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Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

A goaltender's job is to take something that's seemingly simple — putting the puck in the net — and turn it into an addictive series of frustrations, tension and occasional triumphs.

You know … just like playing "Angry Birds."

How appropriate, then, that the time-sucking video game that's lit up smart phones around the world was given one of the ultimate honors in hockey recently, as its characters adorned a goalie mask created by David Arrigo, one of the most celebrated mask artists in the business.

The inspiration for the mask, which originally appeared on Houses of the Hockey? A 7-year-old goalie for the Toronto Junior Canadiens from Vaughan, Ont., Canada.

"He came to me, and it's funny: His father said he was a big [New Jersey Devils goalie] Martin Brodeur(notes) fan, and maybe that should be on his mask. And the kid's like, 'No, no, no … I want 'Angry Birds!'" said Arrigo of the young goalie, whose name wasn't released due to his age.

"I could tell the father was really getting a little frustrated, which I thought was hilarious."

The request having been made, Arrigo's next step was finding out what, exactly, "Angry Birds" was. In this sense, he's like a Hollywood writer working on a subject they're not familiar with — Arrigo downloaded the app and immersed himself in "Angry Birds" to capture the essence of the game.

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

The mask was created over a period of four days, with the large angry red bird an obvious choice for the most prominent image. It's a mask ready to be worn for a game … assuming the young goalie it's been created for ever does wear it.

"I got an email from the Hockey Hall of Fame this morning, and they want to put it on display," said Arrigo. "As soon as this kid finds out what's going on, this thing's going to end up on eBay. It's not the first time, I tell you."

Check out more from Arrigo's blog here.

Ah, but the intersection between goalie masks and video games doesn't end with agitated birds being sling-shot at villainous pigs. Coming up, a look at some other pixel inspiration being worn by hockey goaltenders.

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

"God of War"

NHL goalie Chris Mason(notes) is a noted gamer, battling teammates on the road in games ranging from "SOCOM" to "Guitar Hero." As a member of the Nashville Predators in 2007, Mason honored his video game obsession by putting Kratos, the anti-hero from Sony's "God of War" series, on the top of his helmet. Said Mason to USA Today with a laugh: "It's one of my favorite video games, and I thought the character was pretty cool."

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

"Pac-Man"

Even the oldest of old school games has gotten a nod on a goalie mask. Like many goalies, former University of Maine netminder Scott Darling used the back plate of his mask for personal messages and good-luck charms. From the Portland Press Herald:

From left to right, there's a white ghost from the Pac-Man video games. A rubber duckie covered by the prohibition sign. The numeral one, backwards, in orange and brown. A nautical star -- a Darling family symbol, which is also tattooed on the back of Darling's upper arms.

Those symbols are on the helmets of three other Division I goalies: Kyle Rank at Bentley (who only wears white equipment), Corey Reichert at Miami of Ohio (whose motto is, ''Don't be a duck'') and Nick Eno at Bowling Green (spell his name backwards).

Beneath the horseshoe is a Latin saying — "Luctor et emergo." Darling translated the saying, a school motto that's tattooed on his back.  ''Struggle and emerge,'' he said.

"Struggle and emerge," incidentally, is also the unofficial motto of Pac-Man ghosts. (Photo via Dennis Pause on Flickr.)

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

"Assassin's Creed"

Perhaps best known for having Ned Flanders from "The Simpson's" on the back of several of his masks, current Montreal Canadiens goalie Peter Budaj(notes) also featured … well, the antithesis of Ned Flanders on a mask while playing for the Colorado Avalanche.

That would be Altair, the main character from Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed," whom Budaj honored in 2008 according to Mile High Hockey. (Due respect to an assassin, but it's nowhere near as cool as having Ned Flanders on his Slovakian Olympic team mask, okaley doakaley neighborino?)

"Grand Theft Auto IV"

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

When he was with the Chicago Blackhawks, Antti Niemi(notes) of the San Jose Sharks goaltender had a double-sided video game tribute with Altair (right) and Nico Bellic, the protagonist from "Grand Theft Auto IV" (left). It's an impressive visage of the GTA main character, but could use more smoldering cars and random homicides. (Image via HF Boards.)

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

"Final Fantasy X"

Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen(notes) has worn a nerd-tastic collection of hockey masks, including Heath Ledger's The Joker, Optimus Prime and characters from "Kill Bill." But he let his gamer freak flag fly when he put Yuna and Rikku, the protagonists from "Final Fantasy X" and "Final Fantasy X-2" on his mask.

Behind Angry Birds mask and other goalie video game tributes

And really, what better way to distract opposing players than with scantily clad digital hotties on either side of his head?

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