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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 NME5goal 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.
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.
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.
The newest member of the Velocity family is the V6. Vaughn shifted gears a bit in how they categorize their pads this year, as the V6 2000 and 2200 headline the set with the 1000 just below. This is a change from recent years as Vaughn was in the high 7000s with many of their new pads.
Numbers aside, the new 1000 is a continuation of a tremendous line at a competitive price point. Vaughn has included a number of new features in the V6 line in total and the 1000 has benefitted from many of these changes.
While some of the additions to the V6 that you see Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller wearing aren’t featured on this pad, the 1000 continues Vaughn’s commitment to a somewhat traditional look with full knee rolls to promote flexibility in the upper portion of the pad. Outer knee and thigh breaks serve in the same manner as this continuation from past Velocity pads is a hallmark of the line in general.
What’s new for 2014 is Vaughn’s Pro Core design. It is a feature that utilizes a full length and width foam core to keep consistent form up and down the pad while still keeping a flexible fit and profile that allows the pad to break-in according to the style of play the goalie uses. Like with the Premier XLT, Vaughn is using bindingless landing gear to minimize friction and increase the sliding area on the knee and calf wing.
One interesting feature that actually makes the pads look odd in pictures is that Vaughn overstuffed the thigh rise, in a sense. While the build still conforms to the 11-inch requirement, Vaughn made sure to eliminate the taper that many pads have at the thigh, thus ensuring maximum five-hole protection.
The 1000 comes with Vaughn’s newest graphic, one that I feel is an improvement over the past few Velocity models. It is a simple design that gives the illusion of height in certain color combinations (mostly with a white base). It’s ultimately a sleek, simple design that looks great when a goalie is in his or her stance or a butterfly.
One of the best things about Vaughn’s production process is that they often maintain nearly every feature that can be found in their pro pads down through their price point models. They consistently build a quality product that is hard to beat when considering senior, intermediate or junior pads.
Reebok took a very different direction with their newest set of pads. Part of the development of the new Premier XLT pads was to add features that promoted rebounds. But not in the traditional sense.
Reebok’s new ultra-lightweight pad features Crosslink Foam that actually adds life and power to the rebounds that come off the pads. This is designed to act almost like a springboard in order to kick pucks out of the danger zone and to allow for additional recovery time.
It’s an interesting feature as the traditional train of thought has long been to keep your rebounds close or eliminate them altogether. Typically, a big rebound that is kicked into the slot or the circles is in a prime danger zone for a goaltender. The Crosslink Foam should boot those pucks even further into the zone and ultimately further away from trouble. The ultimate goal is to give the goaltender more control over where the rebound is going. Having the ability to get a puck to the boards or into a dead area aside from the corner will provide a ton of recovery time that would otherwise be laying in a prime scoring area.
One of the coolest features of the XLT is the bindingleess inside edge and landing gear. Most pads, including previous Premier models, have nylon bindings that wrap around the knee and calf wing that make contact with the ice in the butterfly. The XLT eliminates these bindings, allowing for the crap and knee wings to be full jenpro. This may seem like a small change but it’s quite the opposite. Not only will binding less landing gear increase slides and provide a better seal with the ice, it makes the pad exponentially more durable. It’s not uncommon for the nylon and stitching that attaches to the wings to wear and fray faster than most other areas on the pad. Reebok adds seasons to the life of these pads by removing the bindings.
To further their tinkering with the interior of the XLT, Reebok also changed the design of their leg channel, making it shallow and open. Combined with an adjustable strapping system, Reebok is catering directly to goaltenders who like to strap their pads loose for more pad rotation and movement.
As is expected with new pads, Reebok also introduced a new graphic. For the first time in a few seasons, it doesn’t appeal much in terms of the mirror test. Perhaps this is because the Premier 4 graphic was so excellent, but the XLT graphic certainly leaves something to be desired. Aside from the aesthetic alterations, the XLT is an improved pad compared to that of previous Reebok releases.
At a time when new technology is creeping into goal pad design, Reebok has done a great job of putting that new technology to work in what may be considered an unconventional way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.