Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

Skip the painter with Bauer’s NME artwork

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

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

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

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

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

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

Padded hockey shirts offer comfort and protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

Bauer reigns supreme at the Stanley Cup Final

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

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

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

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

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

Great Skate OT Challenge

OT challenge

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

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

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

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

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

Vaughn 1000 goalie pads

Vaughn VPG 1000 Velocity V6 Goalie Pads

Vaughn VPG 1000 Velocity V6 Goalie Pads

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.

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

Words of advice on goal mask artwork

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 Premier XLT takes

Reebok Premier XLT takes

Reebok Premier XLT takes

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.

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

Recapping the 2014 Olympic Tournament

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Outstanding Player

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

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

Most Outstanding Goaltender

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

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

Biggest Surprise

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

Looking Ahead

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

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

Olympic gear watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

Tips for picking out goalie sticks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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