Labatt Blue Wingman Tournament brings a new twist

Unfortunately the Labatt Blue Pond Hockey Tournament has encountered a few bumps in the road the last few years. Warm weather wiped the tournament in 2012 and the 2013 version was severely limited due to a host of twists thanks to Mother Nature.

Organizers have been putting their heads together and have cooked up what appears to be a “plan B” or “plan C” for the winter staple. Synthetic ice.

Eight teams will participate in a two-on-two tournament on a small, synthetic surface in the middle of the annual Wing Festival at Coca-Cola Field. The heat on August 31 isn’t going to be an issue as the synthetic surface appears to be immune to everything from sun to snow. I can only assume that synthetic surfaces will be kept on hand come winter time in the event that the weather doesn’t cooperate yet again.

I, for one, have never skated on a synthetic surface but I have to imagine there are some specific differences between that and traditional ice. What will be interesting to see is how the participants react to the playing surface as there seems to be a pretty good chance that the Basin Marina or man-made rinks are replaced by this in February.

Credit is due to those who realized the possibilities of this type of product. Given that the idea behind the tournament is to use the frozen Marina – despite weather constraints – a viable plan B will be needed on a yearly basis. Since ice will be tough to maintain on a man-made rink in the same weather that keeps the Marina from freezing, a non-ice based surface is what would be needed. It would appear that this is the best option until the canals are completed down at Canalside (although it would seem a new Peace Bridge may come sooner).

As someone who has signed up for pond hockey the last three years, it has been disappointing to see weather alter the event so badly. It is a great deal of fun and makes for an awesome setting when the stars align. If synthetic ice is the way to keep this moving forward until the refrigerated canals are ready, then so be it.

Hopefully the surface gets strong reviews on the 31 and the yearly tournament goes off without a hitch no matter how mild of a winter Buffalo has in 2013-14.

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

The wait is finally over. A few weeks after CCM introduced the RBZ Stage 2 stick, Reebok has introduced their newest twig for the upcoming season. The revolutionary Ribcor is now available in stores and offers a groundbreaking feature in stick development.

For the most part, the Ribcor is a pretty basic stick. The black on black finish gives it a sleek, stealthy look with fewer frills than other, more complicated sticks on the market. Nothing more than the neon green Ribcor logo stands out when looking at the stick from a distance.

Reebok offers a full host of flex and curve options with the Ribcor and when it comes down to blade technology, there isn’t too much different from that of the other sticks in the Reebok line. Where the difference is with the Ribcor is the kick point.

Reebok developed a ribbed (hence the name) design that keeps the carbon at full tension at all times. This differs from other stick technology in which the carbon is only at full tension when shooting or passing. Because of this change, the Ribcor is always loaded and ready to fire. This translates to less effort for the player when shooting.

The technology is all about power transfer. Much like other features in sticks like the Dynasty or RBZ that harness the power behind each player’s shot, the Ribcor’s technology almost enhances that power because of the way the stick is constructed.

What’s even better about the Ribcor line is that the technology doesn’t waver in the price point models. While many equipment lines only offer the top technology in the pro stick, gloves, skates etc.; the ribbed shaft is a hallmark of the entire line. That means you get the benefit of the new technology no matter what model you purchase.

For those players hoping for the lightest and highest performing model, the pro is the only way to go. During the demo day for the Ribcor I was surprised to feel the balance of the stick despite the new addition. My expectation was a drastically heavier stick than models like the 20K or A.I.Nine, but it wasn’t any heavier than the RBZ I was trying out. That, combined with the pop you get on your shots makes for a dangerous scoring weapon.

From the short time I had with the stick on the ice, I noticed a nice response and a stiffer shaft. Comparing the 100 flex Ribcor to a 100 flex RBZ, for example, there seemed to be more whip to the RBZ due to the construction. Even though the Ribcor felt stiffer, it didn’t react as if it was stiffer. In fact, the pop on a slap shot was equivalent, if not improved as compared to the RBZ when I used both on the ice.

You don’t have to wait any longer to snag the Ribcor and Great Skate has a full line of the new twigs for you to check out.

Bonus On the Ice: RBZ Stick

CCM takes scoring to a new level with RBZ Stage 2 stick

CCM takes scoring to a new level with RBZ Stage 2 stick

As a bonus for August, I’ll do a second product review from the CCM RBZ family. In addition to having a chance to try out the RBZ skates, I’ve also but an RBZ Stage 2 stick into my arsenal.

The Stage 2 has incorporated a number of new features that weren’t part of the original RBZ stick and the results are noticeable.

Out of the Box

I went with an 85 flex Hossa curve with no grip for my RBZ. The non-grip, matte finish looks very nice and has a nice, smooth feel to it off the rack and on the ice. In addition, the Hossa curve is a solid toe-curve that gives a high level of control.

What I like best with this stick is how it looks with white tape on the blade. Just as cool as the Easton Stealth was with black tape, the RBZ’s white finish looks really cool on the ice, framing the puck without much to disrupt the color distribution between the blade, shaft, puck and ice.

The new graphics package that CCM put in looks real good the first time you pick the stick up off the shelf and some of the physical changes are noticeable too. The original RBZ wasn’t nearly as well balanced as the Stage 2 and had a blade-heavy feel the first time you picked it up. The Stage 2 is ultra-lightweight and has a great balance when you first pick it up.

On the Ice

Unfortunately I’ve been enjoying quite the dry spell in the goals department this summer, so I can’t say the stick has brought me positive results in the finishing department over the last few games. However, like with the original RBZ, when stickhandling and shooting the hot blade stands out. The speed channels in the RBZ blade are such a unique idea when it comes to hockey and the structure makes for a very firm blade when passing or shooting.

The overall feel of the stick is great. I love stick handling with it and have found that passing on the forehand and backhand has been excellent. While my shooting hasn’t been finding the net, I’ve noticed a nice pop off the blade with snap or slapshots. Even when taking wrist shots, the strong blade keeps the puck on plane and on target.

What I’ve yet to see translate with this stick is an overall consistency in my game. In only a few ice times I’ve had limited chances shooting the puck and haven’t really had a chance to tee off on any. I have made more than a few plays with my backhand as of late and I actually feel as if I’ve had a little more on those passes or shots – which hasn’t always been the case. While I’m not sure if the speed channels are to thank for that, I certainly would say the build of the stick has given it a truer flex, kick and strength in all areas.

I’m looking forward to getting this – and the skates – on the ice more in the coming weeks to get an even better feel for the return you get with the technology and perhaps also start filling the net on a regular basis.

On the Ice: CCM RBZ skates

CCM RBZ Skate and RBZ Stage 2 Stick

CCM RBZ Skate and RBZ Stage 2 Stick

On the heels of their partnership with Taylor made to release the RBZ stick last season, CCM took a step forward in 2013 in not only revamping the RBZ stick, but introducing the RBZ skate to their line.

When I got around to getting the RBZ skates on the ice, it wasn’t the first time I had a chance to try a pair on. The CCM RBZ Demo Day afforded me a chance to take a spin in the new wheels and helped to inspire me to give the product a closer look.

Finer details of the skate’s design can be found in our product review posted earlier this summer.

Out of the Box

The RBZ is a very good looking skate. It’s a very basic, traditional look that goes light on accents and crazy desgins and heavy on dark colors. It is a nice way to disguise the all-carbon boot as the dark upper just looks like the outside of any old skate you’ve grown up wearing. Upon closer inspection, however, the details of the construction are more evident.

One difference with the RBZ over just about every skate on the market is how big they run. CCM constructed them to fit a little wider which practically sizes them up nearly one full size for most people. I’m anywhere between a 10 or 10.5 in skates and the RBZ I’m wearing are a 9.5. Keep that in mind when you go to try them on.

The wide fit is pretty much uniform through the entire skate and it isn’t reduced until they take a spin in the oven and get laced up the first time. This doesn’t mean that putting them on out of the box gives a deceptive feel, but allowing them to bake and mold will do wonders in the fit and comfort department.

Most other facets of the skate are relatively basic. There’s nothing that stands out in store or even in the locker room in terms of the feel or ascetics. The physical attributes of the skate are another story as the incredible weight savings CCM used are the first thing anyone notices when they hold the skate.

This balance and weight work that CCM put into the RBZ is noticeable on the ice as well, as the skates are barely noticeable at times.

On the Ice

One word of warning on the RBZ skate; wear them around your house a lot. My previous on ice review of the Easton Mako revealed a skate that was pretty much game ready after baking. The RBZ is close but does need a little extra wear before your first ice time. While I didn’t get a chance to break them in further at home, I only experience slight discomfort the first time I got them on the ice.

Another thing that stood out to me was the fit once I was ready to go. The wide fit caused me to lace my skates a little tighter than usual to ensure the fit I have grown accustomed to. However, once I got the skates to a point I liked it was smooth sailing.

Since I’m not an overly fast or quick player, nothing much improves those attributes of my game. Yet, the three games I’ve worn the RBZ for have been ice times in which my cornering and edge work have been improved. While only an ACME rocket would give me more straightaway speed, I feel that my edges and in-tight agility have improved with the skates.

There’s something about the RBZ that makes me feel incredibly comfortable on the ice. While the wide fit was something I had to adjust to, the comfort level of these skates is completely unparalleled. CCM has a full line of skates in the RBZ family and each and every one is worth a long look when you come in to grab a new pair.

Ranking the greatest hockey movies

No hockey road trip is complete without a sturdy collection of go-to movies for a team to watch. From comedies to action movies right on down to hockey-related classics, having a deep library to choose from is always key. Of all the movies that are out there that rely heavily on hockey, these ten stand out to me as the very best.

10. 24/7 Road to the Winter Classic – Not technically a movie, but the HBO miniseries that will be set to return for the 2014 Winter Classic is one of my favorite things about the hockey season. HBO does such a tremendous job with this series that no matter when you might watch it, it will captivate you.

9. The Mighty Ducks – Quack, quack, quack, Mr. Ducksworth. The original Mighty Ducks flick will always hold a special place in the hearts of many hockey players who grew up in the 90s. While the hockey scenes leave something to be desired, the Ducks franchise still earns a spot on this list.

8. D2: The Mighty Ducks – The best of the trio of Might Ducks films, in my opinion. D2 follows the Ducks to the Junior Goodwill Games where they face the mighty hockey nation of Iceland in yet another epic Ducks battle. While none of the Ducks movies have much substance in the hockey department, I prefer this one to the original.

7. Goon – A seriously underrated movie that should probably rank much higher on this list, Goon burst onto the scene in Canada upon its release while enjoying a much softer acceptance in the States. However, the locker room scenes are hilarious and there are some solid one-liners written into the film. It does earn it’s R rating, so show discretion of who you’re viewing it with.

6. Youngblood – A common trend with most hockey movies is that they aren’t exactly family friendly. Youngblood meets that quota in a few categories and is probably now something that many movie fans would chuckle at for some of the hockey scenes and Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of the Mustang’s goalkeeper. Regardless of the throwback nature of this film, give it one viewing to see if it ranks higher for you.

5. Pond Hockey – A documentary made in 2008 that illustrates the outdoor game and all that encompasses it. This is without a doubt, a must-see for any hockey fan or player.

4. Mystery, Alaska – Mystery, Alaska ties in a bit more of the drama component to the plot than most other hockey movies. While there are some good comedic scenes, this one is more about the story and it certainly doesn’t fall short in that category. Fair warning, there are some mature situations in the film, so it may not be the best for youngsters, but still keep this one high in your Netflix queue.

3. The Rocket – Perhaps a movie that isn’t too well known, The Rocket is a flick that is very well done and tells the story of one of the NHL’s most legendary scorers. It’s more than worth the time to watch it and I’m willing to guess that it pulls you right in.

2. Slap Shot – Perhaps the most quotable hockey movie ever created, this classic comedy gave us the Hanson Brothers, foiled knuckles and a fear of Ogie Ogilthorpe. While this one certainly isn’t kid or family friendly, it is a hockey movie that is an absolute must-see.

1. Miracle – As if there was really any doubt to this one. Disney knocked this movie out of the park by not only filming full-speed hockey scenes, but using actors who had strong hockey skills to portray each member of the 1980 Olympic team. The movie itself is very well written and tells a story that every American born hockey player lives to enjoy. One cool fact I learned from a friend in Vancouver; Bill Ranford (who did the Jim Craig action scenes) needed to basically give up on a specific sequence that was supposed to result in a goal because he kept making saves instead of getting scored on.

Exciting time for hockey in Buffalo as HARBORcenter rises

Exciting time for hockey in Buffalo as HARBORcenter rises

Exciting time for hockey in Buffalo as HARBORcenter rises

The cranes that dot the skyline in downtown Buffalo are feverishly assisting in assembling Terry Pegula’s newest piece of the growing Sabres campus at the foot of Washington Street. HARBORcenter is rising higher by the day as the hotel, twin-rink and parking garage complex works towards the slated 2014 opening date.

HARBORcenter –  is set to welcome a Marriott branch to the hotel portion of the project – will also include a large parking facility that will serve the adjacent First Niagara Center, hotel and the pair of rinks which will sit on top of the parking structure. One of the two rinks will seat 1,800 people and it was just announced that it will serve as the home for the Canisius Golden Griffins hockey program.

With the Golden Griffins joining the Junior Sabres minor program, it will make HARBORcenter a mecca for hockey in downtown Buffalo. Don’t forget that since the facility will be joined to First Niagara Center, it will create the NHL’s first three-rink facility.

Perhaps the ultimate benefit of having a premier hockey venue in the heart of downtown won’t be felt, but I’m sure that it won’t take long for the benefits to reveal themselves. Not only will one of the top youth programs in the area be operating out of the building, Buffalo’s lone DI NCAA program will not be playing feet away from the NHL rink. If there was a better way to bring the focus of Western New York’s hockey community to this building I’d like to know how.

There’s certainly no guarantee that Canisius’ program will blossom uncontrollably due to their move, but the recruiting trail might be a bit easier when professional scouts will be a hop and a skip from every home game in a brand new, state-of-the-art arena that is set to feature a training center specifically designed to develop hockey players.

I’m hopeful that the Griffs will be able to lure a few more premier names to their home for inter-conference matchups now that they’re no longer borrowing home ice at a different facility. Perhaps a certain blue and white clad team from Pennsylvania will want to check out the digs funded by the very man who provided funding for their new home.

Another benefit that will surely be on the table thanks to HARBORcenter will be the ability to lure national tournaments to Buffalo’s doorstep. This includes the Frozen Four. Buffalo first hosted the tournament in 2001 and have since (slowly) built out the waterfront while hitting the fast track with a premier hockey venue which will not just serve as a practice facility for the teams being hosted but also has a hotel to house each of the competing teams. Not to mention the additional development that is sure to impress the visiting guests from across the country.

Despite the fact that his professional team is beginning the difficult process of a rebuild, the construction happening outside of the First Niagara Center should bring attention to the arena for years to come.

What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider

What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider

What They’re Wearing: Cory Schneider

One of the best parts of the start of a new hockey season is all of the new goalie equipment that gets broken in during training camp and into the start of the season. New mask paint, pads and the like makes the first few weeks of the season fun.

While we are still a few weeks away from seeing all the new gear that goalies will be wearing, I wanted to take the chance to evaluate the gear worn by New Jersey’s newest netminder, Cory Schneider.

Mask: Bauer 961 – This is a classic throughout the NHL. It is a lightweight mask that offers great protection. It also has the iconic shape of Bauer’s design team that is reflected in products like the NME mask series.

Blocker & Glove: CCM E-Flex – CCM’s newest model that debuted this season. Designed by Lefevbre – the same guy who designs the Reebok line – the E-Flex is a great looking set that incorporates a number of design standards that have made Lefevbre designed equipment so popular over the years. Schneider specifically uses the one-piece cuff on the E-Flex catch glove as can be seen in this photo.

Pads: Vaughn Velocity V5: Schneider, like myself, is a fan of a softer, flexible pad. One of the few goalies in the league to use a double break on the outer roll of his pad, Schneider has what looks to be a very traditional set up for his leg pads (and his glove set too). While many NHL goalies use a number of special customizations on their pads, there doesn’t seem to be many on Schneider’s set. One interesting thing about his choice of an all-white design is he had been using a really cool color scheme earlier in the year before switching.

Stick: Warrior Swagger: Just a traditional white-based Swagger for Schneider. I’d personally would go blue with green trim if he’s keeping his pads all white, but that’s just my personal preference.

Skates: It is very hard to tell from the picture available on the web, but it would appear that Schneider is using one of the high-end models from Bauer. I’d venture a guess that they’re TotalOne skates or something similar based on the cowling and look of the boot. Leave a thought in the comments section if you have more information on this.

If you have a candidate for What They’re Wearing, please contact us on @greatskateblog or leave your recommendation in the comment section.

Finding the helmet that’s right for you

Bauer IMS 9.0 Hockey Helmet

Bauer IMS 9.0 Ice Hockey Helmet

In the dizzying world of new sticks, varying glove designs and new models of skates being unveiled each season, it can be easy to overlook the importance of purchasing a helmet that is going to offer comfort and, most importantly, protection.

There is a plethora of available helmet manufacturers and models to choose from on the market today and figuring out which one works best for you or your child can be difficult. While picking the shiny new model that Pat Kane was wearing on TV may be the temptation, often there are other factors to consider when evaluating a helmet purchase.

First off, you have to ensure that the helmets you’re trying on will fit properly. This means finding a helmet that fits comfortably on your head, that doesn’t wobble when secured and one that doesn’t apply too much pressure either. Some of this focuses on comfort, but that’s very important. Uncomfortable helmets will drive the wearer to loosen them to increase comfort; this decreases the safety of the helmet ten-fold.

A snug helmet should simply provide a snug fit on your head. It shouldn’t move side-to-side or rotate horizontally, either. Again, it shouldn’t be so tight that it is uncomfortable while it’s being worn.

Finding the right size helmet isn’t necessarily a major bugaboo lately since a vast majority of models can be adjusted on the fly. However, just because you wear a large now doesn’t mean that another large will fit the exact same way. For example, the Bauer IMS 9 sits a little higher on the head and has a slightly more snug fit than a helmet like the CCM V08 which sits lower and fits larger than the IMS. So be sure to try on and fully adjust each helmet model you’re considering before making a final decision. The last thing you need is to snag what you think is your size off the shelf only to find that it fits too large once you get it home.

Another important factor to consider in terms of comfort and fit is the construction of different helmets. Not only in terms of the shell design but also the interior padding. Every company uses a different approach with their helmets lately with some sitting higher on the head and others sitting lower. In addition, each company uses varying levels of design for the guts of their helmets too. For example, Bauer uses a boatload of new technology like Suspend-Tech and PORON foam in the RE-AKT and IMS 9 helmets while the mainstay 4500 still uses a basic VN foam liner.

VN foam is the traditional, soft foam that can be found in many helmets in ice rinks around North America. It is soft and molds well to your head after time providing a high level of comfort. However, VN foam doesn’t provide the same type of resistance as can be found with a more high-tech product like EPP foam or Bauer’s new PORON product.

Many helmets have made EPP foam the primary liner for their helmets as it guards well against high-impact collisions better than most other products. Helmets like the Easton E700 and Reebok 11K use an EPP liner with comfort padding throughout to maximize protection and comfort. One of my personal favorite helmets is my Reebok 8K that uses a similar design to the current 11K helmet.

Of course, with new technology comes new expenses and sometimes breaking the bank isn’t the most vital step to take when purchasing a helmet. For example, a youngster playing mite or squirt hockey won’t need the same type of impact protection as a Triple-A midget or even a junior player. A the risk of high-speed collisions increases with the level of play, the need for increased protection will increase as well.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that no helmet is concussion-proof. Even non-head impact hits can cause the whiplash effect that causes concussions. A helmet designed by NASA wouldn’t help you then. Well, probably not.

The next time you’re in Great Skate picking out a helmet be sure to know the model type you’re searching for. Do you need a helmet like the RE-AKT or 11K that offer an elite level of protection? Or is something like the Warrior Krown 360 or Easton helmets with their high-level of fit, comfort and impact protection something you’re looking for. Perhaps a Bauer 4500 or CCM V08 works best for you. Be sure to evaluate your options, ensure a proper fit before making any final decisions.