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Khabibulin combines Russian pride, Oilers history on his mask

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TSN.ca Staff
10/28/2009 11:23:53 PM
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TSN continues to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the debut of the goalie mask by looking at some of the more creative designs in today's NHL.

Edmonton Oilers netminder Nikolai Khabibulin has played for his fair share of teams in the NHL, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes and Winnipeg Jets.

But in this, his first season with the Oil, the man known as the "Bulin Wall" may have his most intricate mask yet in his long career.

On the front is the Oilers logo displayed over top of an oil well. A two-headed eagle spans across the entire width of the mask - that part was present when Khabibulin played for Tampa and Chicago. The new addition in honour of his current squad? In the eagle's talons is the old-school mask of former Oilers goaltending great Grant Fuhr.

Underneath everything is a brick wall (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the Berlin Wall - see Khabibulin's point about this later in the story), and in large orange letters it says "Bulin Wall" near the bottom. It's a smartly designed head protector and it doesn't go unappreciated by the man inside.

"I think the mask is a big, big part of the goalie's personality," said Khabibulin, but he concedes he wasn't always so convinced of that.

"At the start of my career, I wasn't really particular in what I had on my masks," said the 36-year-old. "The first couple of years I couldn't really speak English very well so I couldn't really explain what I wanted.

"Quite frankly, I didn't really care what it was as long as it kind of looked cool and was colourful and stuff like that. But over the years, I started to get a little more particular in what I wanted."

For Khabibulin, it was important to instill a personal touch in relation to his home country of Russia with his new cage, and also to pay homage to the storied legacy of the Oilers.

"I wanted there to be some Russian flavour," said the 6'1, 209-pound keeper. "The bricks are supposed to be like bricks from the Kremlin Wall.

"I wanted to reflect a little bit on the Oilers' history. That's why I have this old-style mask of Grant Fuhr. I don't think there's anybody better than Fuhr for the Oilers so it goes well with the retro style."

Khabibulin was drafted 204th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the ninth round of the 1992 NHL Entry Draft.

On July 1, 2009, he signed a 4-year contract with Edmonton worth $15 million. He is 5-4-1 with a .906 save percentage and a 3.07 GAA so far this season.

Nikolai Khabibulin (Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)
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