Great Skate Blog NHL: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Great Skate Blog NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

Pittsburgh PenguinsUntil proven otherwise, the Penguins boast the world’s best player and another dynamic superstar who is likely in the top-5. Changes behind the bench and along the blueline defined Pittsburgh’s offseason and as the reigning division winner I expect to see much of the same from the Pens. Marc-Andre Fleury is perhaps their biggest question mark but his play was far more stable last year than in 2012-13. The Penguins still sit atop the Metro Division and will be in the President’s Trophy conversation if Fleury plays well.

New York RangersThe Rangers seem to have found a way to improve but stay nearly the exact same team as last year. They unloaded the contract of Brad Richards, re-upped with their key core players and made some interesting signings. They also let a key player walk in Anton Stralman and will not be without Derek Stepan for a number of weeks. They still have the world’s best goaltender and an impressive blue line. The addition of Dan Boyle ought to give their power play a nice jolt and should Stepan return from injury in full form, they’ll be a formidable opponent again this year.

Columbus Blue JacketsA slightly tumultuous offseason followed a very promising 13-14 season for the Jackets. Another serious injury to Nathan Horton is likely to shelve the forward for some time while Ryan Johansen remains unsigned. Sergei Bobrovsky has proven that he wasn’t just a one year wonder and has been dominant at times for Columbus. This is still a team whose parts don’t eclipse the sum of its whole. Johansen is the star in waiting and Horton is perhaps their biggest name and it looks as if they’ll be without each to start the year. However, I still count on the Jackets to improve and finish third in the Metro.

Philadelphia FlyersClaude Giroux could wrap himself in bubble wrap each summer and manage to get injured ahead of camp. This year’s ailment is far less severe than the cut tendon he suffered last year, but he probably won’t be 100% at the start of the year. As is always the case, the Flyers will live and die with their goaltending. Steve Mason, despite his improvement last year, still doesn’t represent a confidence inspiring goaltender and if his play is average the Flyers will be as well. Philadelphia made an interesting decision in parting ways with Scott Hartnell and they could have a little trouble scoring goals in some areas. I still expect to see him in a wild card spot, but they’ll be battling down to the wire for it.

New York IslandersThe stats say that even with average goaltending the Islanders would have been an average team last year. The arrival of Jaroslav Halak should represent the improvement between the pipes that the Isles need to improve in the win column. John Tavares headlines a young, talented forward group who will be able to provide the necessary goal support for their new netminder. There may be a few defensive question marks that remain but the Isles have a lot of youth to be excited about. I’m expecting to see them finish just shy of the wild card.

New Jersey DevilsLike the Islanders, the Devils should have been far better than their record showed last year. However, their inability to win a single shootout cost them a number of wins and a number of precious points in the standings. In fact, those shootout losses accounted for more than enough points to make the playoffs had they found a way to win. Ultimately I think the Devils fall short of a playoff berth this year. Not because they haven’t improved but because they’re in a deep division that will be tough to succeed in.

Washington CapitalsI’m expecting regression for the Capitals this year. They overpaid both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen and I’m not sure they represent the defensive improvement the Capitals need. Niskanen will likely rack up power play points as he feeds one timers to Alex Ovechkin but I still think he was able to cash in on a big year on a great team. The Capitals still have a number of holes to fill and I don’t think they plugged each of them last year.

Carolina HurricanesCarolina wasn’t going to be a great team before Jordan Stall was injured. With Staal on the shelf for upwards of four months, the Hurricanes are closer to the Connor McDavid sweepstakes than they are to competing for a playoff spot. Depth and goaltending are among the biggest question marks they will deal with and with rumors of Eric Staal being available via trade doesn’t help those who are worried about the outlook for the Canes.

Atlantic Division

Boston BruinsMuch in the same way the Penguins will likely earn the Metro Crown, the Bruins enter the year as the prohibitive favorite in the Atlantic. No team has demonstrated that they’re better over the course of a season and I don’t expect that to change this year. While Zdeno Chara is beginning to show signs of aging, the Bruins are far too well constructed for that to be a major issue. The Bruins will have the first seed in the east at the end of the year and will likely be the team who is predicted to represent the East in the Cup Final.

Tampa Bay LightningThe Bolts bolstered their lineup this offseason with some very smart moves. Anton Stralman is a possession driving two-way defenseman and Jason Garrison will add another dynamic to the power play. Ryan Callahan will be on board for a full season and should Steven Stamkos stay healthy he’ll likely lead the league in goal scoring. It’s possible that the Bolts would have knocked off the Canadiens in the playoffs had Ben Bishop been healthy and he’ll be a big part of any success Tampa has this season. They probably don’t have enough to get by Boston in the Atlantic, but I won’t be surprised to see them in the conference finals.

Montreal CanadiensPK Subban is under contract, PA Parentau is in the fold (coming over in a great trade for Marc Bergevin) and Carey Price is still Carey Price. I still wonder about their play at center, but the Habs were impressive down the stretch last year and managed to knock off the Bruins on their way to the conference finals. I think Tampa took more steps forward this offseason, so I don’t see Montreal’s spot in the standings changing at all, but they’ll most certainly be a playoff team.

Detroit Red WingsThere’s a strong possibility that the standings in the Atlantic are the exact same this year. The Red Wings are still a strong club but they’re aging. They have a quality goaltender, one of the game’s most dangerous two-way players and a supporting cast that doesn’t have too many holes. They’re still flimsy on the blueline and it seems that their Eastern Conference rivals have done more to improve in the offseason. They’re still a full head better than Ottawa, Toronto, Buffalo and Florida which means they’ll be in the thick of the wild card race.

Toronto Maple LeafsToronto has been funny to watch the last couple seasons. They overachieved and took Boston to seven games two years ago. Then they couldn’t maintain last season and were on the outside looking in. The Leafs will live and die with Jonathan Bernier, Phil Kessel and James van Reimsdyk. I’m waiting to see if Jake Gardiner has a breakout season or if he’s stuck in the dog house again. There is some quality talent in Toronto and if the chips fall right they could certainly leap frog Detroit for a wild card spot.

Ottawa SenatorsI don’t see the Senators being a very good team this year. In fact, they are going to rely heavily on Craig Anderson to win them games based on their offseason work. Not only do I expect to see them miss the playoffs, I have a sneaking suspicion that Bobby Ryan will head out the door in free agency in the summer. Kyle Turris and Ryan should form a nice duo up front and Erik Karlsson remains one of the elite offensive defensemen in the world. However, there isn’t too much depth on the roster and I see this year as a step back for the Sens.

Florida PanthersDale Tallon still has plenty of work to do in Southern Florida. Aaron Ekblad is a very nice addition. He, along with other lottery picks Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov will help drive the club. The Panthers do have some very impressive talent on their roster but it ultimately feels incomplete in some areas. Roberto Luongo’s presence alone should account for a number of wins and while the Panthers may not make any progress moving up in the Atlantic, I can see them beating out at least two teams from the Metro in the conference standings.

Buffalo SabresThe Sabres were woefully short on goal scoring last year. They also happened to be woefully short on defense, the power play and penalty killing. Before and after Ryan Miller’s departure the goaltending was strong, but that was really one of the few silver linings from last year. The Sabres did a lot of work to bring in more veteran support and skill and that will account for a few things. First, a full year of Matt Moulson and Brian Gionta will help in the locker room and on the scoreboard. Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart are both in contract years and have looked motivated in the preseason. The defense corps is an interesting group as Ted Nolan is going to have some very difficult decisions to make regarding his lineup. The Sabres lone competition this season will be for last place, although the hockey should be a bit more tolerable this time around.

Bauer Supreme MX3

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

Bauer Supreme MX3 Hockey Stick

The standard of excellence in stick design and innovation has been Bauer’s exclusive territory for some time. While other manufacturers have established a strong foothold in the market, Bauer’s line often signifies a step forward in terms of innovation.

The Supreme has always been tailor made for players with powerful shots and the new Supreme MX3 carries on that tradition. Whether you’re looking to unleash heavy slapshots or strong one-timers, this is the perfect stick.

One of the newest features on the MX3 is the Power Sense 2 blade. This combines a host of technological features into an all-new blade that promotes feel without compromising durability. The blade is developed by integrating SENSE layer materials with Bauer’s signature TeXtreme carbon wrap. This combination allows for Bauer to trim weight from the blade profile while maintaining normal balance and a soft feel. The new construction allows Bauer to capture the best of both worlds – feel and durability – in the blade. This feature can be found throughout Bauer’s line as the APX2 and Nexus 8000 sticks will also boast the new blade construction.

Bauer has also managed to institute a brand new durability feature throughout the build of the stick. The eLAST resin system keeps the stick from losing its pop over time. This addresses a number of pitfalls as it pertains to the breakdown of composite sticks. First, it keeps the stick from gaining flex after each skate. Especially for powerful shooters, having a stick go from a 110 flex rating to an 85 over a matter of weeks or months (depending on use) can have an enormous effect on your play. BY reducing this breakdown, Bauer is ensuring their sticks will not only stay in use longer but it ensures your performance won’t suffer as a result.

Bauer MX3 Sticks

Bauer MX3 Sticks

The second benefit of the eLAST resin is the reduction of micro-fractures. As the name indicates, these small cracks in the carbon can spread and grow into larger cracks and eventually cost you a stick. By working to reduce that from developing, Bauer is buying a bit more time between stick purchases.

This is an impressive addition from Bauer as it’s rare to see any sort of durability addition advertised with such vigor. While all companies are working to keep their sticks on the ice longer, the introduction of eLAST may represent the most impressive attempt yet.

Bauer’s Supreme MX3 stick is a great step forward for Bauer’s stick line and perhaps stick design as a whole. Any time a quality improvement is made in the name of durability, the stick will be worth purchasing.

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

Stamkos with the NEW MX3 on the Driving Range

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

Bauer is at Their Best With Nexus Protective Line

The three families of equipment feature by Bauer encompasses every fit and style a player could need. While the Vapor APX2 and Supreme NXG equipment caters to a tighter, more anatomical fit, the Nexus line provides a more traditional, loose fit from the shoulder pads down through the shin guards.

Of the three collections, the Nexus not only fits more players – thanks to its wider design – but it is also the most protective of the three. The three major pieces – shoulder pads, elbow pads and shin guards – each prominently feature EPP foam in strategic areas for maximum protection with additional HD foam inserts throughout.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shoulder Pads

The Nexus 8000 shoulder pads feature a nearly full EPP construction with poly inserts in the sternum and spinal areas. Bauer has placed additional HD foams down the spine for extra protection. There is ample protection featured throughout and the unit even features a removable belly pad extension. These shoulder pads offer a comfortable fit with free-floating bicep guards that move independent of the rest of the unit.

Moving down to the elbow pads, Bauer has produced a product with three individual anchor points. The EPP construction is shared with the shoulder pads and the asymmetrical design promotes the overall protection of the gear. The Nexus elbow pad also features a very mobile bicep guard that increases mobility and comfort.

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

Bauer Nexus 8000 Shin Pads

With the Nexus shin guard, the majority of the EPP protection is on the back portion as the thermoformed shin and knee caps are made of durable, injected plastic. The EPP calf wrap provides full wrap-around protection while the knee sling is of a fully anatomical design to ensure a snug fit.

Each piece has a classic look and feel and that translates into the fit no matter what size you wear. While it may lack the flash of the APX2, the Nexus protective equipment features a clean design and the most quality protection of the three lines Bauer produces. Even for those players who prefer the Vapor skates or the Supreme stick, the Nexus protective line certainly serves as the flagship for Bauer’s protective equipment.

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

What They’re Wearing: Brian Gionta

Among the numerous moves Tim Murray made on July 1, signing Brian Gionta as a free agent was one of the biggest. Gionta, who hails from Rochester, NY is making as close to a homecoming as he possibly could by signing with the Sabres. After five seasons in Montreal, Gionta is back home where he played his junior hockey with the Niagara Scenic hockey club (now the Buffalo Junior Sabres).

Gionta wore an interesting mix of equipment this season and managed to pull from every major manufacturer aside from CCM. Although his Reebok stick technically qualifies as the two companies are virtually one in the same.

Skates: Bauer Vapor APX2 – A skilled, shifty player, Gionta opts for the massively popular Vapor line for his skates and even finishes them off with foot guards in case he catches a shot from the point in the wrong way. The stiff boot construction of the APX2 maximizes acceleration and allows for quick, tight turns. Exactly the type of traits a player of Gionta’s ilk is looking for.

Gloves: Warrior Dynasty AX1 – The next generation of Warrior’s Franchise glove, the AX1 is a traditional four-roll glove with a slightly updated appearance from the original Franchise. These offer a traditional fit that allows for maximum movement and rotation in the wrists. These are a favorite of highly skilled players who need to be able to stickhandle and pass in tight areas. Gionta had previously worn the Easton Pro gloves before making the transition to Warrior.

Stick: Reebok Ribcor – Reebok’s Ribcor is all about giving players the ability to launch heavier shots with a quicker release. The Ribcor’s shaft is “pre-loaded” to allow players to get the puck off their sticks faster with far more force.

Helmet: Easton S9 – Like our last “What They’re Wearing” subject, Gionta is partial to the older Easton S9 helmet. The S9 uses a VN foam liner that is typically considered to be a bit more comfortable than the newer, technologically advanced helmets that utilize EPP foams or even more advanced materials.

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Bauer Days are coming to Great Skate

Great Skate will be hosting a Bauer Days event on Saturday, August 16 from 12pm until 4pm. The event will give players a chance to get an up-close and personal look at all of Bauer’s gear for the upcoming season with some great deals on hockey’s most cutting edge equipment.

A 15% off sale on both hockey gear and goalie equipment during the #BauerDays event gives you a chance to restock your bag with the best from Bauer’s trio of equipment lines or the pair of groundbreaking goaltender lines. Whether you’re looking for the impressive anatomic fit of the Supreme TotalOne NXG gloves, the classic look and feel of the Nexus skates or the new-and-improved APX2 protective line, Bauer Days will not only allow you to check out the latest and greatest, but the discount ensures you’ll get your new gear at a great price.

Bauer events have always been a can’t miss for hockey players. The ability to get a peek at some of Bauer’s newest gear while also having the opportunity to test out others is a highlight of the offseason. Then, there’s the swag.

The first 200 players to arrive at the event will receive a free Bauer swag bag and the first 200 parents will receive a free Bauer coffee mug. There are few things cooler than branded merchandise from an equipment manufacturer. Of course, you can’t beat free either.

Be sure to get to Great Skate early on Saturday morning to lock up your swag bag or coffee mug and be the first to experience Bauer’s impressive line of gear.

What’s in a Bag?

Grit HTSE Hockey Tower Wheeled Bag

Grit HTSE Hockey Tower Wheeled Bag

Most people probably don’t think about their hockey bag very often. After all, it’s just a vessel to help carry your equipment from point-a to point-b. But there’s actually a bit more to hockey bags today than their utilitarian predecessors of years past.

Bags these days come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be carried like a backpack, some have wheels, some have a spot that will carry a stick, some have fans built into them and some are simple, basic bags that evoke a classic look while still sporting some modern amenities.

Some bags, like Grit’s HT1 Hockey Tower resemble airplane luggage with their vertical construction, wheels, pull handle and compartmentalized interior. These are pretty much the Cadillac of hockey bags that basically shrink a locker stall down to a manageable size. These are ideal for younger players who might have some trouble lugging the weight of their equipment but also appeal to a wide audience who prefer the orderly organization of their gear to the chaotic heap of jerseys, socks and pad that little traditional carry bags.

Backpack bags have also gained popularity in recent years and some of the backpack style hockey bags even come with wheels and a pull handle. These bags, like the Easton Stealth RS bag, feature a similar interior layout to the Grit tower bag as there are specific areas to store each piece of equipment. While it doesn’t feature the storage areas that the Grit bag does, the Easton – along with the Bauer and Reebok models carried by Great Skate – feature dedicated skate pockets and additional areas to store tape and tools.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the back pack bags. I feel as if they don’t maximize the space necessary to store gear. However, I’m also a fan of a traditional, no frills bag that has a pocket or two for tape and my extra accessories (screwdriver, etc.). The next time I go looking for a new bag, the Warrior Pro and Bauer team carry bags will be at the top of my list. They feature a basic construction with a very durable outer and inner materials that help prevent cuts and holes from developing. The Warrior bag is particularly nice as it features internal skate pockets and a vented mesh top to help keep your gear dry. Both also feature a clean, professional look that is low on extra graphics and high on function.

Warrior Covert Carry Hockey Bag

Warrior Covert Carry Hockey Bag

Last, but certainly not least, are goalie bags. Goalie bags can be tough to pick out based on how you pack your gear. Many goalies put their pads in their bag which necessitates even more space. While I’m partial to carrying my pads, I still need a spacious bag to fit all of my equipment. Great Skate offers a number of goalie bags from Reebok, Bauer, Warrior and Vaughn. In fact, Great Skate offers a wheeled and non-wheeled Bauer model along with wheeled versions from Reebok and Warrior. However, for my money, the Vaughn BG 7400 bag takes the cake. This is a spacious, well-designed bag that features reinforcements in all the right areas and a great exterior look. It comes with a removable wash bag and can easily fit a goaltender’s full locker with ease.

Be sure to consider all of your options as you’re searching for a bag for the upcoming season.

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

Free Agent Frenzy Watch List

With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.

The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.

Goalie

Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.

Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.

Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.

Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.

Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.

Defensemen

Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.

Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.

Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.

Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.

Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.

Forward

Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.

Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.

Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.

Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.

Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.

CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

After a lengthy vacation from the crease, CCM returned last year with a new entry into the goaltending market. The Extreme Flex pads not only represented CCM’s first official entry into the goaltending world again but it also brought about a pad with some impressive new features.

CCM developed a pad with a soft, flexible boot that allows the pad to sit a bit lower than it’s stiffer Reebok cousins. While the rest of the pad shares many of the same traits as the Reebok pads, the flexible boot and softer face (complete with knee rolls) provides a much more traditional pad than the P4 or current XLT is.

Upon first release, the pad offered a different option for goalies who weren’t as fond of Reebok pads while still providing the option to wear equipment produced by the legendary Lefevre design team. The marriage of Lefevre and Reebok/CCM pads doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, but this and the former Reebok Larceny remain as the only pads constructed by Reebok or CCM in recent years with a different take than the flat faced look that helps to define Reebok.

CCM took things a step further this past year as they provided a new design option for EFlex users. The RetroFlex pad has the same construction as the original EFlex but with a basic, vertical stitch graphics package. The only color options on the pad, outside of the face of the shin, will be the knee rolls, outer roll and the darts between the knee rolls.

Jonathan Bernier wore the RetroFlex all season and looked particularly good in his vintage colored RetroFlex pads at this year’s winter classic.

Outside of the aesthetic differences between the EFlex and the RetroFlex, there are no other changes between the two. They’re both inspired by more flexible products in the boot while still utilizing the modern core design that can be found in pads like the Reebok XLT and others.

If you find yourself stuck deciding between the EFlex or the RetroFlex, it’s likely a simple decision between a true retro look over a slightly more contemporary graphic on the face of the pad. While I prefer the EFlex simply due to the design options available, the RetroFlex is a beautiful pad. Especially for those netminders who prefer a classic look.

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

There’s no easy way to keep up with goalie mask art. If you or your child change teams regularly, a brand new paint job can look out of place after just one season of use. Not to mention, many artists charge an arm and a leg for paintjobs and if you choose the wrong one, you’re more than likely going to lose the factory warranty on your mask. Luckily, Bauer has thought of a solution to this conundrum.

Bauer’s NME3 and NME5 goal masks comes with a number of stock designs that feature a wide range of colors, patters and artwork that provides a custom look that will match a number of team’s uniforms.

These designs range from vintage inspired looks right up to designs that mimic the graphics on Bauer’s equipment line – the Reactor, for example. While the colors available are somewhat limited, most of the designs are generic enough that they will match nearly every team’s uniforms. For example, the flame graphic features a red graphic flame against a basic black background. Whether you’re playing for a team with Blackhawks, Devils or even Red Wings uniforms, you won’t run into any issues.

The center racing stripe and vintage jersey stripe graphics play the best in terms of design, but the more creative designs like the Reactor or USA graphics offer a more unique take on the practice.

Taking advantage of what Bauer offers at the junior or youth models of the NME 5 and NME 3 gives you a chance to pick up a mask with unique artwork (as opposed to the basic white or black) without needing to break the bank on a custom paint job.

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

Every player is a little different in their gear preferences. Some players like loose, free flowing equipment while others prefer to play with gear that fits tight to their body. Some players prefer the feel and protection of a slightly bulkier set up while others want to use equipment that is more minimalistic.

In the past this meant that you were either left buying the biggest, heaviest equipment in the store (if you preferred more protection) or stuck altering your gear on your own (if you prefer the minimal approach). Now, however, there are products available that offer players both options in a single package.

Padded hockey shirts have been on the market for a few years now and provide a quality, base layer product with additional padding placed in strategic locations. The product isn’t designed to serve as a standalone piece of equipment like shoulder pads do, but many players – particularly in adult leagues – have found they offer a similar level of protection without being as cumbersome as traditional shoulder pads. Ultimately, these don’t provide the same protection as a shoulder pad unit as most shirts don’t have shoulder caps, which are vital to the protective qualities of the unit.

Reebok does offer a product that combines the best of both worlds, however. The Reebok KFS Hybrid Core shoulder pad is a combination shoulder pad and padded shirt unit. It comes with a pared down shoulder pad unit with a floating sternum protector and KFS hybrid shoulder caps. It fits perfectly with the PS Core padded shirt to offer the same fit and feel of a full shoulder pad unit but with the freedom of motion offered with a padded shirt.

Reebok’s traditional padded shirt covers all the areas that your shoulder pads typically would except it is all contained in a single base layer shirt. It’s flexible, breathable fabric that is wildy popular in roller hockey and non-contact adult leagues.

Goalies can also benefit from using a padded hockey shirt. In fact, both CCM and Reebok offer padded goalie shirts that are specifically tailored to beef up the protection offered by a chest protector. A traditional padded shirt offers similar protection in the chest and biceps, but the goalie shirts have even more protection around the neck and along the clavicle. CCM’s product, in particular targets very specific areas where some chest protector units have slightly less padding; specifically on the upper bicep and underarm.

An added benefit of wearing a padded shirt under your chest protector is the height you will gain. While the overall boost may be under an inch, the shirt will literally puff your chest up and out thanks to the added padding along the shoulder.

When it comes to the goaltender specific shirts, the CCM padded goalie shirt appears to be superior simply based on the placement of their padding. The clavicle, sternum and biceps all get a boost along with additional padding for the underarms. However, the Reebok padded goalie shirt adds some additional padding around the neck line, giving a very vital area protection from sticks and skates. While it certainly doesn’t serve as a neck guard replacement, it’s better than nothing in such an important spot.

There are a number of padded hockey shirts at Great Skate and whether you’re looking for some extra protection or simply trying to find a safe alternative to shoulder pads, give each of these units a look as there are plenty of options to choose from.