Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Defense & goalies

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Defense & goalies

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Defense & goalies

Now that I’ve taken a look at the forwards who I expect to make the US Olympic team for the 2014 Olympics, let’s take a look at the group of players who will be keeping the puck out of the net.

I feel like there is going to be a ton of turnover between 2010 and 2014 on the blueline. A boatload of young Americans have come up through the ranks and are ready to take on a major role in Sochi. Gone will be guys like Tim Gleason and Ryan Whitney to be replaced by young stars who will move well on the big surface:

Ryan Suter (A)      Ryan McDonagh      Brooks Orpik

Keith Yandle      Kevin Shattenkirk      John Carlson

Paul Martin

  Ryan Suter returns to my roster with an increased leadership role from 2010. He was a minute hog in Vancouver and certainly will be again in Sochi. Pairing him with Ryan McDonagh is a no brainer for me. McDonagh might just be the best defenseman of this group and should only get better with another year under his belt. This will be the shutdown pairing for the United States.

Brooks Orpik happens to be one guy who I’m on the fence on. He’s a guy I love to watch and a player who holds a lot of value in my opinion. I also think that he’s a quality defender who won’t get caught in the wash on the big ice. However, I could see his footspeed as an issue to the decision makers.

Regardless, Orpik and Keith Yandle make up my mixed second pairing. Yandle, a straight-ahead puck mover should be complimented well by Orpik’s steady, stay-at-home style quite well. Unlike my top pair who has the ability to contribute at both ends, this is a pairing which will need to feed off each other to be successful.

Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson make up my final pairing of quality two-way defenders. Shattenkirk is more of an offensive threat but Carlson has an all-around game that is perfect for the short Olympic tournament. He also happens to be a seasoned international participant (remember his WJC triumph?) which helps his resume.

Paul Martin is penciled is as defenseman number seven for now as he has really rounded back into form these past few years. I think he has the mobility to be effective on the big ice and will bring a very nice presence to the roster because of that.

In net the Americans are stacked. Vezinas, playoff veterans and a Conn Smythe dot resumes of American keepers that will be eligible for a spot. How Dan Bylsma plans to sort this out is anyone’s guess, but I have a good feeling about the guys I take.

G

Jimmy Howard

Jonathan Quick

Ryan Miller

 

You’re probably wondering why I have Howard over Quick. I just feel that Quick is better suited to play the type of teams the US will be seeing on a big surface. Quick is such an aggressive goaltender that I worry his tendencies will be exploited while playing on an Olympic surface.

Howard plays a slightly more measured game which seems to have less of an opportunity to be hurt by rebound or back-door opportunities. That isn’t to say that Quick isn’t deserving of the starting job, but I just have a sneaking suspicion that Howard may fare better on the big ice (he’s also seen a couple World Championships).

Ryan Miller makes my roster on the darkhorse ticket. His numbers have fallen off but he’s played his best hockey in Olympic years. I have little doubt that this trend will continue in the 13-14 season and he may even steal the starting job again if he has a stellar opening to the year as he did in 2010.

As for the watchlist on the backend, here’s a few names to keep an eye on:

Cam Fowler – A young prospect who could certainly steal a spot if he catches fire this season. I doubt that he’s a primary target but I wouldn’t doubt if his play merits consideration.

Jake Gardiner – Same boat as Fowler in many respects. He’s a great puck mover who might garner attention with a strong start to the season.

Justin Faulk – If the United States management team is looking for an offensive x-factor, Faulk will be it. Paul Martin is a nice two-way player as the seventh defenseman but Faulk could certainly make the team as a power play specialist defenseman.

Beat the dog days with the Great Skate Summer Sale

Great Skate 30th Annual Summer Sale

Great Skate 30th Annual Summer Sale August 1st – 10th, 2013

As the summer days roll along and the temperatures continue to rise, there’s one event on the horizon that will have you thinking of cold, wintry weather in no time.

The 30th annual Great Skate Summer Sale is kicking off on August 1 and will continue through to August 10. The sale is available online, at greatskate.com and at our Buffalo, NY store. In addition to phenomenal deals on this year’s best equipment, you will have the opportunity to demo hockey’s newest releases and take part in a number of exciting giveaways and promotions.

Bauer, CCM, Easton, Reebok and Warrior will each be participating in demo days between August 5 and 9 that will feature each manufacturer’s newest sticks and equipment. Players will have the opportunity to demo the newest sticks which will be hitting the market along with trying on each company’s newest gear between 10am and 6pm each day that the demos take place.

Along with providing a unique demo of their newest equipment and sticks, Easton will also be providing an opportunity for a team to win a full set (18) of Easton composite sticks for the season. All you need to do is provide your full team roster to enter the drawing for the team set.

Bauer is getting in on the fun as well, offering a week’s worth of prizes that run from Monday through Friday and include a Ryan Keseler James VanRiemsdyk and Patrick Kane sticks, a new pair of Vapor APX skates and Friday’s grand prize of Bauer sticks for a year.

The Summer Sale will also feature one of the newest Buffalo Sabres as Buffalo’s own Justin Bailey will be on hand from 5pm to 6pm on August 1. You will have a chance to test your shot against Bailey and see how you stack up against an NHL draft pick.

Bailey won’t be the only competition Summer Sale guests will have for shooting. Warrior is sponsoring the Warrior Hockey Chara Challenge which will be a fastest shot competition with giveaways that include Warrior merchandise and a Dynasty AX1 stick.

In addition to the Chara Challenge, Warrior will be providing one lucky winner with two tickets to the 2014 Winter Classic at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan with $200 spending money and one night’s hotel accommodations for the game.

Be sure not to miss your opportunity to take home any one of the terrific prizes that will be up for grabs while also taking advantage of all the phenomenal deals that will provide up to 80% savings on select items.

The 30th annual Great Skate Summer Sale kicks off on August 1, be sure you don’t to miss a minute.

In the Crease: What type of cage should I wear?

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

After I got out of school I eventually obtained an Itech (now Bauer) Profile mask. It happened to have a cat eye cage and it was the first mask I had ever used with that type of cage on it. However, that helmet has since been forced into retirement and I’m back in a helmet with a certified cage. While I’m considering fitting that helmet with a cat eye, I realize that many rec league goaltenders wear both certified and cat eye cages. The question is; which is the best?

Certified Cages

Certified cages are the norm in virtually every level of hockey. Only the professional leagues, NCAA and ACHA allow goaltenders to wear cat eye cages. So all goaltenders have worn a certified cage at some point in their lives.

Most basic certified cages have a grid pattern layout for the bars on the cage that are designed for maximum vision while also ensuring that sticks and pucks won’t find their way to the goalie’s face. Some companies also now make certified cat eye cages which have an additional bar that ensures that sticks and pucks won’t find their way in but while carrying the general look of a cateye cage. The one issue that I have with the certified cat eye cages is that each manufacturer uses different techniques to ensure their cage is up to par. Not only do they look awkward (mirror test) but they simply don’t perform the way you would expect from a normal cat eye.

Whether you’re sporting a certified cat eye or a traditional certified cage the common theme is that all certified models ensure maximum safety as no sticks or pucks can get through.

The main drawback with certified cages is that they have a number of additional bars that can obstruct your vision. Most are built in a way that any bars in your field of vision are blurred by your eye’s natural focusing mechanisms that they aren’t an issue. However, I can attest that you do notice those extra bars. Especially the ones in your peripheral vision.

Cat Eye Cages

Take a look at any NHL game and you’ll see the goalies wearing a cat eye cage. These are cages with a wide, elliptical gap that provides an unobstructed view of the game for the goalie. The structure of the cage is such that the bars are shaped to go around the goaltender’s field of vision as opposed to crossing directly over top of it. They also have a pretty attractive look to them as the sleek, curved bars leave more open space than the basic grid layout of a certified cage. The real benefit lies with the increased field of vision with this helmet. The wide opening provides you with a completely unobstructed view of the ice and even your peripherals are kept clear of most of the cage’s bars. It is definitely the better of the two choices when it comes to performance.

The only drawback with a cat eye cage is the fact that a stick can easily fit inside the mask and a puck can be forced through as well. I myself have been caught with a stick once by a passing player and the risks associated with these cages are very real.

Which to wear?

The determination that any goalie needs to make when choosing between a cat eye and certified cage is the performance vs. safety that each offers. If you’re comfortable wearing a cat eye cage despite the inherent risks then you should certainly do so. In addition, if you feel that a cat eye cage improves your play that much more, that’s probably the one to go with. However, if sticks to the eye aren’t something you care to deal with and the difference in vision is negligible, then a certified cage is probably the route you want to take.

At this point in time I don’t have much use for simply buying a cat eye cage. The certified cage on my current mask doesn’t bother me so much that I need to change it. However I can say with certainty that the next mask I purchase will have a cat eye cage.

Twenty years later the Bauer Reactor is back

Bauer Reactor 4000 Sr. Goalie Pads

Bauer Reactor 4000 Sr. Goalie Pads

Back in 1994 goaltenders wearing Bauer goal pads were all wearing the Reactor line. Big names like Dominik Hasek and Mike Richter were sporting the equipment and leading the NHL in the gear. 20 years later Bauer has come back to the Reactor.

Serving as an extension and evolution of the Reflex line of goal pads that was developed when Bauer and Itech merged, the Reactor is a pro-style butterfly pad that is specifically designed for a hybrid style of play. Unlike the Supreme TotalOne line which is a true butterfly style, flat-faced pad, the Reactor is more of a hybrid style pad. Bauer even gave the style associated with the Reactor a buzzword in their 2013 catalog: Battlefly.

That seems like an appropriate way to describe the pad and the style of the goaltenders that would wear this type of pad. Just looking at some of the players around the league wearing them now (Brian Elliott and Ilya Bryzgalov), they employ a butterfly-first mentality but use various pieces of other styles in their repertoire.

These are flexible pads that introduce a triangle outer roll which puts a slight pitch on the outer roll of the pads. The 6000 Pro Custom pads also come stock with a double knee break but different break options are available on the pad.

Beyond the 6000 Pro model, the 4000 and 4000x offer top-end performance without needing a custom build. The 4000x actually utilized the myFlex feature that is prevalent throughout the TotalOne line. This is a piece of technology that allows the goaltender to determine what kind of flex option they wish to have on their pads.

The newest introduction to the Reactor line is the Pro Core insert. This serves as the “brain” of the pad that is designed to give a soft feel to the pad but maintaining the firmness needed to maintain a proper S-shape and limit the pad from breaking down over time. Combined with the triangle outer roll and the reintroduction of the Flexx Darts gives the Reactor pad a phenomenal blend of traditional construction that creates a flexible lightweight pad that is conducive to a number of different styles.

In terms of the eye test, the Reactor passes with flying colors. Bauer built off the Reflex pattern while extending the graphic upwards. This creates a dynamic, linear graphic that looks good in a number of styles.

Looking at the overall construction and appearance of the pad, this reminds me of what the Velocity was when it was first introduced. A soft, reactive pad that allows a goaltender to play a number of styles.

There are three models in the Reactor line; the 6000 Pro, 4000 and 2000. The 4000 and 2000 each have a senior model with the 2000 covering junior pads. The glove and blocker aren’t too far removed from the Reflex line in design and use. Both draw their lineage to the flexible leg pads by offering flexible cuff options that will react well when used with your chest & arm protector.

The catch glove is a single-T pocket construction with skate lace for the pocket lacing. Skate lace is more durable than regular twine lacing but can be more difficult to keep in shape. As for the blocker, the one piece thumb and outer hand protection really stands out. It is not obtrusive and has a good looking construction in terms of offer complete protection and coverage.

As someone who counts the original Reactor line amongst my favorite goal pads of all time, I’m glad to see this equipment make a comeback; particularly in a style that suits the kind of game I try to play.

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

After giving you the rundown of the rest of the league’s goal masks, I give you the best of the best. These are masks with varying levels of detail and uniqueness. Each of these stand out to me for a different reason and rank amongst my favorite in the entire league.

Share your thoughts on who has the league’s best mask in the comments.

10. Ryan Miller – Miller’s mask was getting stale until he updated last season. Adding the Buffalo script to the chin and the charging Buffalo to either side of the chin updated what is becoming a very iconic design. The question is, will you see this design in Buffalo next season?

9. Jhonas Enroth – His crease partner is just one spot below and I give Enroth the edge because of the clean lines and incorporation of a number of design features by his mask artist. Parts of this can get busy, but the longhorn skull has been a mainstay on many old Sabres helmets and the oversized logo gives the left side a clean, basic look.

8. Jimmy Howard – Racing stripes, 60s-era Mustangs and a very unique take on Detroit’s muscle car heritage give Howard a very cool design. I’m a big fan of this mask and the player who sports it.

7. Ray Emery – Emery’s mask manages to pay homage to Native American culture in a very classy way. I think his mask looks phenomenal and is easily interpreted at a distance and up close.

6. Miikka Kiprusoff – Kipper’s skulls are just about as iconic as Marty Broduer’s mask in many ways. This particular version really stood out to me when he unveiled it and I’m glad he’s still using it. I can find no flaws in the design and using the bolts as eyes on the chin skull is a great touch.

5. Jose Theodore – Theodore has always had masks that I’ve liked. For some reason this one is very appealing to me. I like the Tiki skull features that have been worked in and the white base makes the other colors pop. I think this plays so well on so many levels.

4. Jacob Markstrom – A slightly altered interpretation of one of hockey’s greatest goal masks of all time. Markstrom’s mask has a little more of the entire logo worked in, but it still has the same feel that Beezer’s mask did back it the 90s. A very well executed paint job.

3. Peter Budaj – Ned Flanders. Need I say more? Budaj manages to work in two very personal items (Flanders and Lionel Messi) into his mask while also keeping a clean look. I love the way this paint job works and that’s why it is in my top three.

2. Brian Elliott – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a big part of my upbringing and it would appear the same is true of Brian Elliot. I love that he uses Casey Jones on his masks. They also manage to have a heavy team element too, which puts this high on my list.

1. Ondrej Pavelec – When I first did this list I wasn’t sure which mask was truly my favorite. I tossed around a few up near the top of the rankings but I settled on Pavelec for a few reasons. First; the fighter jet interpretation works incredibly well here (much better than Montoya’s). Second; every line is clean and although there is a lot going on, there is nothing that runs together. Third; This just has attitude to it. The fighter jet theme just works so well in this particular paint job and that’s why I have it as number one.

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

Vaughn has served as an industry leader in goal pad design and production for a long time. In fact, the Velocity line helped to revolutionize the position in the early 2000s when the butterfly style was enhanced with the Velocity’s ability to sit flush against the ice.

Since the Velocity was released goaltending manufacturers have engaged in an arms race to introduce new and revolutionary designs with each set of goal pads they build. All the while, Vaughn has played the role of the tortoise; slow and steady wins the race.

While the new Velocity 5 continues the tradition of the now legendary line, Vaughn has once again thrown their hat in the ring with a slightly different pad design. The Ventus goal pad is built with a closer resemblance to the thin, low-profile, flat-front pads that have been released by Bauer, Reebok, Warrior and other manufacturers in recent years. Vaughn offered a model a couple of years back that, while well received, didn’t have the same legs as the traditional Velocity line. However, the Ventus should change all of that.

While the Velocity line remains in it’s original form, the Ventus picks up where the reintroduced Vision line left off not more than a year ago.

The Ventus is a full flat-faced pad with a single-break outer roll designed to promote a solid, firm shape and construction. The overall construction is made to remain rigid even after being broken in so the gradual S-bend maintains its form at all times. Vaughn accomplishes this by utilizing a lightweight inner core with rigid properties to maintain a consistent pad shape. This is a pad construction that is gaining popularity throughout the NHL as goaltenders like Carey Price and Antti Niemi opt for longer, stiffer pads which maintain their shape at all times.

For those goaltenders – like myself – who prefer a more flexible bend towards the top of the pad, the Ventus does have a flexible knee option available.

The interior of the pad is not all that much different from the Velocity construction. The Ventus design provides a greater anatomical fit in various locations to promote greater contact with the ice, added extension in the butterfly and reduced stress to the knees and hips.

The landing gear at the knee and calf area are wide and provide ample coverage while dispersing direct impact. In addition, the calf wrap provides full wrap-around protection while also covering gaps by promoting flush contact when leaning against the posts. The knee and calf wrap system is designed to work in unison so that the goaltender receives improved responsiveness from the pad during games.

As for graphics, the Ventus looks good. The sleek vertical lines give the pads a tall presence in a similar fashion to the way that the Premier 4 graphic is designed. Vaughn’s graphics allow for up to five areas with different colors but work best with a three-color scheme.

If you’re a goaltender in the market for a flat-faced, low-profile pad, don’t rule out Vaughn as a candidate. The Ventus series is a strong entry into a corner of the market that has been previously controlled by a limited selection.

Goalie Equipment Topic

CCM GP500 Goalie Pads

CCM GP500 Goalie Pads

With some interesting topics being discussed at the GM meeting (coach’s challenge) there have also been a number of no brainer topics floated by the league’s general managers. One in particular, goalie equipment, is something they should seriously consider.

Based on reports, adjusting the size of goaltending equipment appears to be the second most likely topic to move forward beyond cocktail napkins and off-hand conversations. Compared to the debate over grandfathering visors, the rules behind adjusting goalie equipment would be more difficult to fight.

Although there isn’t much room for sweeping change, I think adjustments to what goaltenders can wear could be made. More importantly, these changes can be made without sacrificing the safety of those in net.

After the last lockout, goaltender’s pads were reduced from 12 to 11 inches in length to go along with restrictions to the size of the glove and blocker. Additional restrictions cover internal portions of the pads (knee and calf wings) along with chest protectors. One recent development with chest protectors addressed the build of certain units. The rule states that the chest guard must be anatomically proportional to the goaltender wearing it.

Anatomical restrictions are where I think the league has some room to work when considering new rules to enact.

As it stands now, the league has a rule that stipulates a Limiting Distance Size for each goaltender based on specific measurements that determine the size of goal pads. This requirement ultimately determines the specific height that determines what size pad a goaltender can wear. This basically prevents goaltenders from wearing the largest pad manufactured to maximize blocking area.

While you can’t get much more anatomically correct than that, the rule doesn’t necessarily prevent goaltenders from adding length to the top of their pads. Ironically that is the specific area Kay Whitmore said they could target.

Not all humans are made equal. One 6’1” individual may be top tall and have shorter legs than another person of the same height. Because of this, different goalies wear different sized pads. For example, I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of 6’ and 6’1” and I fit quite well into a 36 inch pad.

Specifically, the pads I wear now are 36+2 – an extra two inches on the standard thigh rise – and they fit quite well. However, that actually makes my pad 38 inches in total. If I tried to wear a traditional 38 inch pad I would swim in it. However, the advent of the thigh rise extension allows my pad to fit me perfectly while still offering the coverage of a longer piece of equipment.

Without getting into the tangled history of goal pad design, the thigh rise extension began picking up steam in the professional and retail world about seven or eight years ago. Adding length to the thigh rise of a pad adds additional five-hole coverage without affecting the overall performance of the goaltender. If the NHL were to limit the size of a goaltender’s thigh rise, I think you would see a number of goalies with significantly different equipment next season.

A couple of goalies who immediately come to mind are Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury. Both are phenomenal goaltenders who also happen to use a fairly significant thigh rise on their pads. While the rise they use on their respective Bauer and Reebok pads wouldn’t completely disappear, it could be limited by a new rule. This wouldn’t affect how their pads fit in anyway, it would only alter the amount of net the pads cover when each goaltender is in the butterfly.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that either would see their play altered by this change, but if they were reliant on the coverage provided by the thigh rise on their pad, there could be a slight adjustment period.

Luckily this isn’t a change that will be felt by amateurs playing travel or in local adult leagues. Unlike the sweeping change to 11 inch wide pads, there will be little change (if any) to the pads you will be purchasing. Retail models of pads would never be affected by such a rule (even if it is reflected in lower levels) which means that the only difference you will see is from the masked men you watch each night in the NHL.

What needs to be determined is if this will actually result in any sort of change in goals scored. I doubt there will end up being any sort of significant change. There will be a few more pucks that find a way through the five hole, but ultimately you’re still talking about the exact same butterfly goalie getting his pads on the ice.

Ultimately I very much doubt that this change would bring about a change in goal scoring, which would be the prime motivation for enacting such a rule. However, when you talk about providing goalies with even a little less room to stop the puck, some change could come about.

In the Crease: Finding the right neck protection

Vaughn Goalie Neck VPC

Vaughn Goalie Neck VPC

One piece of a goaltender’s set of equipment can be overlooked is the type of neck and collar protection they choose to utilize. There are a host of products that can be used by goaltenders and finding the right combination will not only ensure safety but effectiveness as well.

Since goaltending is a position in which you’re exposed to puck battles, skates and sticks in a confined area, the chances are higher that an errant piece of equipment will find a way to hit you. Not to mention the fact that your opponent is slinging a frozen rubber disc at you for three periods.

There are two primary options when it comes to neck protection for a goaltender; a Lexan dangler or a traditional neck guard. Whether using one of these options, or both, it is important that a goalie finds a comfortable option that maximizes protection.

The Lexan throat guard really began to gain popularity as more NHL goaltenders began using them in the 1990s. The dangler hangs off a goaltender’s helmet and serves to protect from direct or deflected pucks and sticks. When worn properly it fills the space between the end of your helmet and the top of your chest protector.

One drawback that goalies find with the dangler is that it can be difficult to adapt to. While the protection it provides is unparalleled, it can be clumsy and even fog up at times. Of course, for every goalie who is uncomfortable wearing it, there are three who can’t play without it.

Personally, I was never able to find a comfort level with the dangler. Even after a deflected puck caught me under the chin, my play suffered after I added the dangler because I couldn’t find the proper fit. My issue, like many others, was finding the right length to hang the dangler from my mask to ensure full protection and minimal interference with my chest pad. Making sure that your dangler is at the proper height as to not catch on your jersey or chest pad is vital because the protection it offers will come at a steep price should it affect your play.

The silver lining here is that a dangler is 100% adjustable and removable. This isn’t like any other piece of equipment that offers limited adjustments that need to be adapted to. Some goalies wear it loose so that it moves freely when they look down or to the side; whereas others tie it tight to their mask so the two move as one unit while extending their neck protection. It is an accessory that can simply be removed if it bothers you too much.

Great Skate carries models from Bauer and Reebok and neither product is cost prohibitive to the point that it isn’t worth purchasing to at least test out to see what kind of comfort level you have.

The second option that all goalies have for neck protection is the collar throat guard. This is worn around your neck and is specifically designed to prevent cuts from skates, sticks or pucks. Collar neck guards are designed to fit comfortably around your neck while allowing for maximum mobility. All models are Velcro adjustable and offer full neck and extended collarbone protection.

These specifically keep you from suffering dangerous cuts from skates or sticks and also offer impressive protection from direct puck impacts as well. However, this isn’t as effective as a dangler when protecting from direct or deflected shots.

Vaughn’s VPC neck guard is perhaps the most popular at the NHL level and is barely noticeable when worn on the ice. It features a low profile design that doesn’t get caught up with the chest protector while still offering full protection. This is the model I choose to use and I would never go on the ice without it. The throat and collar protection are phenomenal and I don’t even realize it is on when I’m playing.

Reebok has also begun to manufacture a number of impressive models in this line. Their TCRBK has a very similar construction to the Vaughn model and offers full neck and clavicle protection. They have also developed a larger option that has additional clavicle protection. The Reebok TCPro is built with beefed up shoulder and collarbone padding to go along with the traditional neck guard. Reebok also introduced the padded goal shirt recently that basically has their traditional neck and collarbone protection built into a full base-layer long sleeve shirt. This is a new product designed to maximize protection and comfort by eliminating the need for an additional piece of equipment under your chest pad.

All goalies should use at least one of the Lexan dangler or collar neck guards. Playing a position that can expose a player to dangerous situations, ensuring your safety is vitally important. Trying on the different neck guards sold by Great Skate will give you an idea of what fits you best and using practice time to find the right comfort level with your collar guard and/or dangler is the best way to figure out how you feel about each of these.

After a few ice times trying each out, you’ll certainly know what works best and you can begin using that set up in each game moving forward.

Warrior breaking tradition with goal line

WarriorWarrior’s introduction to the hockey world has been far from ordinary. After building a strong niche with their stick and glove designs; the company recently ventured into the realm of goal equipment. Warrior pulled pad guru Pete Smith to head the design group building their goal equipment.

This isn’t a new strategy for Warrior, as they also pulled experts from other companies such and Innovative and MIA for their stick and glove departments in the past. For goaltending the company has really begun to push the envelope with their new line of chest protectors.

The new Ritual line has unveiled a number of new features that will easily set their equipment apart from traditional powers. For 2013, the Ritual Pro will have all of the new bells and whistles that include a few additions that haven’t been considered in chest pad design.

The most obvious of these changes is the Shockshield feature on the arms of the unit. This is a hard plastic cap that is designed to disperse the impact of the puck while increasing protection over the typical soft pad. The Shockshield is designed to float just above the rest of the arm guard to offer additional protection.

While this certainly seems like an interesting addition that will surely increase protection, one worry has to be the chance of rebounds coming off the arms harder than they usually would with a softer design. Even though the number of pucks bound to hit your arms on a game-to-game basis might be low, the difficulty of trapping a puck between your arm and chest could certainly be difficult should the plastic Shockshield kick pucks out.

Warrior also built the Shockshield to function in unison with the Axyflex system that is designed to maintain maximum protection while increasing comfort and flexibility of a goaltender’s arm. Much like a sliding toe bridge allows for your skate to be at a better angle of attack, the Axyflex has a similar feature on the outside of the elbow that slides in and out with the arm guard as you bend your elbow. Quite literally, the Axyflex is a mechanical hinge that will increase flexibility at what has traditionally been an awkward and bulky area of a chest protector.

Introducing the Axyflex and Shockshield designs are two very interesting steps for Warrior to take simply because they are truly groundbreaking additions. While the Ritual Pro has many features found with other manufacturers units, these two additions set the equipment apart for a very good reason.

The rest of the build is fairly traditional. The Ritual has more of a tapered fit as opposed to a bulky, boxy fit that should maximize mobility for the wearer. This is a design feature that is reflected throughout the line with the Ritual senior, intermediate and junior models.

The remainder of the line reflects many of the major design features seen on the pro model just without the two new innovations – Shockshield and Axyflex. This means that the rest of the line is a far more traditional looking and feeling chest protector that maintains the protective and mobility that Warrior has built in the past and has improved upon this year.

One feature that the entire line does have is the Adjustable Chest Height system. This is nothing more than a Velcro strapping system that will tighten or loosen the fit of the chest pad depending on how high a goaltender wishes to wear the unit. What is so interesting about this is that it eliminates the annoying nylon straps adjusted with various plastic pulleys that are the norm on nearly every other chest protector ever manufactured. The Ritual’s system makes adjustments incredibly quick, easy and comfortable as there is little guess work as to where the most comfortable setting will be found.

Warrior’s new Ritual chest protector line will be hitting stores soon and the impressive new designs will be available to the public before you know it. For those considering a new chest pad purchase this year, be sure to consult with a Great Skate associate once the Ritual is in stores.

Goalie Pads: Too loose, too tight or just right?

Bauer Supreme One90 Sr. Goalie Pads

Bauer Supreme One90 Sr. Goalie Pads

Compared to the equipment that goaltenders had at their disposal 15 years ago, the position has changed drastically. Not only has the technical side of the game changed, but the effect equipment has on the position has changed as well.

With the evolution of the position, pads have evolved to complement the pro-fly style that is seen used by a majority of goaltenders at all levels. Not only has the design and technology of pads changed, the way goaltenders wear them has changed as well.

The way goaltenders wear their pads is one major difference from the way things were done just 15 short years ago.

Back when it was more important to have the goaltender and his pads move as one, the rule of thumb was to keep your pads farily tight from the bottom straps right up to the top. But as the butterfly style has become the predominant approach to goaltending, wearing a loose pad has become the norm.

The science behind this trend is fairly straightforward. The outer straps on a pad are designed to hold that pad against a goaltender’s leg and move as the goaltender dictates. The tighter the straps, the closer the pads mimic a goaltender’s movement. With the strapping system kept, the pads have more freedom to move around a goalie’s leg to provide the maximum amount of blocking surface.

While the traditional approach was to keep your pads tight to your legs so that a goaltender could move freely and react to the puck, the current methodology reflects the changes in both the technique and equipment used for the position. A fairly basic set up would be to have your bottom straps kept relatively tight and loosen as you go up the pad. Yet many goalies are keeping all of their straps quite loose with the hope of covering more ice and putting their equipment in a position to cover more net.

There are benefits to both styles, although modern pad technology can be negated if a pad is worn too tight. Pads like the new Vaughn Ventus and Warrior Ritual are designed with a flat blocking surface that is meant to lay flush against the ice. When a goalie drops into a butterfly with their straps loosened, the pad with rotate around his or her leg as the inner portion of the pad hits the ice. If the pad is too tight the face of the pad will end up laying on the ice rather than facing the shooter.

Many NHL goaltenders wear their pads very loose. A great example of this is Marc-Andre Fleury who wears his Reebok Premier Series 4 pads very loose. This not only ensures that the full face of the pad will be facing the shooter, but it also allows him to cheat the play in some ways. Of course this isn’t cheating in the traditional sense.

By wearing a very loose pad, Fleury’s pads almost hang on his legs as opposed to being strapped right against them. This strategy will allow the pad to hang closer to the ice surface when Fleury’s legs are pointed in a downward angle, thus limiting the distance they need to travel to cover the bottom of the net. This is a useful strategy and has become popular at all levels of hockey, but in order to be effective in utilizing a very loose pad, be sure your pads have interior support along the leg channel – typically Velcro to hold your knee and calf in place. If your pads don’t have these supports and you outer straps are kept loose there is a good chance your pads will flop around and it will be very difficult to move and make saves.

Not all goalies practice this, however. Those goaltenders who rely more on athleticism than simply blocking area use a slightly tighter set up to ensure the pad will not hinder their movement in the crease. Ryan Miller is a great example of a goalie who keeps his pads a bit tighter. Even Miller does keep his pads loose enough to rotate around his legs properly of course.

The key for any goaltender is to find a strapping set up that makes you feel comfortable, keeps you safe and utilizes all the technology your pads have to offer. All pads are designed to rotate around your legs and goalies of all ages should ensure there is some room for this to occur. Finding the most comfortable and effective way to strap your pads is important and you should practice with a few different variations to find what works best for you.

Not only will you be able to try out different ways to strap your pads in Great Skate’s goalie specific section, but you should also make sure the strap set-up you choose works on the ice.

Don’t just go into a game thinking that you want to wear your pads like Marc-Andre Fleury before you know if a very loose pad is right for you. Take a practice or two to try out a few different methods of strapping your pads so you know what will be comfortable and what makes you the best goalie you can be.