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John Mahnic presents

The Canadian Game

To view the entire piece, please use the scroll bar along the bottom of the page.


This huge print (18” X 38”) is not available separately, and is not for resale.
However, it will be included for free with every “Zebra Ref” print purchased. 

Here are some interesting facts that John would like to share about the “Canadian Game” painting:

The entire painting is based on the architecture of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome.
The top level is upside down because that’s the way the painting on the ceiling was created. 

I was visiting the Vatican in Rome when I saw the Sistine Chapel for the first time.  It was recently cleaned, so the colors were very vibrant.   I turned to my wife Val and remarked that the bright colors reminded me of hockey uniform colors.  I then said, “I could paint this ceiling using hockey players”.  I started the design the day we got back.  The painting was started in 1991 and finished in 2001, a total of 4,000 hours of painting time put in.

  • Each player that is on opposite sides of a particular trophy, as well as the ‘main’ player underneath it, have won that particular trophy
    • The trivia exception: the only player not to have won that particular trophy that is featured is Georges Vezina, who was never awarded the Vezina trophy

  • More trivia: Vezina’s Canadiens logo was replaced for one year with a logo featuring the world, showing that the Habs were world champs

  • The twelve main players featured are players who I felt made exceptional contributions to hockey since 1967
    • Trivia: each crack that is painted in around the main player represents one Stanley Cup won by that particular player.  In 2001, Hasek had yet to win a cup, so he was crackless.

  • The players in the triangles are players that made their main contributions prior to 1967

  • Joe Malone was originally in a Montreal Canadiens uniform, but I changed it to Quebec Bulldogs because… too many Habs in the painting already!  Joe Malone’s son saw the painting in progress, and told me the blue I used was too light.

  • In the announcers triangle, Don Cherry’s head is much bigger than Hewitt’s and Gallivan’s, even though he is behind them.

  • Bill Durnan, Canadien’s goalie in a top triangle, was the last goalie to wear the Captain’s ‘C’.

  • The corner triangles are representative of four dynasty clubs.  Inside the Canadien’s Stanley Cup is the reflection of Clarence Campbell.  He presided over the most Habs cups during his tenure as commissioner.  Also ironic since he hated the Habs.

  • The reflection in the Islanders’ Stanley Cup is past commissioner Alex Calder.  This is appropriate since Denis Potvin, hoisting the cup, was a Calder trophy winner.

  • The reflection in Wayne Gretzky’s cup is Lord Stanley himself.

  • The players top torsos under the main players were chosen because their careers closely represented those of the players above them.

  • The ‘goalie posts’ are goalies that placed on a first or second all-star team.  All of the goalies represented in the painting (including the goalie masks) make up every first or second all-star team goalie since 1961 to 2001, with one exception.
    • The trivia exception: when I was finishing the painting in 2001, I knew Kolzig would be in the painting, since he was a lock for the Vezina and first-team all-star.  My instincts said Cujo would be the second team all-star, so I painted in his mask between Scot Stevens and Chris Pronger.  Roman Turek was the second team all-star selection that year, but I left Cujo in anyway.  Cooler mask.

  • The logos around the small triangles represent every logo from every team to play in the NHL since its inception.

  • The logos around the large triangles represent every team to win the Stanley Cup up to 2001, including teams that won prior to the forming of the NHL

  • There’s only one logo from a non-NHL or Stanley Cup winner represented in the painting
    • Trivia exception: underneath Danny Gallivan’s arm is the partial logo of the Charlestown Chiefs

  • At the bottom of the Joe Malone triangle are the logos of the Sharks and the Jets, the two gangs in Westside Story.

  • The goalie masks that are featured at the tops of each triangle represent a cross-section of goalie masks throughout history, including Clint Benedict (above Syl Apps) who was the first goalie to wear a mask (to protect a broken nose)
    • Trivia point: one ‘mask’ is the face of Gump Worsley, the last prominent goalie to go maskless
    • Trivia trivia point: he’s not featured in the painting, but Andy Brown of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the last goalie to play in the NHL without a mask

  • When I painted Gerry Cheevers’ mask, I actually counted every stitch on the original mask and reproduced those in the exact order.

  • The players that are tucked in behind the small triangles are players that were personal favorites of mine, who still warranted inclusion in the painting.  Many players were changed over time, since I started the painting in 1992.  At various times, I had Tiger Williams in the painting, Kirk Muller, Keith Tkachuk, Tretiak where Hasek is now, Bernie Parent where Patrick Roy is, and Peter Stastny

  • The center panels are supposed to represent the progression of hockey, starting with its roots in Saskatchewan pond hockey  (with my wife Val and daughter Tiffany featured as the only female hockey players in the painting).

  • The second center panel features the Ottawa Silver Seven.  Every member of that team is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, except for three in the picture. 
    • Trivia: the three that were replaced are the coach (who is my dad, Roman), the goalie (who is me, holding a paint brush), and my son Michael, seated on the far right.

  • The third center panel features the Production Line (Howe, Abel and Lindsay)

  • The fourth panel with Bobby Orr contains the only painted reference to the Sistine Chapel ceiling, God giving life to Adam.  I put this in because it balanced the blank space at the bottom quite nicely,  plus Bobby Orr gave renewed life to the league, post-expansion.
    • Bobby Orr owns a print of the painting which he has up in his office in Boston

  • This panel contains the first appearance of “Philly Bob”, the Flyer uber-fan.  He’s painted in at the top right corner of the audience.

  • The center panel contains the original Stanley Cup.

  • Trivia question: I painted in Ray Bourque’s name, since I felt he was the best player to have never won a cup.  Shortly thereafter, he won a cup in Colorado.  I then painted in Mike Gartner’s name
    • I also put my own name on the Stanley Cup

  • The Henderson panel is noteworthy because all of the faces in the crowd are NHL players
    • One exception: The Hockey News editor (in 2001) was Steve Dryden, who I painted in.

  • When Norm Ullman saw the painting, he remarked to me that he wasn’t even at the game.  Too many blows to the head.

  • This panel has the second appearance of Philly Bob, the Flyer uniform barely visible in the top right corner

  • The next center panel features Sugar Jim Henry and Maurice Richard.  Richard scored one of the great goals against, Henry (eye blackened) while completely concussed (eye bleeding).  The handshake represents everything that’s great about hockey.

  • The Miracle on Ice painting features the third appearance of Philly Bob, top right corner
    • Trivia comment: this victory over the Russians did not give the USA the gold medal.  They had to win another game against Finland to get the medal (the US won 4-2, after trailing 2-1 going into the third period)

  • The final center panel features me as a Grade Six kid playing street hockey.  This brings the game full circle, starting out as fun on the ponds of Saskatchewan, and ending with playing for fun in the back alleys of Regina, Saskatchewan where I was born and raised.

  • One last Philly Bob reference is in the large Toronto Maple Leaf triangle where Barilko is scoring the cup winning goal.  He’s in the top right corner, a Flyer uniform in 1951 (I’m obviously a Flyer fan…)

  • The only referee featured in the painting is Bill Chadwick, who is painted into the Toronto Maple Leaf corner triangle.
    • Trivia: Chadwick did not referee that game

Some stuff you can’t see in the print, but is in the painting:

  • The bolts holding the name plates of the twelve main players have a number in them.  That number represents the best year that player had, statistically.

  • There is a small puck painted in right under the crossed sticks at the feet of the main players.  Each puck contains a number, representing some aspect of trivia relating to that player.  My favorites: Bobby Clarke has the number 18 painted in, the number of penalty minutes he had in the 72 Canada – Russia series, two of which were for slashing Kharlamov and breaking his ankle, taking out their best player in the series.  The other favorite is Ken Dryden and ‘57’. Amazingly, that’s the total number of losses he had in his career!

  • I painted the name of an individual into each main trophy that I felt should have won that trophy during his career, but didn’t.  For example, Maurice Richard’s name is painted into the Art Ross (scoring leader).  Brad Park is painted into the Norris (defenceman), and my brother Bob Mahnic’s name is painted into the Vezina Trophy.  He played major junior hockey with the Regina Pats and Hull Olympiques, but never made the pros.

  • There are only two company logos painted into the painting.  These are “Kanisky” on the side of Ron Hextall’s pads, to honor Pop Kanisky who developed goalie pads, and ‘Montreal’ painted across Tretiak’s helmet.  That was the name of the company that produced his goalie mask.
    • Trivia: Tretiak was also drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, but never made it to the NHL, one of his regrets.

  • Ted (Teeder) Kennedy was at a Maple Leafs alumni banquet where the painting was featured.  His sons brought him up to look at the painting and remarked to him that he was in the painting.  After a moment of looking, Teeder got frustrated and asked where he was.  His boys pointed out that he was the player beside the Hart Trophy, which he won.  Teeder harrumphed, turned to me and said “You’d need a frickin’ microscope to see me”, and then turned and walked away.

  • Scot Stevens, featured above Don Cherry, is playing without a helmet.  I painted the helmet out as a tribute to his hard-nosed, old-time hockey style of play.

  • The most prominent player missing: Nick Lidstrom.  He didn’t start to win all of his Norris trophies until after the painting was completed in 2001

  • Some of my regrets:  not putting in any ladies’ hockey, not putting in any WHA players, and not featuring Marty Brodeur in a larger format.  Should he be in Hasek’s spot?

  • I was fortunate to be able to do a lot of research at the Hockey Hall of Fame.  This way, I could ask to see a pair of Jacques Plante’s pads, and they would bring them up from the archives for me.  I could then make notes on the pad stitching and color, since I was mainly working from Black and White photos.  It was also cool to ask to see Bernie Parent’s trapper, which I tried on and made a few fake saves with.  I didn’t need it for any reference… just wanted to be a goof.

  • I was at the HHof F when they were taking the mini trophies out of their boxes that are presented to award winners in June.  I asked if I could hold Joe Sakic’s Conn Smythe trophy, which I immediately hoisted over my head in mock triumph.  Two days later, it was pretty neat to see Sakic hold up the trophy that I got to hold first!

  • The painting has been featured in the Hockey News (three full pages), the National Post, many other national newspapers, and a small picture of it in Sports Illustrated.  It was also featured by CBC in Wayne Rostad’s “On the Road Again”, as a seven minute feature.  TSN also did a five minute feature on the painting (John Lu, TSN reporting), which they showed about ten times over a month.  The CBC crew followed me around for two full days, and spent about three hours taping our interview, all for a few minutes of air time!  The TSN crew spent one full day, much to John Lu’s chagrin, because he’s allergic to cats, and I have three. 






2019-12-25 00:00:00 GMT-05:00