|There's all sorts of goalie gear, for all sorts of goalies.|
Apologies for the delay in new posts. The bill, once again, has come due for my 45-year goaltending career, and I had to have a high-tech "fluff and buff" on my lower back to remove some arthritic bone between my joints. The good news is that my surgery in early November has me feeling better than I have in months, and the nerves are recovering (albeit slowly). I'm even looking forward to getting back on the ice.
In the meantime, here's some advice for anyone looking to do a little holiday shopping for that favorite goalie on their list (yes, that can include getting gear for yourself ... Santa says that's perfectly legit!). Let me know what you think.
The gear game …
This month, I originally intended to write about the benefits of yoga for the hockey goaltender, but circumstances intervened. Over a five-week period starting in early of October, I met no fewer than a dozen parents who were absolutely bewildered by the vagaries of outfitting their young goaltenders. It's a little unsettling to see so many young goaltenders coming to our clinics ill-prepared to face hard rubber.
The reasons for this are numerous, but almost all come down to one simple fact – most parents and coaches aren't familiar with the gear. I don't really blame either group, especially given the changes in equipment in the past decade. But if you have a child who wants to play goalie, whether that child lives under your roof or is on your team, you have an obligation to learn about the gear, and how to put it on correctly (because protective equipment works best only when its worn properly).
That said, I put even more responsibility on the owners and managers of retail stores. If you sell goalie equipment, you need staff members who know how to size it properly and can instruct goalies and their parents about how to wear it. There's simply no excuse for letting customers leave without a full understanding of how to put the gear on.
So, since it's been a while, I'm reprising some thoughts on purchasing goalie gear. With the upcoming holidays, I predict there will be dozens of young goaltenders begging mom and dad to head to their local hockey shop for a little shopping spree. Why not? The fact is, all that cool gear is one of the major reasons so many kids want to play the position these days.
Older goalies (like me) recognize that playing goal "back in the day" was a calling, for one simple reason. You got hurt. It wasn't unusual for me to finish a skate with several welts, each one recording a save. The equipment hadn't caught up to the curved sticks and slap shots, and getting hit by a puck was going to be painful, period. Things are different today. The gear has never been better at protecting the player, but that security comes at a cost.
I appreciate the financial commitment that playing goal brings. Pro-level leg pads, made north of the border, run at least four figures, with the starting point of roughly $1,200. There are exceptions to the rule, such as Simmons, a solid pad manufacturer that doesn't spend big bucks on pro sponsorships. But pads from the major players – Vaughn, Reebok, Bauer, Brian's, CCM – all cost a pretty penny.
So what's a goalie parent to do? First, if your young netminder is still growing (ages 6-16), don't go crazy on top-notch gear. Kids will want matching gear, probably the same stuff their heroes wear. Don't do it. Get them what they need, and save what you can (you'll need it later if your goalie stays with it).
Younger goalies (Mites and Squirts) don't need bulletproof protection, because their teammates can't shoot the puck that hard (the coaches might get carried away, but that's another story). Don't take the "he'll grow into it" approach. Equipment needs to fit correctly, and be relatively lightweight. If the pads don't fit, you're setting your child up for frustration at best, and failure and injury at worse.
In this regard, secondhand gear is a great choice, because it depreciates so quickly, and you can find reasonable prices online at sites such as Craig's List, or stores like Play It Again Sports and Replay Sports. I've had great luck on Ebay, but that's because I know exactly what I'm looking for. That's a little trickier for parents, since you're buying the item "blind."
If you're new to the world of goalie gear, you want to actually see the stuff you're buying, and you want to make sure it's a good fit.
Most importantly, make sure your child's knee (with skates on) fits squarely into the middle of the knee cradle of the leg pads, and that the elastic cradle strap will keep the knee in place (if that strap has lost its elasticity, replace it). Newer pads are specifically designed to move with the goaltender, but only if they fit correctly. Likewise, the chest and arm protector should fit comfortably – buying this item over-sized will only prevent your young prodigy from being able to move without difficulty.
Since these pads only going to be using it for a season or two, you might also opt for newer pads on the lower end of the price spectrum. To help take the sting out of outfitting a young netminder, most major gear manufacturers now offer equipment made overseas, and the quality of this gear has improved dramatically recently.
Again, make sure to deal with a shop that has people who can show you the correct way to put the pads on (pay special attention to the toe strings). We've had kids get on the ice with the pads on the wrong leg (yes, there are "left" and "right" pads). Remember, putting on pads, for most parents, is akin to me changing the brakes on my car. If you've never been shown how, it can be puzzling. Take the time to learn, and encourage your young goaltender to do the same (for example, newer pads are designed to be worn loose, so the pad can rotate when the goalie drops into the butterfly).
Likewise, show them how to take care of their gear (don't for example, let them just leave it in the bag, where mold and mildew will flourish). Get a stick that fits properly – with the blocker hand at the top of the “paddle,” the stick blade should rest on the ice when the goalie is in a nice, comfortable stance, with knees bent. Don't go crazy with taping the stick; that only makes it heavier and more unwieldy. Gloves should open and close relatively easily, and allow the young goalie to hold the stick properly. Goalie skates might seem like a luxury, but they're far superior to regular skates for the specific movements the position requires.
For PeeWees and Bantams (ages 11-15), you want to emphasize protection. Kids start shooting faster and harder, and the puck isn't getting any softer. Better gear is not just an option; it's a necessity. Upgrade goalie pants, chest and arm protector, and probably a mask with a plastic neck protector (or dangler).
Knee/thigh pads are also important. Many smaller, kid-size leg pads expose the area just above the knee, just below their hockey pants, when a young goalie drops on the ice. Some pads have "thigh boards," but in less expensive models, these boards rarely stay in place. Knee/thigh protectors are an inexpensive piece of gear to prevent injuries to this very susceptible (and sensitive) part of the leg.
Again, go the secondhand route if money is a concern. You can find good gear at 25 to 40 cents on the dollar, and your child will benefit from the added measure of safety. Compared to my gear from the 1970s, today's equipment is far superior, which is one of the biggest reasons goaltending is becoming so popular. It simply doesn't hurt as much. That's a good thing.
Just make sure you know what you're buying. Ask lots of questions. If you're not getting answers that you're comfortable with, find another shop. Because it's not worth risking your young netminder getting hurt.
And be sure to check back next month for my thoughts on yoga as part of your fitness regimen.