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.