Dave Gunnarsson has made hundreds of masks for hockey goalies all over the world. But the one he made for Herman Liv was extraordinary.
On top of the mask is the logo of HV71, a Swedish Hockey League team. The sides of the mask feature Stefan Liv, a goaltender who played 10 seasons with that club and is the father of Herman Liv.
In 2011, Stefan Liv signed with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League, but never played a game with them. On Sept. 7, 2011, he perished in the tragic plane crash that took the lives of 44 people, including every player onboard.
His memory lives on with the mask his son proudly wears.
Gunnarsson made this tribute mask for Herman Liv, honoring his late father, as part of his DAVEART HERO project. The premise of the project is a simple one: If you’ve done something good for someone else, Gunnarsson wants to reward you. “Anyone can be a HERO,” he writes on his website. “Maybe you are helping your grandma cut the grass every summer, maybe you’ve learned your little sister to swim. Anything good you have done for another human being. We want to give something to you!”
Twice a year, a person will be selected to receive a custom designed mask for free. The one he created for Herman Liv was the product of collaboration, commemoration and the culmination of a long-time friendship.
Gunnarsson first met Stefan Liv when the goaltender was a 19-year-old starting out with the HV71 senior team. Having painted masks since he was 16, he quickly became the man goalies went to in order to have a unique, custom look out on the ice.
Gunnarsson’s first mask for Liv? A tribute to Swedish goaltending legend Pelle Lindbergh.
Over time, Liv’s masks would feature family members, like his two sons, icons of Swedish sports stars, and when he went to the KHL, Russian legends like Greco-Roman wrestler Alexander Karelin. He was very involved in the design process, always stopping by Gunnarsson’s studio. When the two got together, the conversation wasn’t strictly kept to business.
“He was extremely warm hearted. Always asked how it was with my family and the kids,” Gunnarsson told Yahoo Sports. “And when media talked about his masks he always mentioned my name and helped me promote DaveArt. He was the goalie that came to my studio the most often.”
Even when Liv, a 2000 draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings, finally came to North America and spent the 2006-07 season with the NHL team’s AHL and ECHL affiliates in Grand Rapids and Toledo, Gunnarsson kept designing for him. Same for when Liv signed with Sibir of the KHL in 2010. And same for when he left for Lokomotiv one summer later.
Born in Poland and adopted by a Swedish family before he turned two, Liv came up through the HV71 youth system before eventually playing for the senior team in the Elitserien in 2000.
Honors soon followed, with Liv being named the Swedish Goaltender of the Year in 2002 and later the Swedish Player of the Year in 2008. He would win the Swedish league three times with HV71 and represent his country at five World Championships – winning gold, silver and bronze – and the 2006 Olympics where he served as a backup to Henrik Lundqvist when Tre Kronor took home the gold medal.
Since that dark day in that took the lives of 44 of the 45 souls on board, Liv’s memory has not been forgotten around the hockey world.
Four months after his death, HV71 retired Liv’s No. 1 jersey inside Kinnarps Arena with help from a then-five-year-old Herman. The Swedish Hockey League’s version of the Conn Smythe Trophy was renamed to the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy in 2012. In August 2013, the street outside of the arena was named in his honor. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who played with Liv in Grand Rapids, named his daughter Liv.
Another Grand Rapids teammate of Liv’s, goaltender Jimmy Howard, honored Liv and two other members of the Red Wings family who died in the crash, head coach Brad McCrimmon and defenseman Ruslan Salei, by putting their images on the back of his mask for the 2011-12 NHL season.
Gunnarsson was in his studio painting when he heard the news about the Lokomotiv crash. Since that day he’s kept in touch with Liv’s brother, Christian, and when he began the DAVEART HERO project, creating a mask for Herman was a perfect way to remember a great friend and a great father.
Gunnarsson presented Herman Liv with the mask last summer.
“He was very happy and it was so awesome to see his face when he got it,” Gunnarsson said.
The mask’s creation can’t solely be credited to Gunnarsson. Like old times, a Liv was involved in the process.
“[Herman and I] worked just like when I painted his father’s masks,” Gunnarsson said. “We brainstormed together, and he told me he wanted his daddy on the mask. We came up with a plan.”
Inside Gunnarsson’s home and studio you can find photos of Liv and alongside those of his own children. Gone, but never forgotten.
“He is always in our hearts.”
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