MURFREESBORO — Although Scott Sulfridge’s favorite team failed to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, he has more reason than most fans to be excited.
The MTSU student’s favorite sport gave his budding art career a boost when Nashville Predators fans picked his creation as the winner of this season’s Design the Mask contest.
“The design was purely based on the new jerseys that Nashville acquired a couple of years ago,” Sulfridge said.
The mask mimics those jerseys’ vibrant gold color on which Sulfridge emblazoned a guitar neck and strings across the top and piano keys around the bottom edge to symbolize Nashville’s music industry, as well as the city skyline. The guitar pick on the mask includes the three stars from the Tennessee state flag.
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne wore the mask during the morning skate and warm-up practice prior to the Preds’ thrilling 4-3 March 30 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals on home ice at Bridgestone Arena.
Sulfridge attended the game with three guests and went to the Predators’ locker room after the game to meet Rinne and get autographs. He also attended a closed-door morning team skate practice.
The art major’s love of hockey began with his father, a Buffalo Sabres fan who took his son to see the Nashville Knights, a minor league team that played before the National Hockey League located a franchise in the Music City.
“My uncle deepened my appreciation of hockey, too, as the 97-98 season started,” said Sulfridge. “What’s funny about that is he’s not even American or Canadian. He’s from Australia!”
Fans submitted designs for the mask through the Internet, an app or in person at AT&T stores in January. The three finalists were chosen from more than 150 entries by Predators officials. The finalists were put to a vote of the fans via the Web.
Sulfridge’s winning design was forwarded to NHL headquarters for approval and then to Dave Gunnarsson, a Swedish artist who has been painting goalie masks for more than 20 years.
On pace to graduate with a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in December 2014, Sulfridge credits associate professor Michael Baggarly with helping to make him a better artist.
“He’s always pushed me to do my hardest work, even when I thought I had done my hardest work,” Sulfridge said.
In the meantime, Sulfridge and his partner, James Mangrum, are creating a different type of mask through their fledgling business, Uncanny Valley Productions.
“We’re hoping to branch out into a little more diverse and complex forms of mask making, but right now we do vacuum-form styrene plastic masks,” Sulfridge said. “And we specialize in vintage and retro-style monsters like vampires, mummies, things like that.”
Sulfridge’s favorite mask, however, is one he did not make from scratch. It’s the one that bears his design and Pekka Rinne’s autograph. It’s a mask he’ll keep for the rest of his life.