like taller thigh rises, squarer pads, enhanced sliding materials, ghosted paint on masks, the use of composite sticks, or skates without cowlings. Nowhere in the definition does it mention replication or copying of an original design or idea.
When we Google plagiarism, the definitions is “the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own”. This seems to describe the scenario of buying a Wright / Itech / Bauer style mask from someone other than Bauer or getting Jonathan Quick’s paint job done by someone other than Eye Candy Air. However… there is one part of the definition that makes me uncomfortable here. I don’t know that anyone is “passing them off as one’s own”. If we purchase a late model Belfour paint job from a painter other than Miska, but don’t pretend it’s a Miska, does that mean its okay?
To put this into proper context, a copyright infringement probably best describes the issue at play. A copyright is “the exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same”. This feels better. Did Bauer give anyone the right to reproduce the 960 Wright design? Did Harrison greenlight anyone ever to make a Potivin replica? My gut say no…
So if you wear a Simmons branded anything or have a Brodeur paint job on your mask, you should probably stop reading here. This topic clearly does not matter to you or you simply don’t care. I may not agree with your ethics, you may now think I’m an idiot, and you certainly are not alone. It’s sad when you think about it, but there’s clearly a big market for clones, replicas, etc.
Back to the lecture at hand, Jerry Wright (Itech) and Don Straus (Armadilla) were both nice enough to be interviewed on this topic and share their point of view. Jerry is fascinating because his Wright mask has been the most popular mask in the NHL for decades and the design has changed ownership. Don’s story is interesting because he designed his own shell and also painted the masks. His Hayward shark mask was voted the best paint job of all time and the Vanbiesbrouck Panther mask is a legend. In fact, it’s so legendary; it has been replicated by goalies at every level… without his permission.
Jerry was my first interview on this subject. Starting with him only made sense because his mask has a direct tie in to “The Trends” article. In corresponding with Jerry Wright, it seems his opinion may have evolved overtime. When asking his overall opinion on the clones, he replied “I suppose at this late stage- honored. However, when Wright Design was operational another set of choice words would have been my reaction every time I discovered another clone on the market”. He went on to highlight the main reason the authentic article is so crucial, especially when it involves protecting your head. “A clone cannot, accurately enough, replicate the integrity of the fine details that went into the original shell. I understand you pay more for the finer details, but buying a less expensive clone does not fully replicate the original 960/ 961 function and fit. Aesthetically, this is more subjective. I have never seen an improvement with any clone over the original and I think that this has also has influenced how everything played out. I have not yet witnessed widespread clone use in the professional ranks, let alone in the NHL”.
“The amount of work that goes into the development of a successful model requires extensive tooling, design development, financial investment, stops and starts, and alterations before the functional whole of a concept can come together. If a clone is developed that has only copied the end of a long project, took no risks, or lacked personal investment, they are really conceding they have nothing of their own. Looking for financial revenue through my design-work is something I cannot really respect”.
The other interesting avenue Jerry discussed pertains to evolution of design. “When  came out in 1993, the look of this mask was a radical departure from the Harrison design. Though it became the dominate NHL mask, with 50-60% use, I was always afraid that someone would come up with something better. Now that was 25 years ago and my mask is basically still being copied...
The irony for me is that the original 961 was not even, in the end, one of my better masks. In my opinion, custom designs for Hextall, Fuhr, Joseph, Fleury, which began in 1995, were all better. They do look similar but the fit was much improved with the later iterations. These are the masks that should have been cloned if people knew about them! In all, I have developed about two dozen molded designs during my association with Itech and four since Bauer has taken over my original work. I never stopped developing new product. I am not sure why other manufactures didn’t undertake to eclipse my early model.”
Jerry’s last point raises a great question. When you think about it, all the copycat masks out there have probably held back the evolution of goalie mask. If smaller companies, with the freedom to try unique ideas, set out to beat the Wright mask, instead of copy it, would a safer or more beautiful helmet exist?
The other mask pioneer who spoke with us was Don Straus. To my knowledge, Don is the only other mask maker besides Harrison who built his own masks and painted them. It gives Don an incredibly unique perspective because he has an opinion on copying the helmet design and copying the art.
Aside from the unique mask maker and painter combo, the Armadilla also has a unique background that shapes the aesthetic. Don’s expertise is art, engineering, and a lifetime involved motorsport. ”I strongly feel that not being immersed neck deep in the game gave me a clear view of the task at hand, and allowed me to approach the design of the Armadilla without any preconceived notions or bias. As I became more involved, I saw - and continue to see - that the vast majority of manufacturers continue to draw very heavily on the style and construction of the mask Greg Harrison developed during the 90s. I have a defect that always keeps me striving to improve. To improve something, you need to change it. Rehashing someone else’s design didn’t cut it for me.”
When asking Don if he would be honored or flattered if anyone copied his legendary shell design, he said that it has happened before. I actually was not aware of the referenced issue(s) and have always been surprised there has not been a widely known Armadilla clone. Maybe the reason is Don’s understandable passion behind protecting his design. He has a “zero acceptance” for the copycats and will never “let that slide”.
On the artistic side of thing, Don has seen some of his coveted Armadilla masks pop up on resale and then get repainted by someone else with the Vanbiesbrouck Panther. It makes him cringe. “The art end of the business has been the source of some of my most satisfying moments, and the arena that has exposed some of the most retched, soulless, ass sucking rat-bastards you could think of. During my time actively creating images, an unhealthily high percentage of my time was spent trying to educate a public that didn’t seem to want to know (or care to), and protect my craft/work/livelyhood/heart/soul from those who figured that my (and all other artists’) created images were ripe for free picking. Yes, it’s flattering that much of my work is held in high regard, but a ‘compliment’ does not allow you to take whatever you desire.”
Don actually had a mask design copied by another NHL painter while he was active and had his mask design published in print without his permission or compensation. In the case of the printed material, Don actually protected his designs via the legal system and it changed how mask copyrights were handled moving forward.
The opinions above of Jerry and Don are amazingly candid. They are both out of the business, on to other endeavors, and are basically removed from hockey. This status gave them the freedom to share their real thoughts. That’s often really hard for anyone whose livelihood still depends on the business of hockey.
In full disclosure, I have always wanted a Potvin mask. I will now never get one. I previously wore a 960 clone for a year and will never do so again. I fully agree with Don and Jerry’s opinions. Some of the practices widely accepted around goalie masks, mask art, or pad graphics are straight up copying.
I will respect their intellectual property and everyone else who has created anything. I will be doing everything I can moving forward to not personally support the plagiarism in hockey. As was seen with TGN Spec X Optik graphic, I took inspiration from multiple places, but do not directly copy anyone’s design. My pads will never be as loved as the OG’s Potvins, but I can proudly wear them with integrity.