During Capitals Development Camp this past July, seventh round pick Sergey Kostenko came to America for the first time in his life. Despite not knowing a lick of English, the 20-year-old Russian goaltender was impressed by how the organization treated him. So much so that he negotiated out of his KHL contract with Metallurg Novokuznetsk to sign an entry-level contract with Washington a few days later.
“They take a very good care of the players here [in America],” Kostenko told RMNB’s Igor Kleyner during an interview in Reading, Pennsylvania, where Kostenko is rehabbing a shoulder injury with the ECHL’s Reading Royals. “Even the smallest things, like they asked me in Washington: ‘do you want to get your mask painted?’ And I said, ‘of course!'”
Last year, when Kostenko played for the Kuznetsk Bears of the MHL (Metallurg’s minor-league affiliate), he admitted that he was the only player in the league that wore a painted mask. “My coach was joking that I was a fashionista,” Kostenko recalled with a chuckle. In comparison to modern-day NHL goaltenders’ headwear, Kostenko’s mask design was simple. Painted orange to match Kuznetsk’s color-scheme, it included English phrases like “God Bless Me” in a messy typeface.
This being one of the premier organizations in the league, the mask could not stand. So the Capitals and Kostenko called up renowned mask designer David Gunnarsson and commissioned him to paint Sergey a new bucket. The Swedish artist, who has worked with almost all of the organization’s goalies, has recently churned out Braden Holtby’s capitol-themed mask, which honors his son Benjamin and Michal Neuvirth’s new mask, which features Caps great Olie Kolzig on its side.
Gunnarsson grilled Kostenko on the specific elements he wanted on his new mask. “I described everything in detail,” the young Russian said. “I wanted The White House on one side and the Kuznetsk Fortress on the other, with my motto Never Back Down in English on the back. The artist said he really liked my ideas.”
While including The White House was a tad obvious, the Kuznetsk Fortress has special meaning for Kostenko, a native of Novokuznetsk, Russia. The fort, built about 200 years ago, was a huge part of Russian defense line against the Chinese. It’s the most notable landmark of Kostenko’s hometown.
Meanwhile, Kostenko also requested to have Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’s logo imprinted on the back of his mask, to honor friends who died in last year’s tragic plane crash. “Never Back Down!” and “I Love My Family” were also elegantly painted on the backplate in the RMNB logo typeface, Russian.
In November, Kostenko received sketches from Gunnarsson. After Sergey gave approval, Gunnarsson began the involved painting process. This past weekend, after months of waiting, Kostenko got a surprise in the mail: his new mask.
The first thing the goaltender did was post photos on Twitter. Kostenko, who is close to starting his first game in Reading, will now make his debut it in style.
“[The Capitals] all but tie your skates,” beamed Kostenko. Now it’s up to him show his appreciation.
Photos via Sergey Kostenko. Interview and additional reporting by Igor Kleyner.
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