Artist has goal-den touch

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

You have seen Marlene Ross' wonderful artwork, probably more often than you realize.

It comes into your home just about every time you watch a National Hockey League game.

Ross' latest creations will be getting plenty of tube time over the next few weeks as Team Canada goaltenders Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo will each be wearing masks adorned with Ross' designs at the Olympic Winter Games.

"I'm going to feel a lot of pride. It's like being a brand new mother," said Ross, who painted Brodeur's mask for the Salt Lake Games four years ago and saw it captured in that memorial photo of Brodeur, his arms upraised, as Canada won the gold.

"Salt Lake was just tremendous. I'm hoping for the same luck in my brush this time around."

Ross, working out of her studio, a converted coach house on the property she shares with her husband in Brockville, has designed and painted masks for more than 50 pro goaltenders.

LOTS OF NHL CLIENTS

In addition to Brodeur and Luongo, Curtis Joseph (Phoenix Coyotes), J.S. Giguere (Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), Marc Denis (Columbus Blue Jackets), Garth Snow (New York Islanders), Jose Theodore (Montreal Canadiens), Martin Biron (Buffalo Sabres), Mathieu Garon (Los Angeles Kings), Dan Cloutier (Vancouver Canucks) and Kevin Weekes (New York Rangers) are among her clients.

Former Senator Patrick Lalime is a client as was Manon Rheaume, who made history as the first woman to play in an NHL exhibition game (Rheaume's Team Canada mask is on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame).

Brodeur liked the design of the mask he wore in Salt Lake, so the one he wears in Turin this time won't depart too radically from a design that features a prominent Team Canada logo on the forehead, said Ross yesterday.

Luongo will have a prominent panther with the Team Canada logo on one side and a Canadian flag on the other.

"Each one has its own personality, but they're both pretty predictable men," said Ross with an affectionate chuckle.

She speaks to each player to find out what kind of theme they would like on their mask and then comes up with a design. After the player gives her the okay, she brings the drawing to life on the mask.

The 37-year-old, who was raised in Merrickville, has been doing goalie masks since she was 19. She did her first one -- with a penguin motif -- for a local man.

"He heard I would paint on anything," said Ross. "It was a novel thing and I thought it would be my first and last."

A year went by and during that time the mask caught the eye of a mask manufacturer and things went from there.

Her first NHL client was Ron Hextall. He wanted a polar bear on his mask during his time with the Quebec Nordiques and Ross came up with a menacing-looking bear, its fangs bared, which has become a familiar look on other masks, featuring other creatures (Luongo's Panther, Cujo's dog...)

Ross, who used to spend most of her time painting wine bottles and doing some portrait work, now does goaltenders' masks exclusively. The job has its perks.

One of her highlights was getting the opportunity to present Brodeur with his first Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender at the 2003 NHL Awards Gala in Toronto.

She likes doing work for Dallas Stars farmhand Mike Smith, "a very details-oriented man," she said.

"Every year it's something brand new and it's always very challenging."

Last March, she did a mask for Smith that featured a tribute to Kingston rockers The Tragically Hip, Smith's favourite band (he's from Kingston, too).

The mask featured the five band members in concert on the forehead. The word "Hip" was on one ear and a Dallas Star on the other.

"We were totally surprised and honoured," said Hip lead guitarist Rob Baker, according to Ross' website (marlenerossdesign.com).

Ross' work will be taking centre stage once the Olympics start for Team Canada in a couple of weeks. While Brodeur's and Luongo's masks are basically red, they would love to once again add some gold highlights.


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