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Pat Stapleton’s image is the latest hockey-inspired painting by the Sarnia artist

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Becoming a hockey artist was initially not in the cards for Michael Slotwinski.

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But a 4.5-meter version of his painting by Pat Stapleton hangs in the main entrance of the recently renamed Sarnia arena in honor of the hockey legend, and Slotwinski’s previous series of goalkeeper mask oil paintings have toured the OHL hockey games and NHL events.

An enlarged image of Michael Slotwinski's painting of the late Pat Stapleton hangs in the main entrance of the Brock Street arena in Sarnia, renamed in honor of the hockey legend.
An enlarged image of Michael Slotwinski’s painting of the late Pat Stapleton hangs in the main entrance of the Brock Street arena in Sarnia, renamed in honor of the hockey legend. Photo by Paul Morden /The observer

“I just like doing art,” said the graduate of the Northern Collegiate of Sarnia. “It was my audience that kept telling me, ‘Hey, we like this art of hockey.'”

Slotwinski started teaching after college and is now an art teacher at Alexander Mackenzie Secondary School in Sarnia.

He was approached a year ago on a commission to create a Stapleton painting as part of a project to rename the 1940s Sarnia Arena into Brock Street in honor of the late player.

“I was looking for some roast beef at Walmart when I got the call about the project from Brian Keelan, one of its organizers,” Slotwinski said.

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He had been suggested as an artist for the Stapleton project due to Hockey’s Masked Men, a series of large goalie mask oil paintings that Stotwinski created several years ago to show the evolution of mask designs, as well as the brutality of wear. they receive.

Michael Slotwinski can be found in this photo alongside paintings from his series of portraits of famous and less famous NHL net-minders, illustrating the evolution of hockey masks.
Michael Slotwinski can be found in this photo alongside paintings from his series of portraits of famous and less famous NHL net-minders, illustrating the evolution of hockey masks. jpg, SW

After being exhibited during Sarnia Sting’s home games, the paintings toured other OHL arenas and were exhibited at NHL Draft Day in Philadelphia and NHL Alumni events.

It was in one of those events that Slotwinski first met Stapleton, the hockey player who grew up in Sarnia who spent several seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1960s and 1970s, and played for Canada during the legendary 1972 Summit Series. against the national team of the former Soviet Union.

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“He was immediately drawn to my artwork and spent a lot of time discussing art, children’s hockey and the Summit Series with me,” said Slotwinski.

“My dad, who joined in to help me organize my elaborate display, also noticed how Pat Stapleton was his milkman as a boy.”

Later, Stapleton and Slotwinski talked about an idea the former player had for a project, which didn’t move forward. Stapleton wanted to raise money for youth hockey with paintings based on the Summit Series.

“It was sad to hear he died,” Slotwinski said of Stapleton’s death in 2020. “He had a big heart and many interesting stories to tell.”

The organizers of the arena project initially called for a Stapleton painting to be completed within a week, but Slotwinski said he had negotiated a longer timeline.

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With teaching needs and a young family, Slotwinski was left to work on the painting evenings for a few hours after 10pm

He worked with Keelan and Mike Greenwood, a fellow teacher Slotwinski knew who was part of the project, to establish a concept for the painting.

Slotwinski said the challenge was to create a three-foot-tall painting of Stapleton with enough detail so that he could digitally enlarge it to be able to attach the version to the outer front wall of the arena.

He only had grainy or black and white photographs, often from the wrong era, to work on.

Eventually, one concept got the green light and “I painted like crazy,” Slotwinski said.

He was asked to make some changes to an early version, including making Stapleton’s hair look as if it is fluttering behind him and transforming a focused look on his face into “a smiling look that looked at people passing by”.

“But in the end everyone was happy with the results,” Slotwinski said.

“It’s beautiful, it really is,” Stapleton’s son Mike Stapleton said after the arena renaming ceremony held Saturday under the image of his father in action on his skates and wearing his Team Canada jersey. .

Slotwinski said he drove close to the arena after the large image was installed for a peek and some friends took him out for “some celebratory beer.”

“This will be there for decades and decades, perhaps,” he said.

“It’s very beautiful.”

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