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.
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.
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.
A perfectly painted goal mask is the single coolest source of expression in hockey. A painted mask can showcase team pride or provide personal insights. There are a host of mask painters around the world who span from do-it-yourself painters right up to world-renowned artists who are on the speed dial for multiple NHL goalies.
However, getting a mask painted isn’t as simple as the one or two-week turnaround that NHL goaltenders enjoy when they change teams or create new mask art. It is a somewhat lengthy process that should be properly researched before steps are taken to put paint to helmet.
First off, many masks are difficult to paint while others simply shouldn’t be painted at all. Most high-impact plastic molded masks aren’t properly rated to receive paint and even if you’re able to put paint on the mask, any warranties and certifications that accompany the mask will likely be voided.
Most manufacturers higher level masks are designed to take paint and maintain their structural integrity after. Proper research to determine which masks can and cannot take paint should be done prior to making any final decisions. In addition, many companies require painters to be properly certified to paint particular masks. For example, there are specific Bauer-approved painters who have the proper certifications or approvals to paint those masks. These certifications indicate that the artist knows how to properly prepare and paint the mask so the structural integrity isn’t compromised by the process.
If you have any concerns about the quality of the mask you’re thinking about painting or you’re unsure that the painter you were planning on using is properly certified to do the work, there are other avenues to take.
Most companies are now releasing masks with decorative decals already applied so the masks have some color to them right out of the box. Many of Bauer’s junior models feature these decal sets. There is also the option of finding a custom decal shop that could potentially create a high durability decal or sticker set for a helmet that would still have custom artwork but wouldn’t compromise the helmet itself.
This isn’t all doom and gloom, either. Going the decal route is probably the safest route to take in terms of adding custom decoration to a mask. However, if you know that your mask can take paint and you’ve found an artist to do the work, go nuts! Getting my mask painted in college was a very fun experience. It took a couple weeks for the work to be done and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
My advice for anyone who is going to take this step is to stay involved with the artist. Even if you only have a general idea that you want to let them run with, be clear with what you’re looking for. This ensures you will be happy with the final product for years to come.
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.
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.