On the evening of Sept. 7, Todd Miska of Miska Designs received a text message from Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding, whose mask Miska was designing for the 2011-12 NHL season.
According to Miska, the message simply read: "Can we make some room for Pavol?"
A plane had crashed in Russia, killing every member of the KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team including Pavol Demitra, Harding's teammate with the Wild from 2006-08.
His death this year followed that of Derek Boogaard, who played with Harding on the Wild from 2005-10; Rick Rypien, who was Harding's teammate with the WHL Regiona Pats from 2001-2004; and Harding's grandmother Rosemarie, whose name is listed on the side of the mask with a large rose.
"It's kind of a depressing mask, but yet [also] not, you know what I mean?" said Miska. "It's sad, but it's got some energy to it. Josh is always the guy out front doing that. He doesn't care if he has a red rose on the front of his helmet, he's going to make a statement."
Harding has used his mask as a tribute before, wearing one that memorialized the victims of that 1-35W bridge disaster in Minnesota back in 2008, and wearing pink breast cancer ribbons on his mask in 2006-07 to honor his sister Stephanie when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. He also wore a mask that referenced the equipment truck fire that claimed the team's gear in 2010.
The initial plan was to honor his grandmother on the mask. That was expanded to Boogaard and Rypien after their shocking deaths this summer, and then to Demitra last week.
"It's crazy. I've got [Demitra's] stick on my wall. I've got pictures of my kids with Pavol, and with Boogaard. They kind of grew up at the rink over there," said Miska.
As the back of Harding's mask reads: "Always in our hearts." It's a mantra many hockey fans have adopted after this year of tragedy. Let's hope this isn't the only facet of the NHL uniform this season that features a memorial to those the community lost.
s/t to the HF Boards. Photos via Wild training staff.