September 29, 2013

Fit, comfort crucial for today’s helmet, mouthguard demands

By Jesse Connolly

It’s almost crazy to think that, after being formed in 1917, it took the NHL 80 years to have all of its players outfitted with helmets. The sport of hockey’s governing bodies and players at every level have wised up to the dangers of head injuries and the dire importance of wearing top-notch protective gear.

Like every other piece of equipment in a hockey player’s bag, helmets have changed drastically, even in recent years. New England Hockey Journal caught up with some of the top manufacturers to discuss the latest advancements in helmets and mouth guards, and the ever-rising cost of staying safe on the ice.

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Bauer

* Lauren Pelletier, global brand manager

What are some of the key advancements helmets have made in recent years?

We’ve learned a tremendous amount over the last few years about the biomechanics of injury, and as such, products have evolved and players are more protected than ever before. One significant example of evolution was driven by a new understanding of the importance of rotation of the head at impact. 

Several scientific studies show a correlation between rotational impacts and head injuries.  That said, current certification standards only address linear impacts. 

Bauer’s RE-AKT was the first helmet designed specifically to address rotational forces with the inclusion of a unique suspension liner designed to move independently from interior foam, compressing and stretching at impact to help manage rotational force.

For the players — namely recreational ones — who have been using the same helmet for years, how would you compel them to consider purchasing a new one?

According to the HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council), the current helmet certification expiration is 6.5 years from the date of manufacture. That said, we recommend that a player inspects his helmets on a regular basis to ensure that the liner, the shell and all components are in good condition. The helmet should be replaced if any of these are damaged.

Just as skates and sticks evolve with advances in materials, so do helmets. And advancements in this category specifically have accelerated rapidly over the past few years. That too, should serve as a prompt for consumers to consider purchasing a new helmet.

What are some key tips you’d offer a parent purchasing a helmet for a young child?

Fit is critical. If the helmet doesn’t fit correctly, it won’t protect your head. Similarly, the cage requires proper fitting, such that the chin cup sits snugly against the bottom of your chin. Level and frequency of play should also weigh into the purchase decision, as should comfort.

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Reebok/CCM

* Ryan Crelinsten, sr. product manager

What are some of the key advancements helmets have made in recent years?

We have been spending a lot of time partnering with experts in the field and participating in cutting-edge concussion research to better understand head injuries. As a result, we have really been focusing on proper fit and protection over a full range of impact speeds.  Based on that research, we developed the Reebok 11k to be the most adjustable helmet on the market, with a flexible EPP liner to provide great protection and comfort.

For the players — namely recreational ones — who have been using the same helmet for years, how would you compel them to consider purchasing a new one?

Over prolonged use, foam starts to break down, and even if you can’t see it, the stopping power of the foam is lessened. If there is one area where you want your equipment performing at its highest level, it would be the item protecting your head.

What are the major differences between entry-level and high-end helmets?

Simply put, the major difference between entry-level and high-end helmets is performance. The quality of the materials in high-end helmets allows for lighter, more adjustable and generally safer constructions. 

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Warrior

* Chris Jenkinson/sr. product manager

What are some of the key advancements helmets have made in recent years?

Improvements in fit and adjustment and liner material variation.

What are some key tips you’d offer a parent purchasing a helmet for a young child?

Fit and comfort are the most important elements of buying a helmet. Ensuring the helmet stays in place on impact is critical. Wearing a helmet can be awkward but a helmet that is uncomfortable or hurts can ruin the whole experience. 

How does Warrior plan to set itself apart when it comes to helmets heading into the 2013-14 season?

Our 4–Play fit system is a unique single-dial adjustment device that moves our four-piece shell and liner simultaneously. This allows our helmet to wrap your head with as much positive surface contact as possible. The positive surface contact eliminates “hot” spots and enhances fit. 

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SISU

* Sassa Akervall, COO and president

How drastically different are the mouthguards of today compared to the ones being worn in decades past?

The conventional mouthguards are based on technologies from the 1950s, using a soft polymer, called EVA. The downside of soft polymers is that they cave in under impact, and that is why they have to be thick and bulky, and still they are not very safe. SISU mouthguards are made of a super-thin hard polymer that does not compress/cave in at all. The impact is diffused over the entire mouthguard, away from the teeth, and the strength is 30-50 percent higher.

How does a player make sure his mouthguard fits properly?

They follow the instructions in the package and on www.sisuguard.com. The material gets really pliable in hot water (135 degrees) and can therefore easily be fitted around every tooth to a perfect custom fit, which is extremely important for comfort and functionality. Due to the thin polymer and the exact fitting, users can talk, drink and breathe freely with this mouthguard.

What makes SISU’s products stand out from the competition?

Functionality (breathe, drink and talk without taking the guard out), comfort (due to the super-thin material) and strength (a hard polymer protects 30-50 percent better than conventional mouthguards).

How do you try to emphasize the necessity of wearing a mouthguard for players in leagues that do not require them?

Studies show that dental injuries are common in basketball and soccer (25-30 percent of players getting an injury in their career). A dental injury costs the athlete $15,000 to $20,000 over a life time. With a comfortable and safe mouthguard like SISU, this does not need to happen.

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Gladiator

* Bobbie Quinn, co-founder

How drastically different are the mouthguards of today compared to the ones being worn in decades past?

Well if you are still buying a typical over the counter, it is the same as 1960 when the first Boil and Bite came to the market place. However, if you care at all, you are getting a custom mouthguard, which is drastically different.

A dental imprint of your teeth is used to make a model of your mouth, then a specially engineered mouthguard can be engineered to fit intimately and have the proper thickness where necessary for protection. Only a true custom mouthguard formed over a model of your mouth can fit and protect properly.

How does a player make sure his mouth guard fits properly?

It doesn’t fall off and he should be able to breathe, speak and drink water with no level of discomfort or impediment.

Are there tangible differences between entry-level and high-end mouthguards?

When it comes to Boil and Bite versus a custom mouthguard, the difference is huge. A Gladiator mouthguard is also proven to outlast a Boil and Bite 5 to 1, making the need for replacement few and far between.Furthermore, all replacement Gladiators are 50 percent off — making your Gladiator more than just a mouthguard, but an “Investment in Your Protection.”

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com