Finding gear for every body, every budget, every talent
By Phil Shore
The 2014 Stanley Cup Final was hockey drama at its best. Excitement was plentiful as three games went to overtime. One thing that really stuck out in the series was the play of the goalies. Both Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) of the Los Angeles Kings made big save after big save, laying it all on the line to keep giving their teams a chance at winning games. They combined to make 76 saves in Game 5.
The play of Lundqvist and Quick might inspire youngsters to not only take up hockey, but also to try goalie. For those newcomers, and even current goalies, who aspire to one day reach elite level, there are a few things to know.
“It’s difficult. Years ago it was the kid who couldn’t skate or the weaker skater became the goalie if there was no goalie,” said Tom Fogu, the owner of Great Saves Goaltending in West Orange, N.J. “The position has changed so much. Now the goalie has to be the best skater on the team.”
It is a difficult position, and the newcomer shouldn’t expect success to come right away.
“It’s hard to say to a young kid, but if you have a new goalie, if you go in knowing you’re going to give up a lot of goals early and you’re OK with that, you’re going to learn a lot,” Fogu said. “You’re going to get scored on. It’s part of the position. You grow from that. You learn how you got scored on and what you can do differently.”
Don’t let a lack of immediate success stop you from trying the position. And while hockey is an expensive sport, especially for goalies, if you know where to look, you can find some good deals.
“The thing about playing goalie is most programs do have equipment for these little guys to try,” said Doug Matthews, owner of Wesco Sports Center in Brookfield, Conn. Ask the program directors if there is there any goalie equipment you can borrow.
Wesco is a good source to get youth pads, which are basic and seem to be sensitive to the fact that although the pads are an investment, the young player will soon grow out of them. Places like Wesco and Monkey Sports Superstore in Norwood, Mass., also have big clearance sales in the summer months. The savings add up.
“I’ve got hundreds of people waiting for that July sale,” Matthews said. “People from all over come here. It’s 20 percent off everything, even the used gear.”
So you can find good bargains on goalie equipment, but what do you actually need to buy? “The blocker and catching glove, chest protector, regular hockey pants, protective cup, and a goalie or regular helmet,” Fogu said. “If you do a regular helmet, you also need a neck guard to protect the neck.”
“They also sell additional knee pads that are knee caps that go on your knee before your pads go on,” he added. “The worst thing that happens is you have a kid trying out the position who gets hits in the knee and immediately doesn’t want to do it. It is uncomfortable to wear them at first and it takes some getting used to, but the pain from the puck is more uncomfortable than wearing the knee pads.”
Skates are obviously essential in hockey, and Fogu said that when you first try to play goalie, you can get away with using regular skates, because goalie skates are made differently and will throw a player’s balance off. He said since it is important to be the best skater, a young player should skate comfortably in regular skates while learning how to play a new position.
Another reason goalie skates aren’t necessary at first is because most young players just starting out won’t play exclusively in goal. Often they will share the position so they can learn different aspects of the sport.
Stephen “Wack” Serwacki, store supervisor at Monkey Sports Superstore, said there are three crucial pieces one should not skimp on to provide the best protection for the young goalie.
“The main components we emphasize or try not to cut a corner on are a mask or a chest protector. Then when they’re committed to playing, get the goalie skates,” he said. “Make those the three most important components. The rest of the stuff we can piecemeal together.”
The most important aspect in buying goalie equipment is making sure it fits properly. “You can buy an expensive goalie helmet with all the bells and whistles, but if it fits (poorly), it won’t protect the kid,” Serwacki said.
It is OK to buy the equipment a hair oversized so that there is a little room to grow. Also, because kids are different sizes, it is best to buy equipment at places that have experienced goalies as salesmen. They know how the equipment should fit properly.
“You see a lot of different body types. We have a pretty good idea what might work. The denominations might match up but one company’s small might be another company’s medium,” Serwacki said. “If the kid doesn’t have any brand specificity, they don’t know what they’re looking for, we want to qualify how they’re going to play. The more you bulk up the unit, the less quickness you’ll have. You want to get max protection and not do anything to hinder their movement.
“Being a goalie yourself, you can talk to them and use a similar dialect and vernacular that he or she can understand,” Serwacki added.
It is imperative to try on the equipment, skates and all. Some shops have sheets of artificial ice where the goalie can try the equipment on and see how it feels while performing the basic movements goalies go through in a game.
“Once we get the pad on the kid, we’re having him or her do movement,” Serwacki said. “When you do basic crease-style movement, the pad is going to move. So then we go further into the fit. This is what happens naturally when you move into this position. You have to simulate the same movement and that gives us a super accurate depiction of how the pad is going to play.”
To be able to best outfit the young goalie, the experts need the players to come in with an open mind. While it is great that the play of goalies like Lundqvist and Quick can inspire kids to try the position, sometimes it hinders the young goalie if they want to look like them as well.
“Each brand has different pads,” Matthews said. “Bauer has their stiff pads and then the Reactors are flexible like the Vaughn. Vaughn has the Jonny Quick version. Each company has their own styles and feels. You have variety in companies and within the company. It all depends on the player.”
What happens when the player is insistent on a pad that might not fit but is like what his favorite player wears? “You show them. The best thing is you put it on them,” Matthews said, adding that you start with the pad the player says they want. “Then you put the other pad on. Then ask what they feel better in. Nine times out of 10 they will go with what feels better on them. They feel they move well.”
At places like Wesco and Monkey, there are goalies on staff, including Serwacki and Matthews themselves. They know the equipment, they know how it should fit, and they know how the price of the position can be daunting.
They make it their job to make sure the process is as painless as possible. Then, the next great goalie can get his or her start.
“You give (the player) the best chance to be productive, have fun, be safe and have their parent not worry,” Serwacki said. “You want everyone to feel good about the experience. It’s one thing to spend a lot of money. It’s another thing to spend a lot of money poorly.”
This article originally appeared in the July edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.