Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck shows his passion for fishing with one-of-a-kind mask art


Hellebuyck with this season’s goalie mask (photo: Greger Buer)

Sharp-eyed fans of both pro hockey and pro bass fishing may have noticed something familiar this past season about the goalie mask adorning Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. If you looked closely at the right side of #37’s bucket, you’d have seen an illustration of an angler on a boat pitching a lure to a largemouth bass. But that wasn’t just any lure—it was a four-inch Scented Jerk Shadz from Z-Man, pinned to a 3/8-ounce Canadian-made Smeltinator jig. That’s right, it was the same presentation Kenora, Ontario’s Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson used to win the 2023 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, Tennessee, making him the first Canadian to ever win pro bass-fishing’s premier event.

So, why was that particular lure gracing the Vezina Trophy winner’s goalie mask? Turns out Hellebuyck is a lifelong hardcore angler, first introduced to the sport as a child by his grandfather back in his home state of Michigan. He fished tournaments during his teen years with his brother, Chris, and may contemplate a full-time return to the competitive scene once his hockey career runs its course. “I know it’s a grind,” he says of tournament fishing, “but it’s the chase that makes it addicting.” Not that jumping on the pro circuit will happen any time soon—the 30-year-old recently inked a seven-year contract extension with the Jets


For now, Hellebuyck hits the water whenever possible, including planned ice-fishing forays this past winter onto Lake Winnipeg with teammates Kyle Connor, Cole Perfetti and Dylan Samberg (he credits former Jet Dustin Byfuglien with getting him hooked on the lake’s wintertime greenbacks, as well as introducing him to Gussy). During the open-water season, he says his favourite fishing destination is Lake St. Clair for smallmouth bass.

When Hellebuyck’s off the ice, he’s often on the water; (inset) Gussy with his classic-winning bait

On top of all that, Hellebuyck is friends with Bryan Gustafson (no relation to Gussy), the creator of the tournament-winning Smeltinator. Gustafson also owns the outdoor retailer LOTW Sports Headquarters, with stores in Winnipeg and Gussy’s nearby hometown of Kenora, Ontario. And during last year’s off-season, Hellebuyck joined Gussy for two days of fishing on St. Clair and Lake of the Woods (pictured above).

“I thought it would be a cool tribute,” Hellebuyck says of his mask illustrations. “When there are things I can do to link to Winnipeg, I like to do it.”


Gussy is in agreement. “The fact that he is the best goalie in the league makes it even more cool!”

Along with the angler, bass and lure images, the mask also features the logo for LOTW Sports Headquarters, a topographic illustration of Lake Winnipeg on the opposite side, a Jets logo on top, and a portrait of Hellebuyck’s pet Alaskan malamute, Tinley, front-and-centre on the chin. “He loves to go ice-fishing with me, chasing me around.”


Hellebuyck is a lifelong hardcore angler, introduced to fishing as a child by his grandfather back in his home state of Michigan

Not that that was Hellebuyck’s first fishing-themed mask to grace ice rinks across North America. Past illustrations have included smallmouth bass, walleye and muskies. “It’s the one theme I carry over from mask to mask,” he says, noting the tradition began when he played between the posts in 2015-16 for the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose, the Jets’ Winnipeg-based farm team.

Credit for the new outdoor-themed design each year goes to Steve Nash of Woodbridge, Ontario’s Eye Candy Air, which specializes in goalie mask painting and design. His roster of high-profile clients has also included such NHL goalies as Ben Scrivens (Montreal), Cam Ward (Carolina) and Chris Mason (Nashville). Says Hellebuyck of Nash’s craftsmanship: “We run our ideas together, then he’s a magician on what he does on top of that.”

Photo: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)


Six-foot-four Connor Hellebuyck has long cemented his position as the Winnipeg Jets’ star starting goalie. Selected by the NHL franchise in the fifth round, 130th overall, during the 2012 entry draft, he played his first games in the NHL during the 2015-16 season. The Commerce, Michigan, goalie’s breakout season came in 2018-19, when he recorded 44 wins, tying for the NHL lead and helping the Jets advance to the Western Conference final. That season, he also earned his first trip to the NHL All-Star Game . Then in 2020, he received the coveted Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie. He ended this past regular season with a save percentage of .921, the second-best in the league.



For more on Jeff Gustafson’s Bassmaster Classic win, go to: