Behind the mask-cot: the man behind Swish and Hal
Meet the man behind the Halifax Hurricanes Swish and Halifax Mooseheads Hal
February 29, 2016, 9:15 am ASTLast Updated: March 1, 2016, 2:26 pm
For Aric Salsman, work is all about fun. His job is to entertain hundreds to thousands of people on any given night.
Salsman, 24, is a professional mascot who performs the roles of Swish for the Halifax Hurricanes basketball team and Hal for the Halifax Mooseheads hockey team.
He’s in his fifth season as Hal and first as Swish in the Hurricanes’ first year as a team. He was also the mascot for the now defunct Halifax Rainmen basketball team for four seasons.
“It’s an extremely rewarding job,” says Salsman. “The joy I get out of making other people smile, I don’t look at it like work at all.”
Salsman says he makes sure that Swish and Hal each have their own persona.
Swish is a superhero and is more confident and aggressive, while Hal is more timid and goofy. The one thing they need to have in common is being friendly and fun with the fans.
“I love both characters for different reasons,” says Salsman. “Swish’s suit allows me to do a lot more, so I pull a backflip and people are like, ‘Oh wow, that was awesome.’ And with Hal I just be really goofy so people say, ‘Oh Hal, you’re so funny.’”
Originally from Miami, Salsman moved to Truro when he was nine-years-old and to Dartmouth when he was 11.
He first became interested in being an entertainer when he was in Grade 9. He started hip-hop dancing with his best friend by mimicking YouTube videos.
After their first real performance at Prince Andrew High School, Salsman’s peers encouraged him to become a professional entertainer.
“The support, the cheering, how many people I made happy that day kinda made me transition from that day forward,” says Salsman. “I was always interested in making people laugh and smile even before I danced, so then I discovered a way to do it with my dancing.”
Salsman is constantly trying to make sure the fans have a good time.
Even though it’s only Swish’s first season as a mascot, he’s already making an impact on fans.
Nine-year-old Gracie Ferguson is one of them. At the Hurricanes game last Friday, she came to the game in her own Swish costume and followed Swish around as ‘Mini Swish’ for the game.
“I’m a 100 per cent Swish fan,” says Ferguson. “I am definitely Swish’s biggest fan. My favourite part about him is how kind he is.”
Swish has some older fans, too. Hurricanes season ticket holder Jim Wilson, who would only say he is just over 50, enjoys what Swish brings to the atmosphere at games.
“He’s extremely enthusiastic,” says Wilson. “He’s a great guy at engaging the fans.”
Hal is a more established mascot. The official Mooseheads kids fan club is called Hal’s Pals.
Hal has been a part of the Mooseheads experience decades before Salsman donned the outfit.
Walking around the Scotiabank Centre for Moosehead games, he’s bombarded with high-fives, hugs, requests for pictures and shouts of, ‘You’re doing great, Hal.’
Mooseheads superfan Nancy Henry thinks Hal is extremely important to the games and says Salsman has done a tremendous job with the role.
She praises his dancing and being “fantabulous” with the children.
“He’s just number one, honestly,” says Henry.
For Salsman, the adoration from kids is wonderful, but equally important is the praise he receives from adult fans.
“I’ve been told several times by fans that have been watching Mooseheads games from before I was born that I’m the best mascot the team has ever had,” says Salsman. “That right there, I can’t really put it into words what it means to me.”
The biggest inspiration in his life right now comes from his own son, Kaiden, who will turn two on July 30. He brings Kaiden to every game and hopes to one day teach him how to dance and entertain as well.
The pleasure Salsman gets from performing is rivaled by his passion for teaching others how to become better dancers.
Though he never received any professional training besides a couple of choreography workshops, he also works as a travelling dance instructor for kids camps.
Being a mascot can be a demanding job. Each game requires three to four hours of constant high-energy movement wearing the costumes.
The workload changes from week to week depending on the schedules of the teams. On a busy week, there can be as many as five games, where other weeks have just one or two.
For the most part, the life of a mascot is all fun and games – but sometimes, things don’t go as planned. At a Jan. 9 Mooseheads game, Hal took a fall to the ice and lost his head.
Salsman wasn’t in the suit that night because he was out of town, but feels the pain of what happened.
“As a mascot, losing any part of your costume is about as bad as it gets,” says Salsman. “If a kid sees you as a person, from that day forward they’re just going to consider you as a person in a costume.”
There’s also a degree of risk involved with being a mascot.
Doing acrobatic stunts has led to some devastating injuries to mascots in the past. Salsman is aware of the risks but continues to perform, saying the rewards outweigh the risks.
“Knock on wood, I haven’t had any major injuries so far to keep me from dancing,” says Salsman.
“I’ve taken whole families from the top row and put them on the court for a basketball game, I’ve gone out back to grab some extra T-shirts and a hockey puck for a little kid who didn’t get a shirt,” says Salsman. “Things like that when other people recognize it and compliment me for it, that would be my favourite part.”
Salsman knows he can’t be a mascot forever – one day, Father Time will catch up to him and keep him from performing the job he loves.
Until then, he’ll keep on dancing.