July 18, 2011

The Goalie Guru: If the pads, gloves and skates fit

By Brion O'Connor

You may be familiar with the old real estate maxim: location, location, location. The equivalent in the goalie equipment formula is this: fit, fit, fit.

I’ve often compared goalie equipment to blue jeans. You’ve got to find the manufacturer who designs jeans that fit your particular body type. When I was a kid, Levis were all the rage. But they were cut narrow through the butt and thighs, two areas where I — as a soccer player and a hockey goaltender — had some extra heft. Of course, I insisted on wearing Levis to be cool, no matter how uncomfortable they were, until one afternoon when my mom managed to drill some sense into me.

We were shopping together, and she suggested I try on a pair of Wranglers (probably because they cost half as much as Levis). I refused. So Mom called my bluff. It was the Wranglers, or I paid the difference. So I tried them on, and “Voila!” They fit like a charm.

Like so many things Mom taught me over the years, this was more than a lesson in blue-jean finances. It was about me not being afraid to be my own person. That’s helped me in almost every facet of my life. That includes not only deciding to play goalie, but also in finding the right gear. I don’t go with what’s popular; I choose what’s right for me.

“The most important aspect to consider (when buying goalie equipment) is without a doubt the sizing,” said Rob Laurie of Koho/GoalieMonkey. “Properly fitted gear is a must for maximum performance. A goalie should use as many resources as they can to assure proper fit, which can include trying on other goalie’s gear, looking at local shops, consulting with a knowledgeable customer service rep, referring to sizing charts, and reading web forums with posts from other goalies who have experience with that gear.”

Rob is absolutely correct on this score. The more information you have, the better, especially considering the investment. (For even more detail on tiptoeing through the goalie equipment minefield, see our accompanying Goalie Gear Buyer’s Guide).

The following is a compendium of advice on proper fit from several of the leading gear manufacturers, including Laurie, Henry Breslin of Bauer, Sonya Dibiase of Reebok and Eric Marvin of Warrior. Though some suggestions appear repetitive, I’ve included them, if only for emphasis.

What are the most important factors when shopping for goalie equipment? Are those factors different for young players, teenagers, and adults?

Henry Breslin, Bauer Hockey: “The most important factor for younger goalies should be fit and comfort. During key development years, it is critical to buy gear that fits properly so that goalies can focus on technique, positioning and movement. If you are a teenager or adult playing regularly, it’s worth the investment to purchase higher-end equipment because it will help your game. If you’re playing recreationally, there’s tremendous selection and value for your dollar that wasn’t available 10 years ago.”

Rob Laurie, Koho/GoalieMonkey: “Price is always a concern when shopping for goaltending gear at any level, but I think value overrides that in the long run. Properly fitted gear chosen at the right performance level is a must. Also, a goalie should choose gear that is designed for his playing style, whether that is more of a blocking/butterfly style (Henrik Lundqvist) or more of a hybrid standup style (Ilya Bryzgalov).”

Sonya Dibiase, Reebok Hockey: “Goalies should be looking for a product that is comfortable and fits well. To ensure the best fit, it’s important to try the goal equipment on in the store. Before strapping on a pair of pads, goalies should be wearing their skates and pants. Always put on a chest protector when trying on gloves and pants.”

Eric Marvin, Warrior Hockey: “Young players need proper sizing. Buying properly fitted gear will allow the goalie to have an easier time learning the fundamentals and that will ultimately benefit their game. Do your homework and understand the differences between the equipment, and how it will function for your individual habits.”

What is the biggest mistake goalies/parents make when buying equipment?

Breslin: “Buying gear that is too big or too stiff. With the speed of the game increasing, it is vital that goalies can comfortably move and not have their gear slowing them down because it isn’t the right size. Large and stiff equipment will cause problems, particularly for younger goalies who are still developing.”

Laurie: “We see two things. Generally, it is trying to buy gear that the goalie can ‘grow into,’ which if taken to the extreme will only hurt the youth goaltenders’ ability to move properly. Also, buying gear with too much emphasis on price and not getting the proper performance level can be an issue.”

Dibiase: “The biggest mistake is buying equipment that doesn’t fit properly.”

Marvin: “Buying the proper size seems to be a common problem, but also knowing how to wear the equipment once they purchase it to suit their playing habits.”

 

What is the best way to determine proper fit in leg pads? Does the style of play influence the size of the pad as well as the style?

Breslin: “To guarantee proper fit for a pad, try it on with skates and pants. There are slight differences between companies regarding sizing, and even the different styles of pads within Bauer fit a bit differently. The only way to know you’re in the right size is to have the pad on your leg with skates and pants so you can confirm everything fits properly and works well together.”

Laurie: “Make sure the knee is properly lined up with the pad’s knee cradle. An ankle-to-knee measurement and consulting with a properly trained sales rep is second only to actually trying the pads on and lining up the knee. From there, the plus sizing should be matched to the goaltender’s height and playing style. Typically, stand-up goalies go with the smaller thigh rise and butterfly goalies opt for taller pads.”

Dibiase: “The goalies knee must be in the center of the knee cradle with their skates on. Goalies that have a wide butterfly (knees far apart) need longer thigh rises, which is available in +1 or +2 sizing.”

Marvin: “If you’re looking to buy a set of leg pads, take your skates, pants and knee pads and try the pads on at the store. This will give you a true fit, because each piece of equipment effects the way the pad sits on your leg and where your knee falls into the knee cradle. See how well you move in the pad. Then decide if you can to add length in the thigh to accommodate your style without hindering your movement.”

Four final thoughts. First, don’t cut corners on protection. There is nothing that will dull a goalie’s enthusiasm for the position faster than getting hurt. Second, if you’re 13 or older, learn how to put the pads on correctly to maximize their performance. If you’re a parent, encourage your child to do the same. Three, when you go to the store, schedule plenty of time. A few hours spent trying on different models will pay dividends later.

Lastly, get pads and gloves that are predominantly white, with neutral highlights (such as black). Why? From a technical standpoint, white pads make it harder for shooters to see the net. But white also goes with every color of uniform. And, believe me, that’s important.

“Goaltenders today more than ever want their gear to look good and match their teams colors,” Laurie said. “A retailer’s customer service should be able to direct a goaltender to gear that fits all of these specific factors and find equipment that not only performs well but looks good while doing it.”

After all, I may have switched from Levis to Wranglers, but they were still blue jeans. I wasn’t about to wear those polyester dress slacks that Mom bought for me.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Brion O’Connor is a Boston-based writer and owner of Inspired Ink Communications. He is also a long-time hockey coach and player, specializing in goaltending instruction at every age level. Learn more at TheGoalieGuru.com. He can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com