TAMPA, Fla. – On the desk of Kyle Konin’s workspace sits a Tampa Bay Lightning hockey helmet with a picture of Yoda from Star Wars on it. The helmet is a perfect representation of Konin’s passions and his business.
“I never thought I would get to combine two things I love the most,” he said.
Konin is lifelong hockey goaltender. Last year, he achieved a dream by getting to suit up as the emergency goaltender for Amalie Arena as the Lightning hosted the St. Louis Blues.
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Konin is also a lifelong artist.
“I’ve always wanted my mask painted, and all the NHL goaltenders have theirs painted, so I one day started painting my own and then friends wanted them and then friends of friends, and it just grew into an entire business,” he explained.
That business is NUJAX Airbrush. He’s lost track of how many he’s created in total but estimates that the number is around 500-1,000. The helmet is first taken apart, sanded, base-coated and then hand-painted, using a mix of hand painting and air brushing. He finishes by applying an expensive clear coat to protect the helmets.
“My goal when I design them is we definitely want it to be readable from a distance, so if someone’s watching you play, you want them to be able to tell what the design is,” Konin said. “Then you also want to have some cool stuff that’s up close, where you walk up to the helmet, and you see some really cool hidden details.”
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Two of Konin’s current projects are more prime examples of mixing hockey and art. He just finished a helmet that features Lego characters checking out breweries in Michigan. He’s wrapping up a helmet that features the head of the robot dinosaur Grimlock, featured in the Transformers movie franchise.
He makes helmets for goaltenders on youth teams, club teams, NCAA teams and professional teams. He was thrilled to see his helmets on national TV, when the University of Massachusetts Amherst won the NCAA Championship last season.
“Was just a really cool feeling to see that my work is, you know, out there nationally,” Konin said.
As Konin enters the summer, his workspace fills with more blank helmets. He said summer is the busiest part of the year, but he welcomes it.
“It helps my process when there’s multiple going at a time,” he explained.