Interview: Dave Gunnarsson – The Man Behind The Capitals Masks


(Photo: DaveArt)

“There are a lot of thoughts behind every mask. I love masks that tell a story. For me this is not a job, it is a lifestyle. It is my fantasy I live on and I come up with all kind of crazy ideas all the time. I save all my ideas and sketch them every day and save them in my archive, but some ideas are so crazy so maybe I only use 10% of them…haha”

These are the words of artist Dave Gunnarsson, the mastermind behind the unique, intricately-designed masks worn by professional goalies around the world. In this piece, NoVa Caps takes a look at the making of these masks, with a focus on the masks Gunnarsson has created for Washington Capitals.

snowsplatterAt some point in life as a Capitals fan, one may have wondered where the Caps’ goalies get their cool-looking masks. Every NHL goalie has their own unique mask, customized specifically for them. The mastermind behind many of these designs?: Artist Dave Gunnarsson.

Gunnarsson has been painting masks since he was very young, and started his own business when he was just 16-years old. Over the years, he has worked exclusively with professional goalies from all over the world, including NHL netminders. Goalies such as Braden Holtby, Henrik Lundqvist, and Semyon Varlamov work with Gunnarsson to create personalized masks they can display through the season. Gunnarsson explained it in an interview with NoVa Caps like this: “The NHL goalies are very creative and come up with lots of cool and funny ideas. I have fun every day at work and laugh a lot”.

Semyon VarlomovDanEllis

Over the years, the Capitals’ goalies have sported all sorts of masks, including Braden Holtby’s Hockey Fights Cancer mask worn on October 28th. The goal behind making these masks is for Gunnarsson to “get inside” the goalie’s brain, to figure out exactly the player wants and how to do create what is envisioned. For example, in Jose Theodore’s 2009-10 mask below, Theodore told Gunnarsson that he wanted detail and a theme about Washington, and it includes Bald Eagles on both sides, the White House and stars.


The Capitals’ netminders have always had masks that are captivating and jaw-dropping. Each goalie has a story or reason behind the design and Gunnarsson says that making a mask is a process. Some goalies honor family members or their home country, while others pay tribute to childhood idols or goalies from their team’s history.

In former Capital Semyon Varlamov’s 2009-10 Russia/USA mask, the Russian netminder honored both America and his homeland with a design that included both the American and Russian flags, with Mount Rushmore on one side, and the Russian double-headed eagle on the other. (Photos and details via


Current Capital Braden Holtby has worked with Gunnarsson his entire pro career and Gunnarsson says working with a goalie as he evolves as a player is one of the benefits of his work, as well as sharing his thoughts on working with the Washington’s goalies.

“I love to work with the Washington Capitals, and I’m looking forward to every new Caps mask I create. It is a wonderful feeling to work with a goalie for many years, for example Braden Holtby, and see how he grows and becomes a superstar. I really like the old school vintage designs we have created together the last years”.

Some of those designs include Holtby’s 2013 mask, which features the Capitals’ white third jersey, which also happens to be the team’s very first uniforms. Others include Holtby’s 2015 Winter Classic mask, which includes Uncle Sam, as well as a tribute to Capitals great Olaf Kolzig. Holtby’s mask for the 2015-16 season also features Uncle Sam. (Photos from


The time to make these masks vary, depending on the design and amount of detail needed. According to Gunnarsson: “Very different, some clean designs take a few hours, some detailed paintings very many…”. The artistry and beauty behind these masks is absolutely stunning. The time, patience and brilliance of Gunnarsson is what makes these masks so amazing. To see

daveartstudiosDAVEART is situated in Vrigstad in southern Sweden. The studio is a totally unique artist studio tailor-made for David’s painting and his business. David’s painting studio is symbolically placed in the middle and heart of the studio, and around there are facilities for activities and events like exhibitions, visits, shops, stock etc. The studio was completed in 2007.  Please visit the DaveArt website at: DaveArt

By Michael Fleetwood

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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