Pond Hockey Tournaments

Pond HockeyThe pond hockey tournaments organized throughout North America are one of the coolest celebrations of the game that we, as hockey players have. Buffalo’s inclusion into this party is no different.

The only issue is that Mother Nature has chosen not to cooperate lately.

Buffalo’s inaugural tournament was dampened (no pun intended) by more water than quality ice on the Erie Basin Marina. The same issue followed suit in later years. In fact, the marina didn’t even freeze last year and the participants were relegated to playing street hockey.

However, the 2011 edition of the tournament almost made it through 100%. Sunny skies and warm temperatures caused some trouble late on Sunday of that year, but Friday and Saturday provided nothing short of tremendous ice and conditions for playing the game. In fact, a light snowfall made the event that much better.

This year didn’t exactly follow suit. Mild weather through much of December kept a solid base of ice from forming on Lake Erie and equally warm temperatures wiped out any ice that had formed in January. However, organizers were smart and quickly put together nine temporary rinks that would befit any backyard setup.

However, remnants from winter storm Nemo caused issues and many of the rinks were in rough shape for Saturday’s games. So many were compromised that morning games were pushed back and the entire schedule had to be altered.

Of course that didn’t keep hundreds of players and fans from descending on the area to play and watch hockey while enjoying a few hot dogs and, if age permitted, a few beers as well.

My team, like many scheduled for the morning sessions, managed to get one game in. Our rink was in decent shape, too. The only issue was a small hole that formed during play that began leaking unfrozen water onto the surface. Otherwise the ice was as pristine as you could hope for on a week-old backyard rink.

During gameplay you forgot about the sub-30 degree temps and the fact that the rink was in less than idea condition. I even tuned out the fact that I was anywhere but on a sheet of ice playing three-on-three hockey with some friends – the four-on-four rules were altered depending on the size and quality of certain rinks.

In our single game the Pond Hockey All Stars enjoyed a close victory over the very team we had defeated for a title in the 2011 tournament, Potters Field. Playing those familiar faces – although all faces in the Buffalo hockey community are familiar – made it a little better since both teams had battled below average ice two years prior as well. Defending our title was just a small bonus.

I give a lot of credit to all those involved in planning the event as they had to scramble for contingency plans when Mother Nature reared her fickle head once again. The 2013 tournament should be extremely exciting once the artificial canals at Canalside are constructed and can be kept refrigerated as the design specifies. That should ensure that this tournament has quality ice for years to come.

Hockey Fitness: Agility training

Last month’s Hockey Fitness post focused on building explosiveness. Hockey is all about stops and starts and quick, explosive movements. The plyometric inspired exercises illustrated last month should paint a picture of where to begin with that side of your training.

That explosion training will not only build strength but also help with footspeed on the ice. Adding agility drills to your off-ice workouts are another great way to strengthen your skating skills. Agility training is something that forwards, defensemen and goaltenders can all benefit from.

There are a number of fantastic resources on the internet talking about different types of agility drills and training that specifically impact hockey players and the muscle groups they need to target. Below are four drills which might be strong additions to your offseason program.

20-yard Shuttle

20-yard Shuttle

If you happen to tune into the NFL Combine you will see this drill done quite a bit. It is a great speed and agility drill that can be adapted and altered as you see fit. Start off by setting up three cones, or markers five yards apart. If you happen to have access to a football field you can go by the yard lines.

Start at the middle cone, sprint forward five yards to the next cone, change direction and sprint ten yards in the opposite direction before finishing back at the middle cone. This is a great drill for explosiveness and change of direction. As you improve with the drill you can expect your first three steps on the ice to improve as well.

One wrinkle that is interesting to throw in is switching sprinting for backpedaling or shuffling. This is particularly effective for goaltenders and defensemen to institute along with the traditional sprint.

30-yard T-drill

30-yard T-drill

This is a drill that takes some of the 20-yard shuttle but combines it with other agile movements. The main focus of this drill is not only the explosive first step but developing fluid hip movements and improving change of direction.

Starting at the back cone, a player will sprint forward and rapidly change direction into a five-yard shuffle. Upon reaching the third cone, you will shuffle the ten yards across before shuffling five yards back to the middle. To finish, backpedal to the starting cone.

In a similar manner to the 20-yard shuttle, this keeps you moving at all times but combines, sprinting, backpedaling and lateral movement. One wrinkle you can add would be to substitute karaoke or crossovers for shuffling. In fact, that is something you can do with each of these drills.

20-yard box

20-yard box

This is yet another drill which draws from the 20-yard shuttle above. It also has some similarities to the 30-yard T above but has more of a focus on short movements than the endurance used in the T-drill.

This drill can be started at any of the four locations, but it is typically best to start by sprinting forward, changing direction into a shuffle (or crossover), backpedaling and finishing with another shuffle. Like the T-drill this uses all three movements and focuses on explosive, fluid movements and agility through the change of direction.

Zig-Zag Drill

Zig-Zag Drill

This particular drill can be adapted in a number of different ways. Depending on what kind of focus you wish to have, the cones can be kept in close proximity to one another or spaced further apart. Adding more cones is also recommended, as it will allow you to lengthen the drill beyond 15 or 20 yards.

Starting with the cones five yards apart is a good trial approach and can serve as your base set-up. Determining shorter or longer distances will allow you to focus more on straight-line speed, or tight agile movements. This drill can also be adapted to use a shuffle or backpedal instead of sprinting.

The Zig-Zag drill really hones in on keeping fluid hips (particularly if you’re backpedaling) and tight cuts. To start, sprint from cone-to-cone in a zig-zag pattern making sure to cut your turns as tight as possible at each cone. You should always cut to the outside of each cone as you reach that point.

These four drills offer a good mix of different approaches you can take to agility training. Using speed ladder drills (as mentioned last month) and other advice from your coaches and around the internet will allow you to build a well-rounded off-ice speed and agility training regimen.

In the Crease: Finding the right neck protection

Vaughn Goalie Neck VPC
Vaughn Goalie Neck VPC

One piece of a goaltender’s set of equipment can be overlooked is the type of neck and collar protection they choose to utilize. There are a host of products that can be used by goaltenders and finding the right combination will not only ensure safety but effectiveness as well.

Since goaltending is a position in which you’re exposed to puck battles, skates and sticks in a confined area, the chances are higher that an errant piece of equipment will find a way to hit you. Not to mention the fact that your opponent is slinging a frozen rubber disc at you for three periods.

There are two primary options when it comes to neck protection for a goaltender; a Lexan dangler or a traditional neck guard. Whether using one of these options, or both, it is important that a goalie finds a comfortable option that maximizes protection.

The Lexan throat guard really began to gain popularity as more NHL goaltenders began using them in the 1990s. The dangler hangs off a goaltender’s helmet and serves to protect from direct or deflected pucks and sticks. When worn properly it fills the space between the end of your helmet and the top of your chest protector.

One drawback that goalies find with the dangler is that it can be difficult to adapt to. While the protection it provides is unparalleled, it can be clumsy and even fog up at times. Of course, for every goalie who is uncomfortable wearing it, there are three who can’t play without it.

Personally, I was never able to find a comfort level with the dangler. Even after a deflected puck caught me under the chin, my play suffered after I added the dangler because I couldn’t find the proper fit. My issue, like many others, was finding the right length to hang the dangler from my mask to ensure full protection and minimal interference with my chest pad. Making sure that your dangler is at the proper height as to not catch on your jersey or chest pad is vital because the protection it offers will come at a steep price should it affect your play.

The silver lining here is that a dangler is 100% adjustable and removable. This isn’t like any other piece of equipment that offers limited adjustments that need to be adapted to. Some goalies wear it loose so that it moves freely when they look down or to the side; whereas others tie it tight to their mask so the two move as one unit while extending their neck protection. It is an accessory that can simply be removed if it bothers you too much.

Great Skate carries models from Bauer and Reebok and neither product is cost prohibitive to the point that it isn’t worth purchasing to at least test out to see what kind of comfort level you have.

The second option that all goalies have for neck protection is the collar throat guard. This is worn around your neck and is specifically designed to prevent cuts from skates, sticks or pucks. Collar neck guards are designed to fit comfortably around your neck while allowing for maximum mobility. All models are Velcro adjustable and offer full neck and extended collarbone protection.

These specifically keep you from suffering dangerous cuts from skates or sticks and also offer impressive protection from direct puck impacts as well. However, this isn’t as effective as a dangler when protecting from direct or deflected shots.

Vaughn’s VPC neck guard is perhaps the most popular at the NHL level and is barely noticeable when worn on the ice. It features a low profile design that doesn’t get caught up with the chest protector while still offering full protection. This is the model I choose to use and I would never go on the ice without it. The throat and collar protection are phenomenal and I don’t even realize it is on when I’m playing.

Reebok has also begun to manufacture a number of impressive models in this line. Their TCRBK has a very similar construction to the Vaughn model and offers full neck and clavicle protection. They have also developed a larger option that has additional clavicle protection. The Reebok TCPro is built with beefed up shoulder and collarbone padding to go along with the traditional neck guard. Reebok also introduced the padded goal shirt recently that basically has their traditional neck and collarbone protection built into a full base-layer long sleeve shirt. This is a new product designed to maximize protection and comfort by eliminating the need for an additional piece of equipment under your chest pad.

All goalies should use at least one of the Lexan dangler or collar neck guards. Playing a position that can expose a player to dangerous situations, ensuring your safety is vitally important. Trying on the different neck guards sold by Great Skate will give you an idea of what fits you best and using practice time to find the right comfort level with your collar guard and/or dangler is the best way to figure out how you feel about each of these.

After a few ice times trying each out, you’ll certainly know what works best and you can begin using that set up in each game moving forward.

APX 2 is at the cutting edge of skate design

The 2013 skate line for Bauer features three options to choose from based on your playing style and skate preference. For those loyal to the Vapor line, they will not be disappointed with the APX 2.

While the look and performance of the APX 2 will not differ much from pervious Vapor models, there are new features on the skate that truly separates the APX 2 from other models in the Vapor line and from other manufacturers.

Most notably is the Curv composite upper that utilizes an x-rib design for a ridged structure throughout the most vital portions of the boot. Not only does this design allow for maximum stability but it also has allowed Bauer to increase the angle at which the boot is built. The aggressive angle the boot is built on provides an impressive forward flex for those wearing the skate.

The APX 2 also sports an impressive felt tongue that is much different from the thin, low-profile tongue designs that were prevalent on previous Vapor models. This not only provides for a more comfortable fit against lace bite, but also gives more room to fold the tongue down for that pro look.

The Bauer APX 2 also has a particularly interesting addition for replacing broken or old blades. Rather than pulling out the sole and footbed to get to the steel hardware, the APX 2 has introduced a “trigger system” that allows steel to be taken out and replaced in mere seconds.

The trigger replacement system is part of the TUUK LS Fusion blade and TUUK Lightspeed Edge blade and holder system that is part of the new skate. In fact, the Lightspeed Edge feature can be found on all but one of the Vapor models this season.

The main differences between the APX 2 and the rest of the Vapor line come in the comfort and moisture wicking features on the inside of the skate. The Form-Fit footbed and Hydra-Max 2 liner system are exclusive to the APX 2 whereas the rest of the line mades due with similar, but less evolved features.

One of the things Bauer does best is providing a pro-level skate (APX 2) that is virtually unrivaled across the board while finding ways to fit many of their top model’s features through the rest of the line. When consulting a Great Skate sales associate, be sure to notice that the X 100, 90 and other models do sport many of the impressive and progressive features of the Bauer APX 2 skate that will be worn throughout the NHL and other elite levels this year.

Safety features lead the way on new Bauer helmets

Bouchard wearing the IMS 11.0 against Dallas on opening weekend

Ever the forerunner in helmet design and safety, Bauer has introduced two more models to their line for 2013.

With concussion prevention, treatment and education at an all-time high, Bauer has taken the lead in ensuring that their products will provide players with cutting edge protection against any and all head injuries.

Bauer’s new RE-AKT helmet made it’s NHL debut last season at the All-Star game and was a noticeable addition to Claude Giroux’s game when he returned from his concussion. Since last spring when the helmet was brought into the NHL, players across the league have begun to wear the helmet based on the number of modern additions that cannot be found from any other manufacturer at this time.

The main feature of the RE-AKT isn’t visible when the helmet is being worn. Rather, the Suspend-Tech Liner system with Poron XRD foam is what makes the RE-AKT so much different than anything else on the market. The Suspend-Tech Liner is a fully free-floating system that is designed to not only maintain comfort but provide maximum protection for the wearer. The design allows the shell of the helmet and the Liner to move independently upon impact to reduce any additional movement of the player’s head from both a direct impact and any sort of whiplash-type movement.

By placing the high-tech Poron XRD foam in impact specific areas the new Suspend-Tech system allows the RE-AKT to utilize leading design qualities of impact dispersal. Other features throughout the helmet provide additional comfort as memory foam is utilized in a number of locations in addition to a single, tool-free adjustment feature.

The RE-AKT helmet also passes the all-important, albeit superficial, eye-test. Bauer took design features from the perennially popular 4500 helmet to ensure that the RE-AKT kept a sleek, modern look without the additional bulk that has accompanied the design of past helmets like the 9900 and 7500.

Bauer’s other new helmet, the IMS 11.0 also benefits from a sleek, low-profile design while still utilizing cutting-edge impact management technology.

The IMS 11.0 helmet has a very sleek design that has some similarity to the newest designs from Easton while still drawing back to the heritage of Bauer’s previous helmets. Pierre-Marc Bouchard of the Minnesota Wild – who has battled concussion issues for some time – has been sporting the new IMS 11.0 already this season. As a player who wore a Cascade helmet last year, this is not much of a surprise for a player who obviously sees the safety in the Seven Technology.

With Bauer and Cascade teaming up this year, Cascade’s Seven technology is now available for use on Bauer products and the two companies quickly teamed up to utilize the technology that made the M11 helmet one of the most protective on the market and the design features that bring players back to the Bauer line time and time again.

The IMS line does include the customizable vent system that became popular on previous Cascade models and it does set the IMS line apart from other helmets in the Bauer line, with exception to the 9900.

Seven technology is a liner system that is designed to disperse direct impact away from a single point on the wearers head. Upon impact, Seven Technology immediately compresses and laterally disperses energy. Much like a shock absorber on a car compresses and extends to limit direct impact on the vehicle, Seven Technology compresses and resets within seconds to prevent energy from collisions from having a direct impact.

With a generation of players invested in the way their equipment looks on the ice and a growing emphasis focused upon on-ice safety, finding the best of both worlds is incredibly important. While there will never be a helmet that is truly “concussion-proof” the newest Bauer helmets continue to push the envelope towards that development.

Show your style off the ice

Over the past few years equipment manufacturers have begun to introduce a growing line of performance and casual apparel for hockey players and fans to sport whether they’re at or away from the rink.

This growing line of apparel has allowed hockey players to wear a banner, so to speak, that identifies them as the unique and talented athletes that they are. Companies like Gongshow Gear and Sauce Hockey have carved a niche in the lifestyle side of things whereas equipment companies like Bauer, CCM, Easton and Reebok have their own unique line of apparel for fans and players to choose from.

This apparel covers the gamut of style and performance categories as each company has their own base layer collections to be worn during games and practice along with casual wear for after the game or away from the rink.

Each manufacturer has their own approach for these lines that provides players the choice to go with a more traditional look or maybe something a little more modern.

Bauer’s bread and butter comes with their vintage collection that highlights a number of interesting throwback designs. Where they really hit a homerun, however is with their headwear. Bauer has partnered with New Era as their headwear manufacturer and it has yielded a large collection of different hats that eclipses all other manufacturers. My personal favorite is the 39Thirty mesh back cap with the simple Bauer script on the front. It is a perfect hat for everyday and locker room use and comes in a number of different colors (eight to be exact). There are well over a dozen cap styles from New Era and Bauer to choose from.

Warrior has a slightly different approach than the other companies. Their apparel line is a bit closer to the graphic tee look that has become quite popular. They also offer other items such as shorts which isn’t something you can find with many other companies.

Reebok’s line is far less creative than that of Bauer or ever Warrior, but there are still some solid choices for the locker room based on the hats they make. In addition, their shower sandals have been mainstays in many locker rooms for quite some time. The same can be said about CCM’s new line of headwear. While the company doesn’t offer much along the lines of shirts, they have plenty of hats to choose from.

Gongshow, which is a new addition at Great Skate, has a wide variety of unique lifestyle hats, t-shirts and sweats. Gongshow’s apparel does target a specific style when compared to some of the other apparel options out there. However, there is nothing that will say “I’m a hockey player” the way that a Gongshow hat or shirt will. The Gongshow Benchwarmer is a great looking hat that is perfect for the backyard rink or on the way to a game. One cool new product from Gongshow are team designed slippers. They’re made out of hockey sock material and match your favorite team’s sock pattern as well. These are incredibly unique and are equally comfortable.

Great Skate carries each manufacturers collection of off-ice apparel and the wide variety can be found at our store or online. Keep that in mind the next time you’re looking for a hat or shirt to show off your hockey pride.

Welcome back to hockey

NHL: Stanley Cup Finals-New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles KingsJust one short month ago in this space we discussed how to curb the effects of the lockout blues. As the calendar turned to 2013 there was still not an end to the most recent NHL labor dispute and hockey starved fans needed an outlet to see this great game.

Lucky enough, the NHL and NHLPA managed to come to an agreement and the game returned to a packed slate on January 19. Now the NHL is fully into a whirlwind 48-game schedule that will cram a ton of hockey into a very short period of time.

It was truly a shame that the 2012-13 season didn’t start on time and that the season has deteriorated into the 2013 season with no games played in the fall of 2012. Fans were robbed of the game they love and many team employees were put in a position in which critical work hours were lost or diminished due to the lack of games.

With the game back in full swing, the fans are able to consume their favorite product once again and, more importantly, those who work for the teams and in the arenas are back to work and enjoying the chance to get back to making hard earned money. Keep these people in mind when you get to an arena for the first time this season. The box office employees who may have lost hours due to no ticket sales, the ushers and security guards who joined concession workers as those locked out of arenas due to the lack of games. Maybe give them an extra tip of the hat as you also stroll back in to enjoy the game.

For the fans, take advantage of all that this shortened season will bring to you. Between the nearly every-other-night schedule your favorite team will play, there is going to be hockey played on nearly every day from January 19 until the Stanley Cup is awarded sometime in late June.

It is understandable that some hockey fans have drawn their allegiance to one team and one team alone. However, this unique schedule will not only prevent your hometown team from playing teams in the opposite conference, but it will also flood your television with hockey games. Try and take the time to catch a few games from a team you usually wouldn’t watch. Whether that is a team for way out west (or east) or maybe just a team in another division in your team’s conference.

For example, fans in the East will not get a chance to see their team play the new-look Minnesota Wild, defending Cup champion LA Kings or see how Roberto Luongo contends in Vancouver as trade rumors continue to swirl. The same goes for NHL fans on the west coast who won’t get to see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin roll through town with the Penguins nor Claude Giroux and the Flyers. Be sure to use this season to expose yourself to a few more teams in the NHL. Not only will you be more educated about the rest of the league, but you will help to make up for missing so much hockey from earlier in the year.

Another interesting development that will occur this season might just be increased trade and waiver movements. Between the inevitable injuries players will suffer with a shortened year and the condensed schedule, it will be vital for teams to shore up their holes quickly rather than holding out for their players to return. Keep an eye on players who have been popular trade rumor targets (see Luongo, Roberto) as they could certainly be on the move well before the trade deadline even comes around.

At the end of the day, however, make sure you find your way back to this wonderful game. No matter how lethargic, angry or bored you became as a result of the lockout be sure to take in a live game if possible. If you can’t get to an arena start watching on TV again. As a fan of the game, you had a massive piece of the season taken away, be sure to take back what you can now that the NHL has returned.