Washington Capitals backup goaltender Pheonix Copley has spent five years in professional hockey. Throughout those years he’s had an array of different designs to his goalie masks, but all of his buckets have one thing in common in their design, which is candy canes on his chin. Candy canes may seem like an odd item to include on a professional hockey player’s paraphernalia, but the sugary candies have a symbolic meaning to the 26-year old netminder.
Copley was born January 18, 1992 in North Pole, Alaska. This little town prides itself with the Christmas spirit during the holidays, and Copley includes the iconic Christmas symbol on his maks to carry a piece of his heritage with him wherever he has played.
His first appearance in a candy cane mask came in October 2014 during his rookie season with the the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears in his first stint in the Washington Capitals organization. While sporting this mask, Copley finished the season with a 17-4-3 record, a .925 save percentage, stopping 677 shots in 26 games, and 2.17 goals-against average. Swedish airbrush artist, David Gunnarsson, who is legendary for his creations, created and named his piece “Rise of the Pheonix- My Home Alaska.”
Due to wear and tear and chip damage, Gunnarsson created another piece that was claimed to be interactive. David states “When you look at the paintings on the sides through a camera and invert the colors… it transforms in front of your eyes and the eagles emerges…” Copley was first seen sporting this interactive mask in February 2015. As seen below, this mask sported the famous candy canes on the chin as a tribute to his hometown and so the tradition began.
Following his first season with the organization Copley was included in the trade deal that landed the Caps T.J. Oshie from the St. Louis Blues, while Copley, forward Troy Brouwer, and a third-round draft pick were sent the other way. Despite the franchise change, Gunnarsson once again created a piece for Copley to fit while playing with the Blues’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves. This mask was classy from a distance, but a closer look reveals the intricate detail and tribute to his hometown, including the famous candy canes. The mask was unveiled in October 2015, prior to the 2015-16 season in which Copley finished with a 15-16-3 record, with a save percentage of .909, stopping 969 shots in 37 games, and a 2.79 goals-against average. Copley also made his NHL debut with the Blues during the 2015-16 campaign, entering a game against the Nashville Predators with 4:26 left in the second period, subsequently stopping five of the six shots he faced.
On August 8, 2016, Copley tweeted a video of his new mask, once again, designed by Gunnarsson. He did not abandon the candy cane tribute, and it is now an expected sight on Copley’s masks. Unfortunately for the design, he was unable to sport his new mask for St. Louis very long as he was traded back to the Capitals during the 2016-17 season in a blockbuster deal that involved defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
— Pheonix Copley (@PheonixCopley) August 8, 2016
Due to the nature of the trade, Copley was seen sporting his Blues mask and pads in Hershey before his new Capitals-themed mask was ready for action.
By mid-March, his Capitals-themed mask was ready to see some ice time in Hershey. Copley set his career-high in save percentage at .931 in 16 games, stopping 443 shots good enough for a 11-5-0 record, with a 2.15 goals-against average.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 22, 2017
Copley’s mask for the 2017-18 season featured the Capitals’ signature red color, stars, the famous “Weagle” logo, with the candy canes on the chin. Copley played to a 2.91 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in 41 games played in a difficult season for the Bears.
Copley’s 2018-19 mask is his first as a full-time NHL player, having earned the backup role behind starter Braden Holtby in training camp and during the preseason. It features designs that drew inspiration from Alaskan art and America’s National Bird, the Bald Eagle. More on the design can be found in HERE. Copley is enjoying a fine first season in the NHL, having recently earned his first NHL shutout over the Ottawa Senators.
His style and masks may have changed quite often throughout his career, but one thing remains the same with Copley no matter his career trajectory, and that are his iconic and symbolic candy canes. Copley once told the media, “All the time, people ask me what they’re for, it’s kind of a random thing, but it’s cool. It kind of pops on the chin. It’s just a little tribute to North Pole.” A fitting tribute indeed.
By Allison Shuey