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Photo Credit: https://pgcougars.com/canucks-alumnus-kirk-mclean-to-visit-prince-george-for-scotiabank-hockey-day-in-canada/

Unmasking Vancouver Canucks Legends: A Conversation with Kirk McLean

As the Canucks transitioned from the highly-questionable “Flying V” jersey to the skate logo, which had versions of yellow, black, and eventually white, so did the team’s roster. In the early 1980s, “King” Richard Brodeur backstopped the Vancouver Canucks to a Stanley Cup Final appearance, but towards the end of the decade and well into the 1990s it was “Captain” Kirk McLean that won over the hearts of Canucks fans everywhere.

Kirk McLean is known for two legendary moments in Canucks history: The Save and the feeling of relief. The Save was the famous two-pad stack on Robert Reichel in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarter-Final in 1994 which led to the Stanley Cup run that spring. The moment of relief was after Game 6 in Vancouver after the Canucks defeated the New York Rangers to force a deciding and eventual fateful Game 7 defeat.

Chatting with Kirk McLean was an absolute treat because not only was he willing to talk about the history of his mask but the stories throughout his career bring it all together and he gets why the feeling of those 90s Canucks was so special.

Hopefully, after this, you’ll know Kirk a bit better and your love for him will grow as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing Kirk McLean.

Ryan Hank: The skate jersey was pretty iconic for Canucks fans and the NHL as well, your mask is part of that; when you picked it were you trying to something simple or did you have something specific planned for it?

Kirk Mclean: To be honest with you, the only thing that I kind of designed or picked for myself was my backplate, I put my family tartan on the backplate on the second mask, my first mask didn’t have that. It was the second mask that I started doing that.

And then there would be certain little hints of it on the front but I left up the design to the mask maker who was Greg Harrison. He created the mask and he’s an amazing artist to boot. I left it in his hands and we would discuss a bit of something and he wanted to have a bit of the skate at that time in the design but also the flying V as well with the multi-color of the orange, black, and the yellow.

RH: Basically a transition from the old to the new. When you first got to Vancouver you wore the first version of the skate, correct?

KM: Yes, I just missed the flying V but we had the V on the shoulders and the pants.

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RH: To me, I look at the yellow one you had and the next one was awesome, but I forgot how cool the yellow one looked.

KM: Well it was. When I got here I just had the helmet and the cage and the hybrid masks started to come in 88, late 87. I actually got my first mask at the end of the season in 87. It had the yellow background because we wore the yellow jersey as the home and obviously the budgets back then weren’t like they are now so in the summertime I had to bring it to Greg and he re-did it because we changed to the white sweater and painted the base white.

RH: I didn’t ask this to John (Garrett) but the team gives you a budget for a mask every year?

KM: Well… yeah… it was one mask, that was it. They were $2500 or $2000 to go get it all done and we had to get them done from Harrison anyway, he was the only guy and then a couple of French guys, Lefebvre and a few other guys came along out of Montreal and started doing them but Greg had been doing them for years.

He did the Jacques Plante mask, he did all those guys. He was the innovator of the whole hybrid mask. At the end of the day, he never patented it, figure that one out. He was just an artist, he was a goalie. In the 70s he was a practice goalie as well.

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We had to go through the whole process in the summertime and get it molded to your face. He’d put the tubes up your nose and all that kind of jazz and he created this mold that he would keep. A little bit later, he would redesign it down by the chin would come down a bit further to give you a bit more protection if need be. That was it though, I never had two masks, per se.

In Vancouver, I went through four masks total in my tenure and even when I got traded to Carolina, I kept that mask and basically just taped it over and he didn’t make another mask until I got to Florida and then he made me a brand new mask there and then in New York.

Basically in Vancouver, we kept the same mask for a couple of years. If need be, if a buckle broke or something you tried to waste a little bit of time so the trainer could run and get a new buckle and you’d have to throw on the backup goaltenders mask that he had on the bench.

RH: I guess you’ve seen a few of those.

KM:  Which didn’t necessarily fit well.

RH: I guess if you had a bigger or a smaller head it could be a problem. In 1996, you changed your mask. I was trying to figure out what was on the side there, was it a dragon or a wolf or..

KM: It was a lion. A Scottish lion.

RH: Like the crest?

KM: Yes, it’s the crest. If you look it up, Scotland has two flags: the St. Andrews Cross and the Rampant Lion Flag which is kind of like the people’s flag, if you will. It has the Scottish Lion on it, the Lion Rampant it’s called. We couldn’t get the whole thing on there because it wouldn’t have really looked good, so we just went with the top part of it.

At that time, people kind of knew the theme I was going for obviously because of the tartan on my back piece.

RH: So that actually answers my second question, when they went to the Orca and you had the colour makeover and obviously you added a bit of the Orca in there as well as the Lion, but then that’s where that tartan comes at the top. I was wondering the reasoning on that but it makes sense now.

KM: Right, exactly. That’s exactly what it was. He’s a perfectionist, right? He always knew what the theme was going to be. When we changed the colours he did some research on my tartan about these colours which was a little different from my usual colours but it was a city colour of Toronto or something, I didn’t know what he was saying.

He totally researches that kind of stuff and he’s totally anal about what he puts on everybody’s mask, obviously because it rubs off on him.

RH: But he’s a pro.

KM: Yeah, 100%, a perfectionist and maybe to a fault because it took forever to get a mask when you ordered it. It was always back-ordered. He was also doing stuff not just for the pros but people would come in,  Junior B players and he might have two or three at a time and he’d be going through all these different designs and I’m sure if he didn’t like it he would probably start all over.

It would take a good two to three months before you ended up getting your mask, sometimes you had to put the heat on him.

RH: Would you order it, I guess if you were knocked out of the playoffs, then right after?

KM: Right away, you’d order it right away. I was lucky enough, in the early days in my first few years in Vancouver I would always go back to Toronto because that’s where I grew up and I was able to actually go and see him and watch what he was doing and breathe over his neck a bit to keep the heat on him.

No, he was always really good to me. I tell you what, to date, I still think he makes the best masks and the most protective masks. It’s not just manufactured and rolled off the line, they’re hand made. I know the other ones are all approved, CSA approved but he’s a scientist and the maker of the fiberglass and everything.

He’s always messing around with the deflectors on the mask, those little grooves you see. They’re super important. Those are the parts of the mask that will deflect the puck if it comes straight at you. Even if you get it dead straight in the forehead it still somehow deflects it a little bit.

RH: This is why I love it, you see all these masks and a lot of them are shaped by Harrison but there’s a story behind them.

KM: Yeah.

RH: I love the fact that there is a story to these. That mask is an extension of who you are. I’ve always loved the art on it because it amplifies who that player is, you’re a superhero and you turn into a different person with that mask on.

KM: What it is, in a goofy way you try to intimidate the other team a little bit, I don’t think it really works. People get a kick out of it and like you said it’s your personality and I love the goalies of today that they’re lucky enough to pull off I dunno, probably four or five of them in one year. Depending on what’s going on, they have a different one for the different jerseys now which is kind of cool.

To be honest, I don’t know if they keep them or donate them but some of the designs are fantastic and what they’re able to do to capture the occasion of the game whether its a heritage game or St. Paddy’s Day or over the Christmas break.

This year was kind of cool, Demko, they were wearing the skate jersey five times this year so on the back of his mask he wore, on the back piece was Trevor and I, it was the hug that he had painted on it. When he told me about it I didn’t even know and it caught me by surprise and I was quite taken back by that.

RH: Well, my twitter handle is always90four, and I always thought everything always seemed to come back to that ’94 team; 2011 changed that a little bit but you’ve said it too, there is that special place in every Canucks’ fans heart for that ’94 team which we can’t shake.

KM: Exactly, I guess that kind of era where people that are 10 years younger or 10 years older that still remember that and hopefully it never goes away because it’s a wonderful feeling and it’s nice to know that we hold a special part of peoples lives. We play to win and to bring success to the city but at the end of the day we didn’t do what we wanted to do and what we set out to do but to have people still tell you “We’re proud of you guys, I remember where we were and what we were doing”.

Sometimes, I like them to think, beyond that what led up to that team years before because we had very good teams leading up to that ’94 run where we underachieved from myself out and took kind of a weird year where we had a good hockey club but we backed in, as you know, backed into the playoffs and then BOOM, things just happen.

RH: That save doesn’t happen and all of a sudden it feels like another year.

KM: Greg Adams with two minutes left, three minutes left scores the tying goal. If he doesn’t score that we don’t get to the overtime.

RH: The one thing I always remember when Lafayette hit the post and Linden did too, but Bure had one right across the goal line that no one seems to remember and that to me was the closest one.

KM: There was a lot of that going on and I credit to Nathan because it wasn’t a tough redirection towards the goal he had to body-position himself to get good wood on it to get it towards the goal because there was somebody on him and he comes across and directed it and hits the post.

One inch on one side and it goes in the net. That’s just the way it is.

Gretzky’s 802 goal, we win the game but he scores the goal. If I’m not mistaken, Pavel scored his 50th goal in that game but nobody remembers that.

RH: I was so mad. That one affects me the most. That Christmas I got tickets to my first ever Canucks games. My cousin got me hooked on the Canucks that year and told me “You have to see this Pavel Bure guy, he’s amazing!”. So, I got tickets to the Kings game on Sunday and Gretzky scored 802 on Thursday in LA and I was so mad and thought “SERIOUSLY? you couldn’t have waited for one more game?”

I was kind of bitter but then Bure nets a hat-trick on Sunday so I wasn’t so bummed out after.

OK, I have two more questions: Do you have a favourite mask either from a current goalie or the past?

KM: You know what, probably from the past. A lot of them now they’re like little novels on their masks, there’s so much going on. A few of them brought homage to the old school, they had ears sticking out. I thought that was kind of cool at the beginning.

Now they have so much going on. I liked Gary Bromley who played here as well, Bones was his nickname. He had the skull on his mask, that was fantastic! That’s one that really sticks out a lot to me but going to the 70s there wasn’t a ton of paint jobs even Jim Rutherford when he played in Detroit, he had the wings coming out of his eyes, that was pretty cool.

Simple but effective.

RH: The skate jersey has made its way back to the Canucks, who do you think had the best (skate) mask: Miller, Demko, or Markstrom?

KM: I can’t be partial, I like them all. I could lean a little bit towards Demko because of what he had, with Trevor and I on the back piece.

RH: That counts, that’s OK. I have one last question: When you went to New York, what was that like? I know kind of a loaded question.

KM: It was a little strange, walking down the tunnels into the locker rooms. I tell you what, it was two pretty damn good years. We had a team on paper that should have won a Stanley Cup but it was so dysfunctional.

We had some real good hockey players but a lot of guys were coming towards the end, still productive, but it’s well documented with a few of those players and what they’ve gone through. We were just so dysfunctional and couldn’t pull it together.

The organization was fantastic, the city and surrounding areas were second to none. I think Gretz said if any hockey player has a chance to play in New York for one year, they should do it, and he’s right!

If you’re willing to go there for one year and live in the area, live in Manhattan, they should do it.

RH: Again, these are the stories I think are neat to hear. Everyone has a different perspective on the same thing but it’s great.

Thank you so much, Kirk!

KM: No problem, enjoy the rest of your St. Paddy Day.

RH: Thanks, you too.

 

It was a great chat with Captain Kirk and his mask’s trip through the Canucks and the NHL. Stay tuned for my next guest…