July 25, 2011

From NEHJ: A goalie's guide to buying new equipment

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. (Getty)

Over the past 15 to 20 years, there have been enormous advances in how the position of goaltender is played. Not surprisingly, those changes predicated many changes in the equipment that goalies use.
To keep current, we spoke to representatives from several of the leading gear manufacturers, including Henry Breslin of Bauer Hockey, Rob Laurie of Koho/GoalieMonkey, Sonya Dibiase of Reebok Hockey and Eric Marvin of Warrior Hockey.

The first criteria of getting the most out of any gear is to make sure it fits correctly. For more on that essential topic, check out this month’s column by The Goalie Guru. However, goalies also need gear that is designed and built for their playing level, use and style. Most manufacturers have similar-sized gear that come in different performance levels and price points.

“Typically, the more expensive gear will be more durable, offering better exterior materials that can handle the rigors of higher levels of play and a more active goalie that plays often,” Laurie said. “The interior foams of this gear are usually more protective as well, and resist breakdown.

“Conversely, the more entry-level versions are a more economical option but are designed for a goaltender that doesn’t play as much and doesn’t need the higher levels of protection.”

In short, buying the right goalie gear is no easy task. Here are some key points to consider:

What are the three most important developments in goalie equipment? Have those changes been dictated by the changes in how the position is played, or simply advances in gear design and manufacturing?

Henry Breslin, Bauer Hockey: “Currently, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to goaltending styles, and the equipment has evolved to support that reality. Most companies offer both a butterfly line of equipment as well as a more traditional hybrid style. This allows goalies to choose what works best for their style and personal preference.”

Rob Laurie, Koho/GoalieMonkey: “The biggest advancements in goaltending gear stem from the modern materials being used. Lighter-weight foams and thinner, more durable exterior materials allow for increased protection levels and new designs that can help a goaltender’s performance. I think taller, thinner thigh rises on pads is one thing that most goalies are taking advantage of.”

Sonya Dibiase, Reebok Hockey: “When I started in the industry 19 years ago, we were stuffing deer hair and Dacron fiber in goal pads. Today, Reebok goalie equipment is construction with injection molded EPE foam to provide a lighter, more consistent goal pad that maintains its shape during the life of the product. The dual density foam core makes each goal pad consistent in weight and provides increased durability.”

Eric Marvin, Warrior Hockey: “The equipment is definitely evolving as goalies evolve their techniques and style. Goalies tend to make different types of saves these days than 20 years ago so manufacturers need to build equipment that works for these types of saves. Goalies are creatures of habit, which is why companies are continually working with goalies to evolve the gear based on the evolution of the position.”

Even if buyers find their gear at a local shop, goalie equipment can still be a “blind purchase,” unless they try it out on the ice. How can people take the guesswork out of that purchase?

Breslin: “Goalies need to first identify what type of gear they want based on their style. Sometimes it is hard to separate what’s best versus what’s cool. Identify what features are important to you. Once you’ve got an understanding of what will meet your needs, then you can focus on personal preference.”

Laurie: “There are many resources available today that you didn’t see 10-20 years ago, including online reviews and forums. Talk to other goalies about their gear. A knowledgeable customer service rep at a reputable retailer can take the guesswork out of a purchase.”

Dibiase: “A common mistake is trying on only one piece of equipment before making a purchase. It is important to try all the gear on in the store to know that it fits properly together. The arm of the chest pad must fit inside the glove and blocker, so if you are only purchasing a chest protector, bring your gloves to try on with the chest pad. A goalie should always bring in his skates when purchasing his goal pads.”
Marvin: “Many retailers offer demo programs, where the consumers can take the guesswork out of the purchase and try the gear to be certain they are making the best decision.”

Clearly, there are different levels of gear and multiple price points. What does the buyer need to keep in mind when purchasing equipment at these different price points?

Breslin: “If a goalie is still growing, there are great options that offer all, or many, of the features at all price points. If you are looking for something that will last a long time and is going to be an investment, then it is worth looking at pro-level product. Be aware that you need to be able to handle your gear so that it’s not restricting your movement. We don’t offer pro-level gear in junior sizes because it has a construction that would restrict young goalies.”

Laurie: “Goalies need to remember the old saying ‘you get what you pay for.’ Manufacturers all design gear to certain price points, and most performance levels on current models are all pretty consistent across different lines. Someone playing at a higher level but purchasing entry-level gear to save a few dollars ultimately is going to be disappointed in the product’s durability and performance. A good alternative is seeking discontinued models of higher-level gear that may be selling at a discounted or closeout price, though colors and sizes are usually limited.”

Dibiase: “At Reebok, our equipment is designed to be the same style and fit for the NHL player and the retail consumer from the top price point to the entry-level price point. The difference you will find is the material grade and density of foams. The Reebok Pro equipment is all constructed with the abrasion-resistant Jenpro synthetic leather, high-density foams with stitched graphics and embroidery. Entry-level equipment is designed to be lighter with softer foam and silkscreen graphics that help entry-level players move quicker as they learn the position.”

Marvin: “The buyer needs to be aware of their demands on the gear. Durability is huge. A guy who plays twice a month and a guy that plays five times a week need very different types of pads. Know exactly what you want and expect from your gear, and buy accordingly.”

The overseas revolution has helped keep the price point of the gear reasonable. What are the tradeoffs, and what should buyers know about this equipment to make an informed decision?

Breslin: “The reality is that overseas manufacturing has equal quality to domestic product. There aren’t any tradeoffs because we’ve made pro-level gear for years overseas. That said, we make our high-end pads, gloves and blocker domestically because it offers more customization and the quality is also very strong. There shouldn’t be tradeoffs if the manufacturer has quality materials and capability.”

Laurie: “The overseas models have made great strides over the last five years to virtually eliminate any disadvantages over gear made in North America. Most manufacturers have been able to produce models made offshore that are every bit as good as their domestically made counterparts.”

Marvin: “This part of the business is constantly changing and evolving. You can get a pro-level pad from overseas and you can get a senior-level pad from overseas. One of the biggest tradeoffs is the ability to customize an overseas pad. You tend to not get all of the ‘bells and whistles’ from overseas equipment in order to buy at a certain price point.”

Many of today’s goalie gloves are good to go right off the shelf, with little or no break-in required. What should goalies be looking for when buying a new glove or blocker?

Breslin: “Personal preference is the deciding factor. The pads and blockers may share themes, but overall you need to be comfortable. The important thing is to try as many gloves on as possible. All gloves have a different feel and break, so goalies need to be honest with themselves about what feels best.”

Laurie: “The catch glove is probably the most personal item a goalie can wear. There are many different styles with different pocket and break angles. It is usually up to the goalie to determine what works best with hand size and glove position. For blockers, hand placement on the board, board shape, palm materials, and the goaltenders ability to hold the stick are important factors.”

Dibiase: “Gloves should have reinforcement in the top of the T-pocket so that the glove closes completely, and the T-pocket should have a nice deep lace pattern for visibility in the pocket when smothering the puck. It is also a good idea to try to smother a puck on the ground to make sure the glove does not have ‘holes’ for the puck to sneak out. When selecting a glove, make sure there is enough room in the cuff area for your chest and arm pad sleeve.”

Marvin: “You should like how the glove fits/feels in the store. Make sure you have the proper size and can squeeze the glove. Do your homework before you purchase and see what other people are saying about the gloves. If you’re lucky enough to be close to a dealer that is holding a demo day, take advantage and go test the gear. When buying a blocker, make sure the sizing is proper and you can hold a stick without any obstruction.”

Sometimes buyers overlook the importance of chest protectors, knee protectors and goalie pants. What would you highlight as the most important aspects of these essential pieces of gear?

Breslin: “With chest protectors, look for something that offers the right level of protection but doesn’t restrict movement. This is one of the hardest pieces of equipment to get used to and dictates your ability to move your torso and arms. Try it on with gloves, mask and pants. Pants should always be tried on with skates and pads. Pants can feel great on their own, but it’s easy to get the wrong size if you aren’t wearing your pads.”

Laurie: “For chest protectors and pants, sizing is a huge factor. An overly large chest protector may protect well, but can restrict a goaltenders movement and diminish his performance dramatically. Knee protectors are more of a personal preference thing and should be chosen for comfort but also afford good protection levels for the goalie style, as certain styles expose the knee more than others.”

Dibiase: “Chest protectors should be tried on with pants to ensure proper fit if you tuck your C&A in or leave it out. Reebok goal pants are designed to tie to the Reebok chest protector to allow both pieces to move together with the goalie. Knee protectors are great products for goalies needing extra protection playing at an elite level and also for young goalies at the growth-spurt age. Young goalies outgrowing their pants before the end of the season can use a knee protector to cover an open area.”

What should goalies/parents be looking for when buying new skates?

Breslin: “Getting your size is the first thing to establish. A proper fit will allow goalies to then look at the different feel and features. It’s common for younger goalies to buy a skate that has too much room to grow into, and this will hurt skating ability and crease movement.”

Laurie: “Advancements in skate technology, such as Bauer’s new cowling/blade design, are helping goalies grab the ice better than ever. Even with extreme blade angles, goalies can get their edges and get strong lateral movement pushes even while in the down position. The best demonstration of this is Tim Thomas’ outstanding lateral movement. Skates should be chosen on comfort and proper support levels. Generally, the higher level skates are more supportive and allow a goalie better control over his edges, increasing performance."

Dibiase: “Goalies should be looking for skates with the right combination of flexibility and stiffness with the proper fit. The Reebok Pump skate allows maximum personal customization of fit, and the lace lock allows goalies to adjust their lace tension above and below their ankle flex.”

If the buyer is dealing with a fixed budget, what are the advantages/disadvantages of purchasing better pre-owned equipment compared to lower level new gear?

Breslin: “It is usually better to buy something new at the lower level than something used. Each year, the technology and features continue to be offered at more price points. For every person that finds used gear that works out, there are more people that get something that isn’t quite right and can hinder performance. It’s not easy to find gear that someone else breaks in just how you like it.”

Laurie: “Buying pre-owned gear can be a great option to get proper protection levels at a good price, provided that the seller is reputable. Another good idea is to look through retailers stock of older model gear that is new but heavily discounted. Gear from two or three years ago is not that much different from the most recent models and can be had at a fraction of the price.”

Marvin: “This really depends on the gear that they would look to buy pre-owned. This is very situational and I would suggest that the parents find someone (maybe a goalie coach) that they trust to get a good read on that specific situation.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Brion O’Connor can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com