Among the numerous moves Tim Murray made on July 1, signing Brian Gionta as a free agent was one of the biggest. Gionta, who hails from Rochester, NY is making as close to a homecoming as he possibly could by signing with the Sabres. After five seasons in Montreal, Gionta is back home where he played his junior hockey with the Niagara Scenic hockey club (now the Buffalo Junior Sabres).
Gionta wore an interesting mix of equipment this season and managed to pull from every major manufacturer aside from CCM. Although his Reebok stick technically qualifies as the two companies are virtually one in the same.
Skates: Bauer Vapor APX2 – A skilled, shifty player, Gionta opts for the massively popular Vapor line for his skates and even finishes them off with foot guards in case he catches a shot from the point in the wrong way. The stiff boot construction of the APX2 maximizes acceleration and allows for quick, tight turns. Exactly the type of traits a player of Gionta’s ilk is looking for.
Gloves: Warrior Dynasty AX1 – The next generation of Warrior’s Franchise glove, the AX1 is a traditional four-roll glove with a slightly updated appearance from the original Franchise. These offer a traditional fit that allows for maximum movement and rotation in the wrists. These are a favorite of highly skilled players who need to be able to stickhandle and pass in tight areas. Gionta had previously worn the Easton Pro gloves before making the transition to Warrior.
Stick: Reebok Ribcor – Reebok’s Ribcor is all about giving players the ability to launch heavier shots with a quicker release. The Ribcor’s shaft is “pre-loaded” to allow players to get the puck off their sticks faster with far more force.
Helmet: Easton S9 – Like our last “What They’re Wearing” subject, Gionta is partial to the older Easton S9 helmet. The S9 uses a VN foam liner that is typically considered to be a bit more comfortable than the newer, technologically advanced helmets that utilize EPP foams or even more advanced materials.
As part of the Warrior VIP program, I’ve had the opportunity to get a look at the new Covert QR1 stick ahead of its full release. It’s a very cool opportunity and I have to say the stick has surpassed any of the expectations I had for it.
Out of the Box
The QR1’s graphic package hearkens back to Warrior’s earlier days with bright, aggressive colors that are very similar to what adorned the Dolomite in the mid 2000s. It just so happens that particular version of the Dolomite – with the orange and electric blue graphics – stands as the best stick I’ve ever used.
This is a very attractive stick and the feel prior to being cut down is just what you’d expect. It’s feather-light and well balanced. I chose to go with an 85 flex with a Zetterberg curve and my stick has the grip option as well.
On the Ice
My first impression of the stick was the weight and balance and that didn’t change once I cut it down and got it taped up. Thinking back to the last Warrior stick I had (Dynasty AX1), the blade has a more firm feel to it when stickhandling and passing.
The profile of the stick is great as the dagger tip is both visually appealing and effective in practice. Warrior’s goal with the QR1 was to provide a stick with a quick release and they certainly succeeded in doing so.
Through a handful of icetimes, I’ve noticed an appreciable improvement in the crispness and velocity on my passes. I’ve been able to make hard cross-ice passes in the neutral zone and needle threading saucer passes from the corner when on the attack.
Interestingly, my slap shot is also heavier with the QR1, likely due to the well placed kick point on the stick. Since I’ve been playing on the blueline for the duration of my summer season, I haven’t had too many chances to get a feel for the quick release on a wrist shot, but given the feel the stick has when making passes, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t have the same feel when shooting in a game situation.
Keep an eye out for the Covert QR1 to be hitting the shelves soon, you’re not going to want to miss out on this stick.
The Superfast, in addition to inverting many of the graphics from the previous two RBZ sticks (white to red) will utilize new technology to add an even higher C.O.R. to the blade. This is an improvement to the RBZ Stage 2 blade that already featured a much hotter blade than the original RBZ stick.
CCM is referring to the new feature as the SpeedPocket which will be an even wider area when compared to the Speed Channels in the Stage 2 that offers a quicker release. The theory at work here comes over from golf and CCM’s partnership with TaylorMade and the focus on hot, springy club faces on clubs. The original RBZ used hollow areas in the blade that helped to create a trampoline effect on the blade, thus helping players develop a stronger shot.
The evolution saw CCM alter the Speed Channels to take up a bit more space and add a bit more heat to the puck. Now, the Speed Pocket will help to increase the results of you shot even more. It’s my expectation that the Speed Pocket will be one large opening inside the blade compared to the smaller channel designs the defined the Speed and Freak Channels on the RBZ and Stage 2, respectively.
The other, more obvious change is in the graphics package. While the look and colors remain the same, CCM has gone with a primarily red stick that transitions to black at the top of the shaft. This differs from the white blade and shaft of both the RBZ and Stage 2 which really served to define the line and link the product to TaylorMade in terms of design.
The RBZ SuperFast hits shelves in August and will give CCM one of the most sought after products as the 2014-15 season is set to begin.
Street HockeyFest is returning to the streets of Buffalo for lucky year number 13 on August 24 with Great Skate serving as the presenting sponsor.
There is a slight alteration to the summer tournament as the games will be held on the surface parking lots in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District immediately adjacent to First Niagara Center. The change is necessitated due to the active construction of HARBORCENTER and the street closures that accompany the project.
Registration for the tournament is open now and will close on August 15. Each team can have up to five players and all games will be played three-on-three plus a goaltender. The tournament is open to all players aged eight to 17 and will see the teams split into seven divisions for boys and five divisions for girls. The divisions are determined based on age and gender in accordance with USA Hockey’s age classifications. The exact breakdown of the divisions for Stree Hockey Fest can be found below.
Players are required to provide their own sticks, sneakers and gloves along with goaltender equipment. Any additional equipment that can be worn is optional but is recommended. Players in the micron and mite divisions will be required to wear helmets.
Check-in begins on the 24th at 8:00 am and the first games of the day will begin promptly at 9:00 am. Registration and additional participant information can be found on the Sabres website or by following this link.
The new CCM Tacks officially hit the shelves this morning as the return of one of hockey’s most storied equipment lines makes its return.
CCM poured a ton of new technology into the new Tacks line, pulling from some of the success they had with the RBZ while introducing new performance features to make the skate a technological and performance-based marvel.
We talked a bit about the coming release earlier this year while a great deal of the features and technology were still under wraps. Although the skates were seen all over the NHL as they were tested by the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and John Tavares, there was still much to learn about the new skates. Tomorrow everyone will get a chance to experience the new features CCM has included on their newest set of wheels.
One of the most important features that CCM added is the Attack Frame that reinforces the area along the eyelets and the upper heel portion of each boot. The Attack Frame is a carbon fiber reinforcement that stiffens those two specific areas to promote quicker, more explosive starts. This is promoted by CCM’s Pro Core, which has various levels of stiffness throughout the boot to work in unison with the Attack Frame.
The Pro Core is stiffest in the areas where the Attack Frame reinforces while adding stiffness through the middle of the boot in the area between the two stiffest portions. Meanwhile, the Speedbalde 4.0 holder and Hyperglide steel gives the Tacks a similar attack angle as the RBZ’s that promotes cornering and agility.
CCM is also introducing a new Tacks stick to their growing product line. The Tacks stick features an Attack Frame reinforced area designed to reduce torsion during shooting. The new stick also sports the sharp black and gold graphics package of the new skate.
CCM set out to create a skate that provides players with the fastest five steps in hockey. They achieved their goal by finding key areas to add stiffness and promote responsiveness so the most elite skaters would feel the difference in their stride. It’s truly a skate that puts you one stride ahead of your competition.
Jason Spezza headlined the biggest trade of the offseason to this point. His transition to Dallas certainly sets the Stars up for another playoff run and perhaps a berth into the later rounds in a very difficult Western Conference.
While the What They’re Wearing feature has been gone for a little while, Spezza’s trade from Ottawa to Dallas sets the table to take a closer look at the gear worn by the offseason’s biggest trade pice.
Stick: Easton Synergy HTX – Easton’s newest stick is a throwback, of sorts, to the composite stick that started hockey’s arms race. The HTX is ultra lightweight and boasts Easton’s Hypertuned technology that matches the stiffness of the shaft to the stiffness of the blade.
Gloves: Warrior Covert – A terrific glove that offers a slightly more anatomically inspired fit than the classic design and fit of the Dyansty (formerly Franchise) gloves. The retail model of the Covert DT1 uses Warrior’s Bone System to provide more backhand protection and I’d be interested to see if Spezza wears a model with the Bone system or if he chose to remove it from his gloves.
Helmet: Easton S9 – Spezza appears to still be using an older model Easton helmet with a more basic foam liner than the EPP and comfort foams seen in the higher end helmets on the market today. The S9 was quite popular throughout the league when Easton first ventured into the helmet market and it’s not too surprising to see Spezza sticking with this model.
Skates: Reebok Ribcor – Spezza’s interesting gear selection is capped with Reebok’s newest skate, the Ribcor. A responsive skate that promotes agility and change of direction, the Ribcor is the flagship of Reebok’s skate line as we move through the summer and into 2015.
With Free Agent Frenzy set to open the checkbooks will be ablaze with action around the NHL. There will be different approaches taken by different teams as competitors will be looking for a player to push them to the next level, Cup contenders will want to fill that last missing piece and even some of the league’s bottom feeders will be actively looking to reshape their rosters.
The 2014 free agent class lacks premier names but certainly contains fair quality across the board. Here are a handful of names at each position that will be worth tracking starting today at noon.
Ryan Miller: Miller cost himself some serious money with a substandard playoff performance in St. Louis. He’s a systems goaltender through and through and it seemed as if he was out of his depth behind St. Louis’ roster. While he’s searching for a contender, the shallow market may leave him without many options. He’d thrive on a club where he’d see steady action each night while still being supported by a strong cast of forwards and defensemen. I don’t think he’ll be on the market long before making his choice.
Jonas Hiller: Hiller looks as if he’ll have a few options available to him on the open market, but like Miller, he’s still going to be picking from a pared down pool of suitors. Hiller’s play was once flirting with world class status before a depreciation led him out of Anaheim. While he isn’t the world beater that shutdown the Sharks and frustrated the Red Wings in the mid-2000s, he’s still a very capable goaltender who will get a fair look.
Ilya Bryzgalov: Bryz has been on a carousel the last few seasons and perhaps this summer will allow him to finally get off. He wasn’t spectacular in Edmonton or Minnesota last year, but he found a bit more stability than he had in Philadelphia, which is certainly a major improvement. I doubt that he would be in line to snag a starting job in free agency, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team looking for a quality backup who can handle upwards of 30 games give him a ring.
Justin Peters: Peters has toiled in the Carolina system for what seems like an eternity. He was stuck behind Cam Ward during his better seasons and never found a way to stick in the NHL permanently. Anton Khudobin’s arrival pushed him further down the depth chart and now he finally has a chance to look elsewhere. The thin market will make things tricky, but a team like Philadelphia or even the Lightning, who are looking for a quality backup, could give him a chance for a full year in the NHL.
Martin Brodeur: Retirement seems like the better option for Brodeur at this point as his play has taken a sharp nosedive in recent seasons. He says he wants to backup on a contending team and see somewhere in the 25 games neighborhood. I don’t seem many contenders seeing Brodeur as a viable option to carry that much weight during the year, I wonder what type of interest he gets once free agency opens this afternoon.
Matt Niskanen: The cream of the defensive crop seems to have a very similar feel in terms of playing style. Matt Niskanen appears to be the one player set to get the biggest payday after a very impressive run with the Penguins and talks of a long term, big money deal have been circulating for a few days now. Niskanen is a quality puck mover who will most certainly receive far more money than he’s likely worth, but his play last year justifies the asking price.
Christian Ehrhoff: A late entrant after being bought out on Sunday, Ehrhoff sported one of the league’s better possession metrics despite playing on the league’s worst team. He still has plenty of miles left and can contribute in all situations with big minutes. Don’t be surprised to see him cash in handsomely.
Anton Stralman: In almost the exact same boat as Matt Niskanen, Stralman is likely going to receive a major payday after providing the Rangers with high-quality second pair minutes during their Cup run. Interestingly, his Corsi percentage remained consistent when he was away from Marc Staal while Staal’s percentage plummeted if he was away from Stralman.
Dan Boyle: His age plays a factor here but his skillset is still highly sought after. He’s still a phenomenal puck moving defenseman who will instantly upgrade any powerplay he’s a part of. I’m interested to see what kind of money he gets if a bidding war breaks out for his services. It’s been reported that he’s expecting to get a two-year deal, so if a team is really desperate, they could break the bank on a short term deal to lock up his services.
Brooks Orpik: Every team wants a rugged stay-at-home defender and while Orpik has put on quite a few miles over his career, he’s going to be looked at as a quality asset by a number of teams. Now that he has a Cup ring, I wonder if he is desperately seeking a team on the verge of a championship or if he’s content with cashing in on one more solid contract moving forward.
Paul Stastny: Consider Stastny the consensus crown jewel of this year’s free agent crop. That may be an indictment of the overall class, but shouldn’t be a condemnation of his talents. In fact, playing a complimentary role to such talents as Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon last year probably did more for him than anything else. He’s going to get a healthy payday and provide a team with solid play in a number two center role.
Dave Bolland: Bolland might be the most curious member of this class simply because of his contract demands. He’s a terrific center who can provide quality depth in a second or third line role. I’m not sure he’s worth $5 million, however. I’d expect a team looking to take a step forward would be willing to throw that type of money at him but I think that they’ll ultimately be disappointed in the investment.
Milan Michalek: The exodus out of Ottawa continues as Michalek is set to hit the open market. He’s a consistent goal scorer who would likely thrive playing a complimentary role on a competing team. He still has plenty of miles left on his tires and could almost serve in a similar role to what Marian Gaborik did for the Kings in this year’s playoffs. That might be too specific of a role to find, especially with teams out there looking to snag a first line scorer.
Brad Richards: A buyout casualty, his name hasn’t been overly active since the Rangers exercised their right to terminate his contract. It’s surprising because he has the ability to be a quality contributor for any number of teams. He can still play on the power play and in a top-six role for all 30 teams. If he ends up getting picked up at a discount, I suspect there will be a very happy coach an GM out there.
Thoams Vanek: Vanek, like his former Buffalo teammate Ryan Miller, didn’t do himself too many favors with his play in the postseason. He was phenomenal with the Islanders and carried his play to Montreal to close the regular season. However, he was quiet in the playoffs and could have possibly cost himself a long-term deal. All bets have him heading to Minnesota and I’d suspect that’s where he lines up, even if it’s at a lower rate than originally expected.
Reebok isn’t pulling any punches with their Kinetic Fit System. The new Reebok 30K KFS gloves provide a true anatomic fit and bring the Reebok glove line to a new level thanks to the new features introduced this year.
The 30K KFS is a two-piece glove that combines the freedom of mobility that’s so popular in four-roll gloves while still offering the snug, responsive fit of an anatomically designed glove. Reebok’s prime focus on the fit moves from the fingers up into the cuff, ensuring a true anatomic fit for each player. This glove-in-glove design allows the KFS to promote both flexibility and fit.
Reebok’s decision to include a new design feature on the back of the hand could potentially make or break the glove for those who put a heavy opinion on the mirror test. The vented portion of the backhand almost looks to have a shell over it, which makes for a unique look that other manufacturers haven’t yet taken on. On a darker based glove you can’t even notice this feature. However, if the base color contrasts the cover, it can offer an odd appearance. This won’t matter for those who aren’t bothered by the overall look, but I could see where some may be turned off.
Despite the potential hurdle in terms of looks, the performance of the glove is truly top notch. In addition to the glove-in-glove fit and mobility, the AX suede palm is reinforced through the middle to ensure a pro feel and high level of durability.
The 30K KFS gloves absolutely provide an upgrade over the previous KFS model, the 11K. With added reinforcements on the back of the hand and thumb, the 30K offers pro-level protection with a unique fit that draws on the greatest traits of a traditional four-roll glove and that of anatomically design gloves.
The new Reebok 30K KFS gloves are in stores now and can be picked up in four different colorways. Get your hands in these now to feel the difference the kinetic fit provides.
After a lengthy vacation from the crease, CCM returned last year with a new entry into the goaltending market. The Extreme Flex pads not only represented CCM’s first official entry into the goaltending world again but it also brought about a pad with some impressive new features.
CCM developed a pad with a soft, flexible boot that allows the pad to sit a bit lower than it’s stiffer Reebok cousins. While the rest of the pad shares many of the same traits as the Reebok pads, the flexible boot and softer face (complete with knee rolls) provides a much more traditional pad than the P4 or current XLT is.
Upon first release, the pad offered a different option for goalies who weren’t as fond of Reebok pads while still providing the option to wear equipment produced by the legendary Lefevre design team. The marriage of Lefevre and Reebok/CCM pads doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon, but this and the former Reebok Larceny remain as the only pads constructed by Reebok or CCM in recent years with a different take than the flat faced look that helps to define Reebok.
CCM took things a step further this past year as they provided a new design option for EFlex users. The RetroFlex pad has the same construction as the original EFlex but with a basic, vertical stitch graphics package. The only color options on the pad, outside of the face of the shin, will be the knee rolls, outer roll and the darts between the knee rolls.
Jonathan Bernier wore the RetroFlex all season and looked particularly good in his vintage colored RetroFlex pads at this year’s winter classic.
Outside of the aesthetic differences between the EFlex and the RetroFlex, there are no other changes between the two. They’re both inspired by more flexible products in the boot while still utilizing the modern core design that can be found in pads like the Reebok XLT and others.
If you find yourself stuck deciding between the EFlex or the RetroFlex, it’s likely a simple decision between a true retro look over a slightly more contemporary graphic on the face of the pad. While I prefer the EFlex simply due to the design options available, the RetroFlex is a beautiful pad. Especially for those netminders who prefer a classic look.
There’s no easy way to keep up with goalie mask art. If you or your child change teams regularly, a brand new paint job can look out of place after just one season of use. Not to mention, many artists charge an arm and a leg for paintjobs and if you choose the wrong one, you’re more than likely going to lose the factory warranty on your mask. Luckily, Bauer has thought of a solution to this conundrum.
Bauer’s NME3 and NME5goal masks comes with a number of stock designs that feature a wide range of colors, patters and artwork that provides a custom look that will match a number of team’s uniforms.
These designs range from vintage inspired looks right up to designs that mimic the graphics on Bauer’s equipment line – the Reactor, for example. While the colors available are somewhat limited, most of the designs are generic enough that they will match nearly every team’s uniforms. For example, the flame graphic features a red graphic flame against a basic black background. Whether you’re playing for a team with Blackhawks, Devils or even Red Wings uniforms, you won’t run into any issues.
The center racing stripe and vintage jersey stripe graphics play the best in terms of design, but the more creative designs like the Reactor or USA graphics offer a more unique take on the practice.
Taking advantage of what Bauer offers at the junior or youth models of the NME 5 and NME 3 gives you a chance to pick up a mask with unique artwork (as opposed to the basic white or black) without needing to break the bank on a custom paint job.