Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final as the equipment giant can claim it is getting the most usage in each major gear category at the Final.

The only close category is sticks, which is the only category in which Bauer doesn’t hold over 50% of the usage. Their 42% share still towers over the next closest manufacturer (Easton) who slots in at 17%. It shouldn’t be too surprising to see the stick category as the most diverse in terms of usage as every manufacturer offers a number of similar, elite products. In fact, Bauer’s dominance in the category is based on their three different lines as opposed to one singular product as is seen by the overwhelming number of players wearing Vapor skates.

One other category that isn’t illustrated above is goaltender equipment. With David LeNeveu currently serving as the Ragners’ backup, there is a 50-50 split between Vaughn and Bauer users. If and when Cam Talbot returns, Vaughn will hold the majority (Quick and Jones) with Bauer and Reebok each having one goaltender wearing their equipment.

To further break down the goaltending category, Lundqvist and Talbot each wear Bauer helmets, Jones wears Pro’s Choice and Quick uses Sportmask.

These are always fun graphics to look at just to see the vast diversity of equipment used by each player. Try to figure out who is wearing what over the rest of the series so you can line up individuals with the graphic above.

Industry Q&A with Matt Hoppe of STX Hockey

STX Composite Ice Hockey Sticks

STX Composite Ice Hockey Sticks

STX, a long running lacrosse powerhouse, has dove headfirst into the hockey market as they unveiled their two elite level sticks earlier this year. The Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 sticks are on the shelves now and Matt Moulson has been using the Stallion 500 for most of the 2013-14 season.

Matt Hoppe, Senior Brand Manager at STX, took some time out of his day to answer some questions for us about STX’s foray into hockey, the tech behind their new sticks and what else is coming down the pipe in the coming months. Matt offers some incredible insight into the development process and an awesome inside look at the products STX offers to players.

Great Skate: STX jumped headfirst into the hockey market this year, how long of a process has the company gone through from the first discussions of releasing a hockey line to the release of the Stallion and Surgeon sticks?

Matt Hoppe: STX has been eyeing an entry into the hockey category for the better part of a decade and really cranked up the intensity and internal efforts (R&D build out/internal staffing/etc) over the past 3 years.

Up front it was imperative to us that we committed the time and effort to really understand the wants and needs of hockey athletes. Before we made a step toward putting a pen to paper for designing anything we spent considerable time talking to players to ensure we were bringing to market products that would respect and advance the game.

As we spent more and more time in rinks talking to players we found, even in regions where lacrosse happens to still be an emerging sport,  genuine excitement about the prospect of our company bringing a fresh perspective to the game.

GS: STX is probably best known for their lacrosse equipment. Do you have any professional experience with lacrosse or are you strictly a hockey guy?

MH: I am really green when it comes to lacrosse. It wasn’t a sport that was offered at the prep school I attended (Shattuck- St. Mary’s) and it wasn’t really around in Michigan in the late 80’s early 90’s when I was growing up. I really wish it would have been because it’s clear there is a direct connection between the games from a skill set development standpoint. Both games are incredibly fast and demand a really high level of hand eye coordination.

We have a few incredibly skilled lacrosse players in the office and I’ve been badgering them to teach me the game but we haven’t gotten very far in our lessons yet.

GS: Assuming you’ve had the chance to test each of the sticks, which of the two best suits your game?

MH: One of the perks of the job is definitely equipment testing. We skate once a week as a company and I’ve had the luxury of getting to log some serious hours with both sticks. I’m more of a Stallion guy. The constant flex profile is what I’m more used to using.

I tend to swap back and forth between the two (I love the feel of the Surgeon blade) – but given my skill set (or complete lack thereof) no one would ever mistake me for a dangler or an electric playmaker!

GS: One issue that newer companies seem to struggle with is the mental block some players have in using a product that isn’t produced by a big name company. While the tech behind these sticks and STX’s pedigree speaks for itself, have you noticed any sort of trepidation surrounding the release? What would you say differentiates the Stallion and Surgeon from the sticks made by the “big boys”?

MH: There will always be a bit of a barrier to entry with new products from a new company. This is definitely something we are aware of from a consumer standpoint. We know the best way to get someone comfortable with the products is to have them try it first-hand. To that end we’ll be out in the market offering demo days and we’ve worked with our retail partners (like Great Skate) to provide them demo stock for their shooting areas in their stores.

Probably the biggest advantage our sticks have going for them is overall feel and playability. Our sticks have an incredibly high balance point giving them a very good off the rack “feel”). The stick blades have also been specifically tuned to the sticks to give players that extra edge when shooting or receiving passes etc.).

We’ve been making elite level game changing equipment for 40+ years at STX. So while we might be new to hockey we wouldn’t have put our hockey sticks into the market if we didn’t believe in them.

GS: Something that I really like about the line, in addition to the performance benefits, is that the graphics aren’t overdone and the stick isn’t weighed down with extra paint like you see with certain companies. Was there any consideration to dress the sticks up more or was the clear focus to ensure elite performance?

MH: This was a clear choice for a couple of reasons. Luckily we have some really strong brand pillars from our lacrosse and field hockey lines that we were able to bring over to ice hockey (the Surgeon and Stallion product names). So in some respects the color palette, design aesthetics, and player archetypes were already in place.

However, even with that base to work from, I’ve got 30 years in and around the game of hockey and we have several other folks here (for example – Rocco Amonte our NHL rep) who have been around the game even longer and that experience provides a nice base to work from when thinking about providing elite level players what they need.

A LOT of care and thought went into the stick designs. We wanted to balance making them pop on ice, appeal to the up close inspection you often get when kids are picking them up at retail stores, and probably most importantly was ensuring the top down view of the stick wasn’t busy. We know how fast the game moves and any distraction to a player’s peripheral vision can be the difference between making a play and getting run over.

GS: The Power and Precision Flex Profiles are very interesting features for each of the sticks. Could you shed a little more light on the technology that went into each stick and the benefits a player will get from using each?

MH: Absolutely, both sticks benefit from a very high balance point (which naturally extends the taper of the stick). This longer taper allows players to load the stick with less effort.

Speaking specifically about the two sticks The POWER FLEX profile of the Stallion is set up for players who are used to using a constant flex profile stick. The Stallion is going to load with a more traditional feel and will really respond well to players we take a lot of one timers or heavy snap shots etc. This is a stick that is going to give players who like to lean into their shots a little extra boost.

The PRECISION FLEX of the Surgeon line is going to provide players that dual kick point that has become a little more popular over the past few years.  With the Surgeon 500 players are going to notice that elongated taper even more as the lower kick point will load incredibly fast when taking quick wristers or making quick passing plays in tight.

GS: Each stick has its own unique blade construction as well. This is a feature that seems to be the next big thing in stick design and STX is out ahead of the pack in pairing blade stiffness to the type of stick you’re buying. What’s the thought process behind this development and what are the benefits?

MH: Balancing the demand for a stick that really has pop with the desire to offer players that elusive wood blade “puck feel” is the most difficult part of stick design.

We know that certain players really want a stick that enhances their shot speed. While other players really value feel and being able to know where that puck is on their stick at all times. That means offering them options – gone are the days where you can just crank out a composite stick, put a graphic on it, and call it a day. Players are far too savvy to accept that. They want finely tuned performance and we believe that our sticks offer players just that. From the blade, to the flex profile, to the balance point we’ve tried to put together two distinct stick lines that provide players options and performance.

GS: With both sticks catering to the elite player, are there any plans to begin developing price point models for the player who may not be looking for the elite performance offered by these two models?

MH: Yes, we have great price point sticks (for both the Surgeon and the Stallion stick lines) that will be available this fall.

GS: I’m not sure if I’m the only one to pick up on this, but it’s slightly ironic to see a player who was selected in the National Lacrosse League draft as the poster boy for your line. Are you able to talk a little bit about the process of bringing Matt Moulson on to use the sticks and how involved he’s been in developing the line?

MH: Matt is obviously a very talented athlete. His NHL success speaks for itself and yes (great catch) he is/was a very talented lacrosse player. He actually is still very interested in lacrosse and is very knowledgeable about the game itself.

Matt was a guy we identified very early on in the process as someone we really wanted to try to partner with. He’s a guy that has, until very recently, flown under the radar. Which for the amount of points he has produced over the past 5 years is astounding.

We approached Matt early in the season and he was aware of our brand right away (from his lacrosse background) and once we determined there was some interest in working together we immediately had him jump into the product development/testing process with us.

I’ll give you a great example of how his insight has translated over to our product development process. In an early stick sample we sent him he was having difficulties with blade torsion when taking one timers. So we went back in and tweaked the stiffness of the hosel on his sticks until we met the feel he was after. This change was something ultimately migrated over to our Stallion sticks line now at retail. His input had a direct impact on our product development – which speaks to the invaluable nature of our partnership with Matt.

GS: Moulson uses the Stallion and I noticed Cody Hodgson with a handful of Stallions when he was cleaning out his locker a few weeks ago. Should we expect to see more NHLers using the Stallion and Surgeon next year?

MH: Yes absolutely. We knew we wanted to spend a year working with Matt and getting the product right and launched into market. You should expect to see us expand our player relationships in the NHL next season.

GS: Based on the NHL players you’ve dealt with to this point have you noticed that the Stallion is the more popular model amongst them? Or has it been a fairly even split?

MH: It has actually been split pretty evenly the Surgeon has been a stick that has gotten rave reviews from players and the Stallion, with its constant flex profile, is one that is very common among NHL’ers.

GS: Speaking of seeing the sticks in the NHL, it’s my understanding that companies need to pay a fee in order for their logos to be shown on equipment used by players. Was there any consideration to not pay the fee to the league or does the exposure garnered outweigh those costs? (I realize that some of these questions may be off limits, so if you’re unable to answer them or provide detailed descriptions I understand)

MH: The NHL does charge a fee to allow companies to put their products on ice. There was never a consideration to not pay the fee.  We fully respect and value the exposure the NHL brings to the table from a sports marketing and product visibility perspective. The athletes playing in the NHL are at the pinnacle of the sport – garnering their input and approval is something we know is a must for long term success.

GS: Should we expect to see STX gloves gracing the hands ofNHLers next year? If yes, can you drop any hints as to what we might expect?

MH: Matt Moulson is actually wearing our new Stallion glove now. He started wearing it in the last few weeks of the regular season. It was incredible for us to deliver him a glove a few games before the playoffs started and watch him swap right into it without missing a beat.

STX has a long history of designing and developing gloves and protective – so we are very confident what we are working on it going to really impress the broader hockey community.

Looking forward you can expect to see gloves and protective equipment that offer players enhanced mobility, targeted protection, and the usage of materials not super common to the game.

Being new to ice hockey we have the ability to pave our way into the sport in whatever manner we see best. That means you’ll see us doing some things over the next 12-24 months which might feel a bit different (and we view that as a good thing) but first and foremost you’ll always see us respecting the game and only providing products that we believe give players a measurable performance advantage on the ice.

The Surgeon 500 and Stallion 500 sticks are just the tip of iceberg. We have a lot of really amazing, and in some cases game changing, products we are putting the final touches on. It is going to be an exciting 12 months in the hockey department here at STX!

Great Skate OT Challenge

OT challenge

Picking OT goal scorers has become one of the best games to play amongst friends in recent years. The prevalence of the practice has expanded to countless online contests, many of which are run through Twitter.

Now you have the opportunity to win a $10 e-gift card to Great Skate by participating in our own OT Challenge.

The Great Skate OT Challenge will run for the rest of the playoffs and will be done exclusively via the Great Skate Twitter account @greatskate. The rules are simple and not unlike many other OT guessing games out there.

First, you must follow the Great Skate Twitter account and be sure to retweet the game instructions that were sent out yesterday. Second, make your picks by tagging them with #GreatSkateOTChallenge. You should pick one player per team. If you guess the right play you’ll be entered into a drawing to win the $10 gift card.

Keep your eyes on the scores of all the remaining playoff games as each one will give you the opportunity to win gift cards that could go towards you next new equipment purchase. 

New trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

ew trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

New trim, technology headlines the return of the Synergy this summer

It’s the stick that started it all. The Easton Synergy revolutionized the game both on and off the ice when it was first introduced and now the legendary name is coming back as Easton is prepared to launch the new Synergy HTX line this summer.

Last seen in the form of the ST 16, the Synergy returns to the ice with new technology designed to create a more responsive blade that creates more velocity off the toe. Easton refers to this technology as Hypertuned and Hypertoe.

The Hypertuned technology sees Easton specifically match stiffer blades to stiffer stick flexes to ensure that the blade responds properly to the type of player that uses each flex. For a player that prefers a stiff stick, the blade’s stiffness will match giving that player a stick with a uniform feel from the flex down to the blade. The same goes for softer flex sticks being paired with softer blades. This differs greatly from sticks of the past which uses a uniform blade construction that offered a different response with each type of flex profile.

In addition, the blade itself has gone under a makeover as Easton’s Hypertoe technology introduces a tapered ribbing to the blade that’s designed to add velocity as the puck comes off on a pass or shot. The blades are easier to load up thanks to the dual lies that Easton utilizes, making the new Hypertoe a benefit to anyone using the stick.

The ultimate goal with the Hypertoe isn’t just to add velocity but to make it easier to load the blade to shoot in a combination that serves to increase your shot without any additional effort. It’s a trait that’s been introduced on a few of Easton’s recent products but it should add even more on the HTX as the Hypertune technology ensures a more uniform feel throughout.

The HTX has been popping up here and there around the NHL this season and will officially be on the shelves in June.

STX’s entry into hockey market starts with a pair of elite sticks

Matt+Moulson+Minnesota+Wild+v+Phoenix+Coyotes+8tNuMAMulFyl

A well known powerhouse in the lacrosse world, STX has jumped head first into ice hockey this year as their new stick line has hit the shelves.

 

STX wasted little time getting their name onto people’s tongues in hockey circles as Matt Moulson was sporting an STX Prototype stick for a good portion of the season. With the release of the Stallion 500 and Surgeon 500 now official, Moulson graduated to production model of the Stallion since his arrival in Minnesota.

 

Geared towards elite level players, the Surgeon and the Stallion share a number of visual similarities to the Easton Stealth and Mako sticks. The Stallion looks like a near replica of the Stealth RS stick while the Surgeon’s graphics package is very similar to that of the Mako.

 

The Stallion’s focus in on power transfer and balance in order to allow players to maximize the power they can get behind each shot. STX has implemented a high balance point to keep the stick from feeling blade heavy while limiting the affect that change has on the flex profile. In addition to moving the balance point up the shaft, STX also built the Stallion with what they call the Power Flex Shot Profile; a constant flex profile designed to increase the load you can place on the stick while shooting.

 

While the Stallion is referred to as the power tool, the Surgeon is more of a precision device. The Stallion and Surgeon share a very similar relationship to that of the TotalOne and APX. While the Stallion’s uniform flex profile promotes power and strength, the Surgeon is built with a dual flex profile to complement a quick release while also allowing for a player to load up the stick for a powerful shot.

 

This Precision Flex Shot Profile also features a high balance point but gives a little more feel for those players seeking a quick release for their shots. The Surgeon’s blade is softer than that of the Stallion for enhanced puck control and feel.

 

Both sticks utilize a grip finish that is lighter and has more of a matte finish than most other sticks on the market. This ensures that they’re not cumbersome with weight which has been a downfall of many sticks that have come out as a challenge to the traditional powers in recent years.

 

There are also expectations that STX will be releasing a glove in the near future and while there has been no concrete news or sightings during gameplay, it will be interesting to see what type of technology STX pulls from considering their lacrosse background.

Both sticks can be found both in store and online at  www.greatskate.com.

Junior Hockey trips

phenom named Connor McDavid

Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

There are 60 teams across the three leagues that make up the CHL. There are 16 more teams that make up the USHL and between the two leagues, they span across Canada and into 13 American states. Depending on where you live, you’re probably a lot closer to a major junior team than you think.

From Great Skate’s driveway you could make it to St. Catharines to see the Ice Dogs in 30 minutes or less. The Erie Otters are just about 90 minutes door-to-door while many of the OHL’s other clubs aren’t  much further away.

I was able to make three separate road trips to see junior hockey played this season, making two trips to Erie and another to St. Catharines.

The trip to see the Ice Dogs was particularly interesting as Niagara was playing their final season at Jack Gatecliff arena, which was originally built in 1938. The Ice Dogs will be moving to a new, state-of-the-art arena for the 2014-15 season and having the opportunity to see one of junior hockey’s last great barns was a special treat.

The intrigue of seeing a game played at the junior level is multifaceted. Young players, competing not only for their team’s success but their own futures adds to the narrative on a nightly basis. Each team has at least one established draft prospect who is often playing at another level as compared to his teammates and opponents. The fans a passionate and informed and the atmosphere is different than many professional games you may have seen.

Jack Gatecliff Arena has a small ice surface with no more than 10 rows of seating in the stands. Standing room fans pack in the tiny concourses and the low rafters and press box overhangs add to the intimate atmosphere. Only a handful of these smaller, “old school” buildings are left as more and more teams are moving into shiny, modern buildings with better amenities and a more professional set up.

If you’re looking to track down some of the older, more intimate arenas that are left, Stadium Journey has documented the homes of all 20 teams with full reviews of each building.

The trip to St. Catharines was mainly motivated by the chance to see hockey in a building that had maintained for so long. It was also motivated by the fact that the Ice Dogs are the closest franchise to Buffalo and if there was any team I’d latch onto each season, their proximity would play a major role.

My two trips to Erie were similarly motivated (proximity) but the Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

As many hockey fans are already aware, McDavid is expected to be the crown jewel of next year’s NHL Entry Draft and he’s already dazzled in his first two years of junior hockey. Seats are increasingly hard to come by in Erie as the local fanbase is augmented by visitors from cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and more coming to see McDavid play. He’s worth the price of admission.

My first jaunt to the Erie Insurance Arena resulted in having to buy standing room only tickets for $17 each. The arena’s procedure for standing room landed us about seven rows behind the bench on the blueline, not a bad deal.

Instead of missing out on a seat the second time down, our group used the box office to buy tickets ahead of time in the section of our choice. We pad $16 to sit on the glass. Even without McDavid, the level of play far surpasses the price to get in the door at any arena, let along Erie.

What’s even better is that these trips are a piece of cake to plan. Many teams run cool promotional giveaways – we happened to be too late for the McDavid player posters they were giving away – and the tickets aren’t hard to come by if you buy them ahead of time. Another fun fact regarding those promotions, the player or players featured often sign autographs after the game to add to the unique souvenir.

You’re not going to be disappointed with your choice of a junior hockey road trip. The atmosphere is different than that of an NHL game, there’s rarely a bad seat in the house as the arenas are all right-sized for the crowd and the level of play is high. Maybe put together one or two for next season and grow from there.

2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

2014 NHL Trade Deadline Primer

Just over seven days separate 30 general managers from the feeding frenzy that is the NHL trade deadline. Of course, recent years have resembled a salad bar more so than an all-you-can-eat buffet. While the blockbusters that fans and media love have become rare, the action at the deadline will still be there.

There are already a host of names floating around the rumor wires as real and make believe insiders and sources report on the whispers they hear about the players who will end up being moved in the coming days. Marquee names like Ryan Miller and Ryan Callahan are making the rounds with fans of contending teams are waiting to see what their GM can poach from the annual swap meet.

The 2014 deadline ought to provide a few fireworks specifically because of teams like the Sabres, Islanders and Oilers. All three are sliding towards the draft lottery in hopes that they win the right to pick first overall and each will likely unload some stars prior to the deadline.

Based on many reports, Edmonton appeared to be very close to dealing Sam Gagner to Los Angeles prior to the Olympic break and Gagner is still said to be on the block along with Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky. The Oilers could certainly market a few of their other young stars in hopes of shoring up their blueline, but their five-year rebuild will likely continue into yet another draft lottery where their number of top-3 selections will grow to four after winning the draft lottery three years in a row (2009-2012).

Losing John Tavares will likely ensure that the Islanders begin playing for 2015 as they’ll try to get a king’s ransom for Thomas Vanek and Andrew MacDonald as the two pending free agents will attract plenty of attention from teams battling for playoff positioning. Moving the two may also allow Garth Snow to protect his 2015 first round pick as Vanek and MacDonald could potentially net a first round pick each, giving Snow a security blanket, of sorts, for this year when he may need to give up his potential lottery pick to the Sabres as part of the Vanek/Moulson deal.

Buffalo is expected to be very busy as Miller, Moulson and Steve Ott are all expected to be moved and each has their own market value as the deadline approaches. A few teams are said to be interested in Miller, although the number who will likely make a legitimate offer won’t likely eclipse five. My gut tells me he ends up in Washington where George McPhee is on the hot seat and his team’s goaltending has kept them from playoff contention this year.

Ott and Moulson are said to have many more suitors and exactly where they end up is anyone’s guess. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Moulson end up in Ottawa where Tim Murray not only knows the prospect pool that he’d be gaining talent from, but his time with the organization may make negotiations go a bit quicker. Ott’s landing spot could be quite literally anywhere as his game can adapt to a number of different styles and any contender would be interested in adding an energy player like him. My money would be on a Western team, but that’s about as far as I would go in terms of guessing his destination.

It’s also rumored that Ryan Callahan will likely be skating in a new city after the deadline and he’d also add the two way element that so many teams find valuable. While trading Callahan may be expected, I’m fully expecting to see at least one big trade that catches everyone off guard. It could be something similar to the Marian Gaborik trade last year that saw a host of players swapped between New York and Columbus. Regardless of who is moved, count on at least one of those to catch you off guard before the day is out on the 5th. Also keep an eye on the trade wire in the days leading up to the deadline as a few moves could easily come prior to next Wednesday.

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

In the end, the deepest, most talented team prevailed. Canada repeated their 2010 ice hockey sweep by capturing gold on both the men’s and women’s side in Sochi.

While the women’s result was always going to come down to the United States and Canada, the men’s tournament represented a much different picture with five squads with strong chances for a medal with that number ballooning to six or even seven depending how the rosters were analyzed.

The women’s tournament was one filled with many firsts. Not only did a new format take over, but a first time medalist prevailed in the bronze medal game as Switzerland came out ahead after a wild third period. While the rest of the field is still well behind the sport’s two superpowers, the rest of the world is slowly catching up. No longer is the wide gap between the Americans and Canadians bridged by just the Swedes and the Finns. Russia is making strides and the Swiss officially established themselves on the international stage.

It will still take some time for teams like the Swiss to get close to the US and Canadians – and the Finns may suffer a setback with Nora Raty’s retirement – but the fact that there are signs of parity is encouraging.

On the men’s side an entertaining group play round turned into a somewhat stunning  elimination playoff as the Latvians knocked off a trendy darkhorse in the Swiss before putting a scare into Canada – despite the Canadians dominance throughout the game. Slovenia also surprised many in wining not one but two games to find themselves in the quarterfinals as well.

The rest of the tournament played out as many expected. The US victory over Russia was perhaps a slight surprise as was the virtual no-show by the Slovakians. The end result was certainly easy to predict as the Canadians didn’t just have the most talented roster, but their gameplan shutdown their opponents when it mattered most. The Finns, US and Swedes could barely muster any offense against Canada and the result was a second-straight gold medal for a nation whose dominance at the World Juniors in the early 2000s is showing on the Olympic stage now with talents like Crosby, Price and Toews leading the way.

While my prediction of the final four was accurate, I ultimately missed on the medal order. However, I’m quite pleased that I not only foresaw Finland’s run to the medal round, but accurately predicted the bronze and gold medal matchups.

Whether or not the NHL decides to send players to the 2018 Games is yet to be determined. The 14-hour time difference will make games nearly impossible to watch live and there will certainly be other reasons (owners) that will make the decision a tough one. However, the game took center stage once again and it would be a shame to not see the NHL represented once again.

While an NHL filled Canadian roster will be an early favorite in 2018, there is plenty of impressive talent working up on the American side and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the US playing for gold in Korea.

Most Outstanding Player

Men – Teemu Selanne: Teemu Forever. He was named the tournament MVP and proved that he is still an ageless wonder. This has been a terrific farewell tour for him and earning another Olympic medal is a nice way to start his home stretch.

Women – Maire-Philip Poulin: She was the hero in 2010 and was again the hero in 2014, scoring the tying and winning goals for the Canadian women.

Most Outstanding Goaltender

Men – Tuukka Rask: Had Rask not fallen ill prior to their game against Sweden perhaps the Finns would have played for gold. Regardless, Rask was dominant throughout the tournament and although Carey Price is wearing gold, Rask’s play was more valuable to his team than Price’s.

Women – Florence Schelling: She carried her team to bronze and was phenomenal in doing so. Her skills in net will make the Swiss a threat to medal in 2018.

Biggest Surprise

Slovenia’s success in their first Olympics was not only a surprise but a breath of fresh air. They hung with the Russians in their first game and then dispatched the Slovaks on their way to the top seed in the first qualification round. Their win over Austria put them another upset away from the medal round. While they were easily dispatched by Sweden, Slovenia proved that they weren’t just going to lay down in their first Olympic games.

Looking Ahead

I’m willing to bet that the NHL ends up sending their stars to the 2018 Olympics despite the challenges of the massive time change, owners apprehension and the chance that the World Cup of Hockey will be back on the table prior to the 2018 Olympics. It just seems foolish to not put the NHL’s stars on an international stage like this when the opportunity presents itself. It’s almost like free marketing in that way.

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

As hockey equipment has evolved, the ability for players to swap out gear for special events has been a growing trend. Goaltenders are the easiest to pick out as they sport different helmets and pads for events like the Winter Classic each season.

The Olympics are not immune to this change as skaters need to switch over to gloves and pants that align with their country’s colors and some goaltenders choose to wear new equipment as well to match their nation’s colors.

It will be pretty easy to notice which goaltenders have made changes as their new gear will certainly stand out as opposed to what they wear on a nightly basis in the NHL. Most players will likely wear a shell over their team-issued pants to remain as comfortable as possible and skaters have likely had a chance to break in their Olympic gloves for at least a week.

There will be some other changes that may or may not stand out to fans as they’re watching the games aside from the simple color change that a player’s gear will undergo. Like the NHL, the IIHF has specific equipment standards and those standards must be followed by all players.

In the crease, some equipment manufacturers choose not to pay the fee to the IIHF so their company logos can be shown during play. Vaughn is a company that has long been logo-less in international play and that trend will likely continue this year as Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Howard are both heading to Sochi without the Vaughn branding on their equipment.

Ryan Miller’s gear was changed over to red, white and blue using a special aftermarket product that will keep him from breaking in new equipment for the short tournament. As you’ll notice, Miller’s pads (and gloves) still have the Vaughn logos showing but he’ll likely need to have those covered up.

As the games continue small things like that will probably become more obvious and one feature of the 2010 games in Vancouver seems to have carried over to Sochi. Forwards, who will have small Sochi logos on the front and back of their helmets, will have an interesting change made to their gloves.

An interesting rule was created heading into the 2010 Olympics which limited the size of manufacturer logos on the cuff of player gloves. This meant that the size of the font needed to be reduced from the relatively large font found on the ice in NHL games and on the shelves in stores.

It also made for some confusing visuals as the smaller logos looked out of place on the ice (check out Brian Rafalski’s gloves in the bottom portion of this picture). Easton decided against putting their logo in the smaller font and swapped out the Easton font for each country’s name with a smaller Easton logo on a different part of the cuff. Warrior and Bauer followed suit with the rule and based on action from the women’s games early on, it appears that the rule is back for 2014.

One other big change will be the handful of players using Bauer’s OD1N equipment. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Towes, Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Henrik Lundqvist were all tabbed to test the revolutionary gear that Bauer is comparing to a concept care. The player skates will stand out most as their peculiar design is like nothing that’s ever been worn before.

The OD1N line is designed to save massive amounts of weight that will ultimately give players more boost and stamina on a game-to-game basis. While it’s unexpected to be seen in stores anytime soon, keep an eye on those players to see if their game receives a noticeable boost.

If you notice any other distinct differences in something a player is wearing, leave a comment here or on the Great Skate Facebook page. It’s interesting to see some of the new and exciting products that companies will release around this time.

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Not that long ago Bauer introduced the Vapor XXX composite goal stick to the market and forever changed the landscape of that particular niche of goaltending equipment.

While a few other entries served as a precursor to the Vapor, there wasn’t much out there in terms of a non-wood goal stick to purchase and use for goalies of any age. Today the goalie stick market is nearly flipped 180 degrees.

Each and every equipment manufacturer in the stick business has at least one line of full composite sticks to complement their traditional wood models. Some companies offer a number of lines that actually outnumber the traditionally built models they offer (Bauer).

When it comes to goal stick shopping, a few things need to be considered. The most important of which is durability and price point. While no two sticks are built the same, knowing that the one that works best for you is going to last longer than a few practices is vitally important.

Other factors that come into play are balance, weight, pattern and feel. With a plethora of composite sticks to consider when sorting through the stick rack, those factors become that much more important.

In my time playing net I’ve used a composite only a handful of times. Not once did I feel that I enjoyed the experience. Short of using the highest price point models, I found that the sticks I tried out were no lighter than the wood stick I have used my whole life, their responsiveness was anything but and the smooth composite finish was slippery to the touch.

That last point is an easy fix, of course. A little tape where the shaft and paddle meet will provide a tacky finish and even today nearly every model has some sort of grip applied to that area. Yet, the difference in feel between a wood and composite stick can be difficult to get past.

Keep in mind that I prefer to keep the shaft of my stick devoid of tape so that my hands can move up and down freely with just a good, solid knob at the very end to provide control with poke checks and puck handling. Many other goalies – like Ryan Miller – prefer some sort of homemade grip area where the shaft and paddle meet and the built-in grip that many composites have can eliminate the need to waste any more tape.

Another thing that helps with is vibrations caused by stopping pucks. Wood sticks, for the most part, pretty much absorb all vibrations caused by shots. But composites can suffer from something similar to a baseball bat with vibrations from a shot running up through the stick and into your hands. However, that’s something that is becoming less of an issue.

Advances in stick technology has provided a significant edge in many of the shortcomings composite sticks suffered from in the past. Most composites have shed weight in recent years and even the lower price point models are significantly lighter than the war clubs that preceded them. Yet, unless you’re aiming for the stars and the pro models, the weight savings aren’t all that much more than you find with pro model wood sticks.

The one primary advantage that I’ve found composites have over wood sticks is in durability. While you can certainly get a bad twig that breaks after 20 minutes of ice time, nearly every composite model out there will offer a longer life than wood sticks. While composites can snap at any moment, the well built ones don’t slowly deteriorate like a wood stick.

Wood sticks absorb water and will soften over time. As the blade of a stick deadens with age, rebound control will change and your puck handling (specifically passing) will suffer. Since a composite won’t suffer that sort of deterioration, you can count on them to give you a longer effective life after purchase.

Any sort of debate of wood vs. composite ultimately comes down to personal preference. There are plenty of guys and girls out there who swear by their composite sticks and won’t ever go back to a wood model. But then there are people like myself who prefer the feel you get with a wood stick and won’t change their tune.

A few other things to consider when planning on purchasing a stick:

– In many case weight and balance are more important than the curve or paddle length. If you’re able to easily move with the stick in hand and make normal goaltender moves, then that’s the stick for you. Just because you see NHL goalies using 27” paddles or big curves, doesn’t mean that is the type of stick you should use.

– Don’t buy a stick that you’ll need to cut down. Ideally a goalie stick is going to be just right for you when you purchase it. It doesn’t need to come to your chin or neck like a forward stick. Goal sticks are built with a specific balance point that will be altered if a portion of the shaft is cut down. Find a stick that fits you right, not one that needs to be altered.

– Buy at least two sticks at a time. The worst thing you can do is use two different sticks with drastically different patterns. When you find a curve and paddle length that you play best with, don’t mess around too much with it. Buy a second stick as a backup or practice stick and move forward with a unified arsenal of goal sticks.

– Try to use the more beaten up of your two sticks as your practice or warm up stick. If you have two identical sticks and one is more beaten up than the other, use that well worn stick for practice and warm ups. That will increase the longevity of your game stick and allow you to perform at a higher level.