What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller

What They’re Wearing: Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres

There is going to be a big spotlight on Ryan Miller for most of the 2013-14 season. As he enters the final year of his contract with the Sabres many are wondering whether he will be convinced to re-sign, if he will be traded at the deadline or if he’ll simply play out the deal and sign with a new team in free agency.

While there will be plenty of talk about his play in Buffalo, one thing you may or may not have noticed is that he has completely switched his gear. After a number of years using Reebok equipment, Miller has gone to a Vaughn set up for the 2013-14 season.

Perhaps he is thinking of switching things up after a couple of playoff-less seasons in Buffalo. Maybe Vaughn was able to better construct the type of pad he wanted to wear moving forward. It’s anyone’s guess and here’s a look at what Miller is wearing this season.

Mask: Warwick custom – Dating back to his time at Michigan State (and probably earlier), Miller has worn a custom Warwick mask. It’s a small custom mask shop that primarily builds for pros and college players. But they have recently started doing work for Vaughn. Look for some of their design features in the new Vaughn mask line.

Blocker: CCM EFlex (blocker) and Vaughn T5500 (glove) – Ryan Miller broke his thumb during the 2005-06 season and subsequently switched to a Reebok (then RBK) blocker. The Lefevre design has a one-piece cuff that offers  comfortable, full-coverage protection that many other models don’t feature. Miller may actually be wearing the Vintage version of the EFlex, but the lack of graphics makes it hard to tell. I feel like it has become something of a comfort level with Miller as he’s worn a different model blocker (don’t be fooled by graphics) than his catch glove and pads since that 05-06 season. Miller’s new glove appears to be a T5500 model from Vaughn. Miller is known to be particular about his gear and it’s certainly possible that this is more of a custom build than what you’d find with a stock 5500. What’s for sure is the two-piece cuff and T-pocket appears to have all the qualities of the 5500.

Pads: Vaughn Velocity V5 – The most obvious change for Miller comes with his leg pads. Not only the manufacturer but that fact that his new Vaughn pads appear to be relatively stock. One thing many people didn’t know is that Miller’s Reebok Larceny’s were a fully custom pad that was built with the Larceny graphic. His previous pads were actually a custom build with traits from different Vaughn and CCM pads from previous years. These new pads have a flat face (as opposed to having shin rolls) and a more modern build than the traditional construction of his previous pads.

Stick: Reebok Pro – Miller has stuck with his sticks from previous seasons. The sturdy Reebok Pro wood stick. This is a solid stick that is popular throughout the league. I doubt he switches things up this year from a model that he’s been using for so long.

Let the kids play

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

Sabres prepared to Start the NHL Season Tomorrow night

The youth movement is on at First Niagara Center. Bolstered by two-straight drafts with a pair of first round selections, the Buffalo Sabres boast one of the NHL’s deepest and most talented prospect pools. And there’s a chance many will see time with the big club right away.

Mikhail Grigorenko, who already played a portion of an NHL season, leads the group as a former lottery candidate and perhaps the most impressive offensive weapon the Sabres own in the entire organization (outside of Thomas Vanek). Girgorenko’s development is a big part of where he ends up in the grand plans of the Sabres, however. He struggled through his first campaign with the team and will need more ice time with skilled linemates in order to progress as a player this year.

Along with Girgorenko’s fellow 2012 first rounder Zemgus Girgensons, Joel Armia (2011 first round) represents two more significant pieces to the offensive future of the organization. A big, talented winger, Armia will look awfully good patrolling the wing with Grigorenko or another top center to his side. Girgensons has proven to be a do-anything center who has also spent time on the wing. He’s a tenacious talent who serves equally well on the power play as on the penalty kill. He seems to have some Chris Drury or Michael Peca intangibles as an effective two-way forward with leadership potential.

In addition to Armia, Girgensons and Grigorenko, the Sabres also have the likes of Johan Larsson, Daniel Catenacci and a handful of other promising prospects set to begin the year in Rochester.

The 2013 first round yielded Darcy Regier a pair of cornerstone defenders to go along with another top talent in Mark Pysyk (2010 first round). Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov have both earned positive reviews throughout camp and the preseason and with Ristolainen already under contract, there seems to be a good chance at least one starts the year in Buffalo.

Based on the direction that Regier seems to be thinking about taking, it might be worthwhile to roll out a majority of Buffalo’s top prospects to start the 2013-14 season. One challenge is finding the space.

On the backend players like Henrik Talliner, Mike Weber and Jamie McBain will all command playing time and finding a way to fit Ristolainen into that mix could be difficult.

Pysyk will almost certainly be amongst Buffalo’s top six when the puck drops on opening night. He showed well last season and seems to have secured a position on the right side of one of Buffalo’s top pairs. Should Ristolainen find a spot, he’d join Pysyk and Tyler Myers as three of Buffalo’s top youthful defenders. Although Myers’ struggles have been an issue in recent seasons, adding that trio with Christian Ehrhoff creates a significant, solid core.

There is a little more wiggle room up front with Buffalo’s four big guns. While Cody Hodgson, Thomas Vanek and other veterans obviously get written into the lineup with pen, there is space for the likes of Larsson and Girgensons to fit in.

I personally like both Larsson and Girgensons together in a third line, two-way role. They both excel at both ends of the ice, they play physically and could eventually grow into a shutdown scoring line. Think of something in the mold of Patrice Bergeron.  While sticking Steve Ott with them would provide more than enough sandpaper, finding an adequate right winger may make more sense. Exactly who fills that role, however may be tough to pinpoint.

While it would be doubtful to see Grigorenko and Armia sitck together for the duration of the year, giving them an opportunity right off the bat would almost be like seeing your future unfold directly before your eyes. Splitting the pair may provide more wiggle room for each to make the roster.

Ultimately, Armia will likely land in the AHL in order to further adjust to the North American game, although don’t be surprised when you see him called up by midseason.  Even with Armia sent to Rochester, here’s a set of lines which I’d like to see the Sabres open the year with should youth be a primary concern (bear in mind that some of these sets my not make the most sense):

Vanek – Hodgson – Stafford

Ennis – Grigorenko – Leino

Ott – Larsson – Girgensons

Foligno – Porter – Kaleta

Scott (extra forward)

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

2013-14 NHL Preview – Western Conference

Part two of our NHL preview takes you out West to the newly minted Central and Pacific divisions. The recycled names with plenty of new faces ought to produce some very interesting playoff races as many perennial powers are now grouped together.

The Central is led by the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks who will be joined by a pair of former Northwest Division foes (Colorado and Minnesota) and a newcomer from the East (Winnipeg).

  1. Chicago Blackhawks – The Cup champs remain relatively unchanged, although their goaltender has a brand new contract to go along with his Cup ring. There’s no reason the Hawks shouldn’t win this division running away. While there are some quality teams, the Hawks are in a class of their own by comparison.
  2. St. Louis Blues – Perhaps this seems high for the Blues but I have a great deal of faith in their system and their talent. While they don’t light up the scoreboard, they have a handful of players who I’d want on my team any day of the week. So long as they receive quality goaltending, this will be a playoff team.
  3. Minnesota Wild – The Wild enjoyed a nice run last season before injuries aided in their first round dispatch at the hands of the Blackhawks. I have faith that the Wild will build on their success last season and make yet another playoff run. If nothing else, they certainly can boast the best uniform set in the league.
  4. Nashville Predators – I’m hoping to see the Preds bounce back this season. Pekka Rinne is the real deal and with some increased scoring depth up front, there is no reason that Smashville shouldn’t see more playoff hockey come springtime.
  5. Dallas Stars – For the second straight season the Stars were wheeling and dealing during the offseason. A new coach, phenom and uniforms will debut in Dallas this year, but I’m unsure if they have enough to roll to a playoff berth. They’re getting there, just not this season.
  6. Winnipeg Jets – There are some nice pieces on the Jets roster. However I think they will ultimately fall short again this year. While the Central isn’t brimming with top teams like the Metro Division, I doubt that the Jets can sneak by enough clubs to find the postseason.
  7. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs are building an impressive core. Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog are three elite talents who need time to grow. This will be a contender sooner rather than later if their youth can be cultivated.

The Pacific Division might be the most intriguing of the four this season. The 2012 Cup Champions, 2011 Finalists and three more playoff seasoned squads make up this division. This will be a fun division to track during the year.

  1. Los Angeles Kings – Things weren’t the same for the Kings last spring, but that doesn’t mean they’re suffering a major regression. A great deal of the Cup team remains intact with only role players and replaceable parts finding their way to greener pastures. I expect the likes of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar to again lead this deep squad on a playoff run.
  2. San Jose Sharks – The Sharks were a fine hockey club in 2012-13. Their veteran core still remains but the transition to their young stars is well underway. Further increasing the role of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will do nothing more than to galvanize the talent that is all over this roster.
  3. Vancouver Canucks – I found it odd that the Canucks fired Alain Vigneault because Vancouver’s offense was expiring only to hire a defense-first thinker as his replacement. While the Canucks may not employ the same defensive shell tactics used by the Rangers, the relationship between John Tortorella and some of Vancouver’s offensive weapons will be an interesting dynamic.
  4. Anaheim Ducks – Not only is this the final flight for the Finnish Flash but the Ducks will be bringing back their eggplant uniforms once more. The Ducks made major strides last season and I can only expect them to build upon last season’s success in 13-14.
  5. Phoenix Coyotes – I don’t expect this to be as close as the place in the standings may indicate. While the Coytoes are finally on firm financial ground, I think the talent above them in this division will be far too much to overcome. Perhaps they unseat the Ducks for a playoff spot, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
  6. Edmonton Oilers – The talent in Edmonton is beyond enviable. However, they seem to keep finding different ways to squander the royal flush they continue to be dealt. While there are plenty of things to be happy about with the improvement of the Oilers, I still think they’re a couple of years away from being a contender.

Calgary Flames – The Flames probably won’t be very good this season. They have major question marks in goal, at forward and on defense. They appear to be in phase one of a major rebuilding project and I’m not sure where the end of the line may be.

2013-14 NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Bufalo Sabres

Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller

Even with a summer altered by last season’s lockout, it seems like it has been an eternity since the NHL has been in action. At long last, hockey has returned and the start of the NHL season is right around the corner.

The new divisional alignment that the league adopted for this season will probably be an awkward transition for most fans. Particularly those who were used to equating the Atlantic Division with teams like New York, Philadelphia or New Jersey. Now the Atlantic spans through Canada and all the way to the Gulf Coast. Then, of course, there is the oddly named Metropolitan Division which manages to incorporate the Tri-State Area with Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and Carolina. Perhaps it is time to abandon the geographical division names, no?

As for the 2013-14 season, the new playoff structure will bring old fans back to the days of the Norris and Patrick Divisions, while younger fans will have to adjust on the fly to the new playoff breakdown.

The Metro Division is choc-full of deep, talented teams who are likely to cannibalize each other on their way to battling for one of the four available playoff spots. Teams like the Islanders and Blue Jackets – who in a conference playoff structure would likely be clawing their way towards a 6-8 berth, are likely to be on the outside looking in once the season wraps. The Penguins, Rangers and Flyers have been perennial playoff teams and are now joined by the Capitals as the likely top four teams in the division.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with Marc-Andre Fleury’s second-straight season of playoff struggles the Penguins still managed to roll into the conference finals before being dispatched by the Bruins last spring. Sidney Crosby and company won’t be much different entering this season and I expect them to snag the top seed in the Metro.
  2. Washington Capitals – George McPhee, aside from trading away one of his top assets in Filip Forsberg, has done a fine job building his club. While the Caps could get some pressure from the Rangers or Flyers, I expect Washington to own the second best record in the Metro.
  3. New York Rangers – While Glen Stather is still battling out with Derek Stepan over his contract, the Rangers have a new coach who should hopefully breathe life into their dormant goal scorers. Henrik Lundqvist is capable of carrying any team to the playoffs, and the Rangers top-six forwards make them a very strong club.
  4. New York Islanders – The Isles are my darkhorse playoff team in the East. They have some great talent up front and have matured nicely over the last few years. The new alignment will make things tricky but I have a feeling that they will beat out the Flyers for the final playoff spot.
  5. Philadelphia Flyers – I question the Flyers in two areas: defense and goaltending. Should Ray Emery and Steve Mason platoon effectively, I think the Flyers will be a tough out on an nightly basis. While the blueline has some holes that need to be plugged, this is still a team loaded with firepower. Ultimately I think the Isles sneak by for the division’s final spot.
  6. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets have a nice roster make up with some quality talent in key areas. Whether or not Sergei Bobrovsky continues his Vezina form will say a lot for Columbus’ success this year. In such a talented division, I fear they’ll be on the outside looking in.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – The Canes are a good team, no doubt about it. They also happen to be playing in what is likely to be the league’s toughest division. It will be an uphill battle for the Hurricanes this season and I just don’t think they have the horses to run with this division’s elite teams.
  8. New Jersey Devils – The Devils need some help. They’re missing a handful of key cogs despite having an embarrassment of riches in goal. Despite their strength between the pipes, I wonder if they have the talent to compete on a nightly basis.

The Atlantic Division, while not as rich in top-end talent as the Metro, there is the potential for a nasty battle for playoff positioning in this division. While the Metro’s hallmark is it’s talent, the Atlantic’s might just be it’s depth.

  1. Boston Bruins – This is a very good hockey team. It’s my opinion that the Tyler Seguin trade aids the Bruins far more than it will aid the Stars. While Seguin has the potential to be a superstar, Louis Eriksson is going to be a phenomenal addition to an already very talented team.
  2. Detroit Red Wings – The top two in this division will probably be interchangeable for most of the year. The popular opinion last season was the Detroit was heading towards a decline, they proved the opposite of that with yet another impressive run. They should have plenty of success in their new division, helping to elevate them to an easy playoff position.
  3. Montreal Canadiens – After the Bruins and Wings, there is a bit of a drop off with this division. Depending on team-to-team goaltending, injuries and other extenuating circumstances, any one of five teams could find themselves in the final two playoff spots. I think the Habs are the most talented of the remaining clubs and will find themselves in the postseason yet again.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning – At some point the Lightning will figure out this goaltending thing, I’m sure of it. Whether or not Ben Bishop is their guy is yet to be seen, but I think that he gives them the best chance for success. Assuming he’s steady this year, I have little doubt that the Lightning have enough firepower to earn a playoff berth.
  5. Ottawa Senators – The Sens made a ton of changes this season and are coming off an impressive playoff run led, in large part, by Craig Anderson. The loss of Daniel Alfredsson shouldn’t hurt them much but I think the firepower of the Lightning will bump the Sens back a spot this year.
  6. Toronto Maple Leafs – A slight regression for the Maple Leafs should be expected this season. Acquiring Bernier was an interesting choice and I’m interested to see how he and James Reimer work as a platoon. While the new alignment shouldn’t hurt the Leafs, I expect them to be watching the playoffs from their couches.
  7. Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres have some nice pieces. They also have a ton of youth. While Ryan Miller in an Olympic year might be one of hockey’s greatest commodities, Buffalo’s rebuilding process will most likely keep them out of the playoffs.

Florida Panthers – Too many holes in South Florida, in my opinion. They have a number of impressive pieces but I’m willing to bet on another down campaign like they suffered through in 2012-13.

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

What they’re wearing – Derek Roy

For this month’s edition of What They’re Wearing, we take a look at one of the newest members of the St. Louis Blues, Derek Roy. Roy, who spent the bulk of his career in Buffalo, bounced to Dallas and Vancouver last year and signed a new deal in St. Louis this summer.

Roy has been an Easton guy for a number of years and he has become one of their most successful on-ice talents in recent seasons. It’s never a surprise to see him using their newest gear and last season was no exception.

Skates: Easton Mako

Roy was one of many players using Easton’s new, groundbreaking skate last year. A good number of Easton regulars were using the Mako and Roy was wearing it all year. Here’s a solid shot of Roy sporting the footwear.

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Derek Roy wears the NEW Easton Mako Hockey Skates

Gloves: Easton EQ Pro

Roy’s a playmaker who favors the open mobility of a four-roll glove. The EQ Pro is built with a very traditional construction that doesn’t restrict movement and provides plenty of wrist mobility. While it may not be the best looking glove – very low without any graphics or extra trim – this is a full-nylon glove with quality protection and fit. You can expect to see Roy transition to the new Easton Pro next season like many Easton players did for the end of the year and postseason.

Helmet: Easton E400

This is the more basic VN foam liner model that Easton produces which is appealing to many pros as they often side with the VN built helmets as opposed to some of the more technologically advanced models.

Stick: Easton Stealth RS

It was hard to tell if Roy was using a V9 series prototypes during last season. All photos I found of him had him sporting a Stealth RS model. I think it’s a good bet that Roy will be using a V9E next season as he follows the progression of the Easton product line. The V9 and V9E are now available in stores if you’ve yet to get a look at the newest models.

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

Sabres prepared to defend Traverse City title

You can’t say the Sabres haven’t won anything. They enter this year’s Traverse City Prospect Tournament as the defending champions after their triumph in 2011.

Buffalo’s title defense was delayed after last season’s lockout and they may benefit from the delay as they are prepared to ice a scary talented roster for the 2013 tourney. Mikhail Grigorenko will lead Buffalo’s other top prospects including; Joel Armia, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Nikita Zadorov and others in search of another tournament championship.

Sending stacked rosters isn’t necessarily something that only the Sabres participate in. Each team manages to send a combination of pro ready prospects, new draft picks and players who have seen pro ice time to the tourney. It just so happens that Buffalo makes sure to construct a roster of their best prospects.

In 2011 the top line of Luke Adam, Marcus Foligno and Zack Kassian bullied their way through the rest of the tournament and claimed the first championship the franchise has ever seen.* Considering that Armia, Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson are amongst those participating, I think the Sabres are betting on bringing back another championship.

In addition to Girgensons, Grigorenko and Larsson – all who played professionally last year – Buffalo has a pair of NHL defensemen (Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Pysyk) to skate along with another NHL-ready player in Ristolainen.

Traverse City Tournament provides in live action for an organization’s prospects prior to the start of preseason action. For those players who aren’t expected to see time in the preseason – mostly newly drafted junior players – it serves as a way for coaches and scouts to see their new players live.

Even though the tournament serves more as an evaluation tool, it is still a nice point of pride for the winning club. It almost serves as verification that one team owns a better prospect pool than the others in some ways. For Sabres fans, this should offer a nice barometer for seeing how Darcy Regier’s recent investments are developing.

One benefit from the tournament is putting brand new prospects in a team setting with some of the older members of the group. This not only allows players like Nick Baptiste to see how Pysyk carries himself, it gives Pysyk a leadership opportunity that would otherwise be missed in the regular season.

That type of locker room and off-ice growth is a valuable fringe benefit that goes along with the on-ice play each of the prospects get over the course of the tournament. Although it didn’t seem to do too much for guys like Adam or Kassian in 2011, perhaps the inclusion of an established talent like Pysyk indicates the Sabres are hoping for him to take the reins.

Like the Sabres, the other participating clubs don’t shy away from using their big guns. The Stars will have Jack Campbell, Radek Faksa and Valeri Nichushkin among others on their roster, proving that each team is indeed out to impress during the event.

Buffalo’s participants include a handful of very intriguing names who will be very interesting to watch. Seeing Johan Larsson in a Sabres jersey for the first time will be cool and having the chance to see him skate with someone like Girgensons will be particularly exciting.

Fans are likely hoping to see Armia and Grigorenko skate on a line together – Kris Baker from Sabres prospects points to Dan Catenacci as their linemate, which I fully endorse – and having the chance to see Ristolainen playing in North America is also encouraging. Obviously those five are the marquee names wearing blue and gold but they’re not the player’s I’m most interested in seeing during that weekend.

Catenacci is one of my favorite Sabres prospects and I’m very hopeful that the 2013-14 season serves as a major stepping stone for him moving forward. An NHL callup isn’t what I’m hoping for, so much as a great growth year that prepares him for a solid NHL career. Colin Jacobs found his footing as a shootout specialist in his Rochester debut and I’m hopeful that he can evolve his game now that the Sabres invested a contract in him. Logan Nelson could also push for a professional deal if he has a strong showing, and the Coon Rapids, MN native has an offensive side that would be great to see flourish.

In addition to Jacobs and Nelson, I’m waiting to see if Brady Austin grows into a late-round sleeper and I’m also hoping to see Justin Kea explore the physical side of his game.

A few of those names are boring, long-term prospects who don’t carry the pedigree of the big names who will likely grace Traverse City and First Niagara Center during this season. But they’re also prospects who appear to have solid value given their draft status.

Depth in the prospect pool is something each and every team at the Traverse City Tournament shares. I’ll be keeping my eye on the depth players while waiting to see if Buffalo’s big guns earn another title.

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

Ribcor hits the shelves

The wait is finally over. A few weeks after CCM introduced the RBZ Stage 2 stick, Reebok has introduced their newest twig for the upcoming season. The revolutionary Ribcor is now available in stores and offers a groundbreaking feature in stick development.

For the most part, the Ribcor is a pretty basic stick. The black on black finish gives it a sleek, stealthy look with fewer frills than other, more complicated sticks on the market. Nothing more than the neon green Ribcor logo stands out when looking at the stick from a distance.

Reebok offers a full host of flex and curve options with the Ribcor and when it comes down to blade technology, there isn’t too much different from that of the other sticks in the Reebok line. Where the difference is with the Ribcor is the kick point.

Reebok developed a ribbed (hence the name) design that keeps the carbon at full tension at all times. This differs from other stick technology in which the carbon is only at full tension when shooting or passing. Because of this change, the Ribcor is always loaded and ready to fire. This translates to less effort for the player when shooting.

The technology is all about power transfer. Much like other features in sticks like the Dynasty or RBZ that harness the power behind each player’s shot, the Ribcor’s technology almost enhances that power because of the way the stick is constructed.

What’s even better about the Ribcor line is that the technology doesn’t waver in the price point models. While many equipment lines only offer the top technology in the pro stick, gloves, skates etc.; the ribbed shaft is a hallmark of the entire line. That means you get the benefit of the new technology no matter what model you purchase.

For those players hoping for the lightest and highest performing model, the pro is the only way to go. During the demo day for the Ribcor I was surprised to feel the balance of the stick despite the new addition. My expectation was a drastically heavier stick than models like the 20K or A.I.Nine, but it wasn’t any heavier than the RBZ I was trying out. That, combined with the pop you get on your shots makes for a dangerous scoring weapon.

From the short time I had with the stick on the ice, I noticed a nice response and a stiffer shaft. Comparing the 100 flex Ribcor to a 100 flex RBZ, for example, there seemed to be more whip to the RBZ due to the construction. Even though the Ribcor felt stiffer, it didn’t react as if it was stiffer. In fact, the pop on a slap shot was equivalent, if not improved as compared to the RBZ when I used both on the ice.

You don’t have to wait any longer to snag the Ribcor and Great Skate has a full line of the new twigs for you to check out.

On the Ice: CCM RBZ skates

CCM RBZ Skate and RBZ Stage 2 Stick

CCM RBZ Skate and RBZ Stage 2 Stick

On the heels of their partnership with Taylor made to release the RBZ stick last season, CCM took a step forward in 2013 in not only revamping the RBZ stick, but introducing the RBZ skate to their line.

When I got around to getting the RBZ skates on the ice, it wasn’t the first time I had a chance to try a pair on. The CCM RBZ Demo Day afforded me a chance to take a spin in the new wheels and helped to inspire me to give the product a closer look.

Finer details of the skate’s design can be found in our product review posted earlier this summer.

Out of the Box

The RBZ is a very good looking skate. It’s a very basic, traditional look that goes light on accents and crazy desgins and heavy on dark colors. It is a nice way to disguise the all-carbon boot as the dark upper just looks like the outside of any old skate you’ve grown up wearing. Upon closer inspection, however, the details of the construction are more evident.

One difference with the RBZ over just about every skate on the market is how big they run. CCM constructed them to fit a little wider which practically sizes them up nearly one full size for most people. I’m anywhere between a 10 or 10.5 in skates and the RBZ I’m wearing are a 9.5. Keep that in mind when you go to try them on.

The wide fit is pretty much uniform through the entire skate and it isn’t reduced until they take a spin in the oven and get laced up the first time. This doesn’t mean that putting them on out of the box gives a deceptive feel, but allowing them to bake and mold will do wonders in the fit and comfort department.

Most other facets of the skate are relatively basic. There’s nothing that stands out in store or even in the locker room in terms of the feel or ascetics. The physical attributes of the skate are another story as the incredible weight savings CCM used are the first thing anyone notices when they hold the skate.

This balance and weight work that CCM put into the RBZ is noticeable on the ice as well, as the skates are barely noticeable at times.

On the Ice

One word of warning on the RBZ skate; wear them around your house a lot. My previous on ice review of the Easton Mako revealed a skate that was pretty much game ready after baking. The RBZ is close but does need a little extra wear before your first ice time. While I didn’t get a chance to break them in further at home, I only experience slight discomfort the first time I got them on the ice.

Another thing that stood out to me was the fit once I was ready to go. The wide fit caused me to lace my skates a little tighter than usual to ensure the fit I have grown accustomed to. However, once I got the skates to a point I liked it was smooth sailing.

Since I’m not an overly fast or quick player, nothing much improves those attributes of my game. Yet, the three games I’ve worn the RBZ for have been ice times in which my cornering and edge work have been improved. While only an ACME rocket would give me more straightaway speed, I feel that my edges and in-tight agility have improved with the skates.

There’s something about the RBZ that makes me feel incredibly comfortable on the ice. While the wide fit was something I had to adjust to, the comfort level of these skates is completely unparalleled. CCM has a full line of skates in the RBZ family and each and every one is worth a long look when you come in to grab a new pair.

Finding the helmet that’s right for you

Bauer IMS 9.0 Hockey Helmet

Bauer IMS 9.0 Ice Hockey Helmet

In the dizzying world of new sticks, varying glove designs and new models of skates being unveiled each season, it can be easy to overlook the importance of purchasing a helmet that is going to offer comfort and, most importantly, protection.

There is a plethora of available helmet manufacturers and models to choose from on the market today and figuring out which one works best for you or your child can be difficult. While picking the shiny new model that Pat Kane was wearing on TV may be the temptation, often there are other factors to consider when evaluating a helmet purchase.

First off, you have to ensure that the helmets you’re trying on will fit properly. This means finding a helmet that fits comfortably on your head, that doesn’t wobble when secured and one that doesn’t apply too much pressure either. Some of this focuses on comfort, but that’s very important. Uncomfortable helmets will drive the wearer to loosen them to increase comfort; this decreases the safety of the helmet ten-fold.

A snug helmet should simply provide a snug fit on your head. It shouldn’t move side-to-side or rotate horizontally, either. Again, it shouldn’t be so tight that it is uncomfortable while it’s being worn.

Finding the right size helmet isn’t necessarily a major bugaboo lately since a vast majority of models can be adjusted on the fly. However, just because you wear a large now doesn’t mean that another large will fit the exact same way. For example, the Bauer IMS 9 sits a little higher on the head and has a slightly more snug fit than a helmet like the CCM V08 which sits lower and fits larger than the IMS. So be sure to try on and fully adjust each helmet model you’re considering before making a final decision. The last thing you need is to snag what you think is your size off the shelf only to find that it fits too large once you get it home.

Another important factor to consider in terms of comfort and fit is the construction of different helmets. Not only in terms of the shell design but also the interior padding. Every company uses a different approach with their helmets lately with some sitting higher on the head and others sitting lower. In addition, each company uses varying levels of design for the guts of their helmets too. For example, Bauer uses a boatload of new technology like Suspend-Tech and PORON foam in the RE-AKT and IMS 9 helmets while the mainstay 4500 still uses a basic VN foam liner.

VN foam is the traditional, soft foam that can be found in many helmets in ice rinks around North America. It is soft and molds well to your head after time providing a high level of comfort. However, VN foam doesn’t provide the same type of resistance as can be found with a more high-tech product like EPP foam or Bauer’s new PORON product.

Many helmets have made EPP foam the primary liner for their helmets as it guards well against high-impact collisions better than most other products. Helmets like the Easton E700 and Reebok 11K use an EPP liner with comfort padding throughout to maximize protection and comfort. One of my personal favorite helmets is my Reebok 8K that uses a similar design to the current 11K helmet.

Of course, with new technology comes new expenses and sometimes breaking the bank isn’t the most vital step to take when purchasing a helmet. For example, a youngster playing mite or squirt hockey won’t need the same type of impact protection as a Triple-A midget or even a junior player. A the risk of high-speed collisions increases with the level of play, the need for increased protection will increase as well.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that no helmet is concussion-proof. Even non-head impact hits can cause the whiplash effect that causes concussions. A helmet designed by NASA wouldn’t help you then. Well, probably not.

The next time you’re in Great Skate picking out a helmet be sure to know the model type you’re searching for. Do you need a helmet like the RE-AKT or 11K that offer an elite level of protection? Or is something like the Warrior Krown 360 or Easton helmets with their high-level of fit, comfort and impact protection something you’re looking for. Perhaps a Bauer 4500 or CCM V08 works best for you. Be sure to evaluate your options, ensure a proper fit before making any final decisions.

Hockey Fitness: Summer Training

Now that we’re officially in the dog days of summer, you’ve probably had plenty of time to spend at the beach, hanging with friends and possibly getting some ice from time to time with friends or even rec teams. But with summer heading towards the finish and tryouts and the regular season closing in, it is time to whip yourself into game shape.

There are a million and one hockey workouts for the summer online and they’re all great. For the most part you can find a host of programs that focus on weight, endurance and cross training to ensure you get a full body workout while you’re away from the rink on a regular basis.

The beauty of a summer workout is that you can vary the exercises you wish to focus on. Is this an offseason where you want to put on solid weight? Are you looking to build explosiveness and foot speed? Or maybe you’re looking to get back into game shape with a simple, well-rounded workout routine.

Regardless of your primary focus, a sound cardiovascular element is vital. Whether it’s on a stationary bike, roller blades, bicycle or jogging, make sure you build in an adequate amount of time for a proper cardio workout. Few things are going to help keep your third period legs fresh than a run or bike ride in the heat of July and August.

Mixing in different cardio elements will aid in building different muscle groups while keeping the primary focus on your cardiovascular health and building some of the endurance you may have lost catching up on the tan you lost during the winter. One other key to your cardio work out is to keep varying levels to the workout. Interval training is a great way to not only maintain endurance but also build explosive and high-tempo bursts (much like shifts in a game) into that training.

As for the weight and strength training aspect, the key is a full body focus. Keep the focus on specific muscle groups and ensure that each day’s workout is collectively going to improve that muscle group. One practice I picked up from working with various trainers is the concept of supersetting work outs.

This may not necessarily be the practice that you wish to pursue, but using a superset workout will not only allow you to mix in multiple exercises at once, but can provide for full body movement as opposed to single-muscle exercises that you may be used to.

The final element, if you hadn’t already worked this in, is core strength and agility. While a lot of agility drills work very well in a cardio setting, they can definitely be done individually and when combined with core strengthening workouts can serve as a tremendous compliment to the typical cardio and strength training programs you’ve used in the past.

Ultimately your summer workout is yours to build. Goalies may be only concerned with lower body focus, cardio and a high level of agility training to increase their side-to-side mobility and effectiveness for the coming season. Maybe some defensemen are trying to add weight and strength for added physicality as their regular season is set to begin. Or perhaps you need to get back in shape and ready for training camp and a full-circuit workout is just what the doctor ordered.

Do your research, see what other players are doing and make sure that you keep a broad focus on the entire practice.