A goaltenders mask merges artwork, personality and sports together in a way that can make a statement or simply catch the eye. Knoxville Ice Bears goaltender Hayden Stewart designed his to do the former.
Stewart started playing organized hockey at the age of six – a native of Rockford, Illinois he grew up attending AHL hockey games for the Icehogs, it was there where he felt a life in the crease would suit him best. 12 years later the game would take him to southeast Texas.
Allen Morris was an avid hockey and baseball fan living in Corpus Christi, Texas. Morris, along with his wife Debbie served as Billets to the members of the Ice Rays hockey team – a junior hockey league.
Stewart and Morris were strangers living 1,277 miles apart. But the game they both loved would bring them together.
“That’s where you sleep, that’s where you eat,” Stewart explained. “That’s where you go home every night. They’re a big part of your life and they support you a lot and go to all the games.”
Allen and Debbie played Billet parents to Stewart for just one season before he left for the USHL. But in the time the Morris’ offered full support – when Stewart found out that his Billet dad had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer it was his turn to be the supporter.
“For me it wasn’t easy,” Stewart said. “My billet mom was having a hard time a lot. I would just text her asking how he was doing and just giving her some positive energy as much as I could.”
Allen Morris passed away in 2016.
Later that year, Stewart, now playing college hockey at Cornell University, was given the opportunity to design his hockey mask. Allen Morris quickly came to mind.
Stewart began collaborating with Sylvie Marsolais of Sylabrush, an airbrush artist whose mask art can be seen across the NHL. He asked for three things on his backplate: a cross, a purple ribbon for pancreatic cancer and a cowboy as representation of Allen Morris.
“The cowboy on the bronco, just kind of symbolizes my billet dad,” he said. “It’s kind of just that cowboy attitude. It’s being hardnosed, hard-working and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.”
Some wear their hearts on their sleeve, Stewart chooses to wear his on his helmet. Before every practice and every game his Billet dad is there reminding him to live every day like it’s the last.
“It’s special, I mean when you put your helmet on you kind of look at those symbols and it’s just like you’ve got to live life to the fullest,” Stewart said.