CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

CCM Retro Flex pads

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.

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.

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

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

NHL goal mask rankings: The top ten

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

Certified Cages

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

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

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

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

Cat Eye Cages

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

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

Which to wear?

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

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

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

Vaughn takes a new direction with Ventus line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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