Through the first two games of the 2022-23 National Lacrosse League season, Rochester Knighthawks goaltender Rylan Hartley combined for 95 saves, two wins and an assist. Not bad for the third-year pro who was named the NLL’s Player of the Week on Tuesday.
However, what may be more impressive than Hartley’s stellar performances over the last two games was the debut of the young goalie’s new mask. In fact, you can’t really miss it unless you didn’t watch the Knighthawks take down the six-time NLL champion Toronto Rock 11-7 on Saturday.
Nor will you want to after you know how Hartley came up with the design.
“I have a little brother, Zachary, who’s 10 years old and he’s a big fan of mine,” said Hartley when asked about where the idea behind his mask came from. “When I come home, he’s always saying, ‘Good game, Ralphie,’ or he’s asking me when the next game is. He’s always so proud of me.”
And…what is there not to be proud of this season from Hartley?
The third-year pro has started both games to kick off the 2022-23 campaign for the Knighthawks and he hasn’t disappointed the Rochester fanbase, or Zachary, for that matter, helping propel the squad to back-to-back wins. Not to forget that this past weekend, Hartley made a career-best 50 saves in the 11-7 win, including 30 shots in the second half, and keeping the Rock off the board during a perfect fourth-quarter performance.
We’re pretty sure it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual between Hartley and his little brother. While Zachary is immensely proud of Rylan for everything he’s done this season, and in his lacrosse career, the Knighthawks goaltender is equally as proud of his younger brother.
Hence, the idea behind Hartley’s new mask.
“So, I said (to Zachary), ‘Would you like to design my helmet this year?’ He said yeah, so he came home from school one day and on the back of his schoolwork he had the layout of what he would like and he said, ‘You don’t have to do it if you don’t like this design’ and then I said, ‘No, that’s what we’re going to go with’.”
Once Hartley had his brother’s sketch in hand, he headed over to an artist and had the mask brought to life, not changing a single thing.
“We didn’t change anything. Everything on that helmet is from Zachary. It’s a great piece of myself to look at before the game and remember why I play.”
We aren’t kidding when we say you can’t miss Hartley’s mask.
The new mask is predominantly florescent green and black. Zachary picked everything down to the bright color and every symbol featured. The symbols just happen to be representative of Hartley’s upbringing in the lacrosse world and the relationship with his father, Paul.
There’s a van representing Hartley’s father’s work van that used to travel them to junior tournaments, the naps in-between and the hard work put in along the way.
“I remember putting so many kilometers on that thing with my dad. We spent so many moments together and the memories we’ve made…we used to clean out the back, take the tools out, and then, if we were away and had a tournament, we would throw the blankets in there and we’d take a nap between games.”
A bottle of root beer as a reminder that as much as this game matters, it doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things.
“Then, the root beer after our games, that was my dad and I…we would do our thing. We would go and get a root beer and it didn’t matter if it was a convenient store or a gas station or a restaurant, we’d get the root beer and we’d share it, and those two memories are my whole minor career.”
Then the line of, “Let a few hit you,” as a reminder that this game is supposed to be fun. After all, that’s why Hartley continues to play.
“The line, ‘Let a few hit you,’…when I got older, obviously, my dad wasn’t driving me to the games. So, a game he would always say, ‘Let a few hit you,’ just as a reminder that it’s for fun and that’s why we play the game.”
While Hartley’s mask serves as a reminder as to why he plays the game, it also serves as a reminder to all of us.
No matter what we’re doing – whether it’s a job, or a sport, or we’re just hanging out – it’s good to be grounded and to appreciate and love the ones around you. Simple moments can lead to core memories that help shape us forever, and it looks like Hartley has some of the best ones he’s made embedded on his helmet as he embarks on what could be his breakout season in the NLL.