Boy, we goalies have come a long way with our equipment, haven’t we? It seems like just a few seasons ago that everyone was still stopping pucks with thick leather pads of every team color that could have been incorporated, tastefully or not. A lot of pads were shaped relatively similar too, with all having the standard thigh rise, outer roll, knee rolls, and for the most part they all had boot breaks. Oddly enough, NHL regulations were a little lackadaisical compared to the way things are now. We’ve seen a number of revisions, specifically on pads. We even had a goalie pad change last season, reducing the pads thigh height.
There were many occasions before where pads were deemed too large; they were typically too wide or too long in a certain section. That’s impossible now, as the new rules break every sizing section down to a formula for measurement. Currently rules say pads shall not exceed 11” in extreme width while worn by the player. As for length, the league has full discretion on what height a goaltender is allowed to wear. This is based on measurements taken of a goalies “floor to center of knee” and “Center of knee to pelvis”. Each goalie is given a limiting size based on these measurements. The formula the NHL has implemented as of the 2013-2014 season is floor to knee height + 45% of knee to pelvis + 4” skate allowance.
Today’s goalie pads, despite all of these restrictions, vary immensely between materials, shapes, sizes, internal components, and fittings. Many companies out there are making goalie pads. Most of them are major companies, however there are some local companies, especially within Canada. The major companies are: Bauer, Reebok/CCM, Vaughn, and Brian’s. All of these companies have very distinctive pads that they make, and none of their products are similar especially in appearance and fitting, but all do follow a pattern in some way. There are two “styles” of pads that reflect a goalies play style, hybrid and blocking (See my article on Goaltending styles!).
Hybrid pads are a softer styled pad; they are meant to flex more and absorb the shock of the puck keeping it close to the goalie on rebound. They will feature multiple breaks above the knee as well as knee rolls in some cases for added flexibility, and a tapered boot and deeper leg channel for added control and flexibility. A good example would be the Vaughn Velocity line.
Blocking pads are more rigid and built with a denser foam. They are much less flexible, but maintain their shape overtime and are much more flat faced and squared off for more coverage and better rebound control, as pucks tend to bounce off blocking pads. A good example of these pads would be Reebok’s XLT line.
The Anatomy of the pad these days, as previously mentioned, changes distinctively from company to company. They all have different looks and feel depending on the company that made it. However remember with all these legal limitations, there still is some basic structure before it gets too confusing. The following is a basic breakdown of what most pads will have incorporated.
The front of the pad or, “Pad Face”
Outer Roll – Stuffed roll on the outside edge of the pad, preventing the puck from “skipping over” the pad. Pad breaks located here determine the overall flexibility. Pads with no breaks are typically rigid, good for blocking goalies and goalies with little five-hole issues. Pads with 1-2 breaks are much more flexible, with one break below the knee and one break above the knee. These pads will flex to close the five-hole for the goalie.
Thigh Rise – This is the face of the pad that extends above the knee area. This is the area mostly in question with last year’s regulation change, mostly in its necessary length. This is also the area affected by +1” or +2” measurement found on some pads.
Knee Rolls – Some pads, usually hybrid pads, will have knee rolls. Typically, three allow for more breaks and flexibility around the knee. Some are soft, filled with shredded foam like in Vaughn pads. Some will be rigid strips of high density foam for stronger rebounds off the knee, such as in the Bauer Reactor series. Jonathan Quick uses pads with knee rolls.
Knee Area Flat Surface – Instead of knee rolls, there may be one sheet of high density foam spanning across entire knee section for a stronger, rigid feel giving off more predictable rebounds. Henrik Lundqvist uses pads without knee rolls.
Toe Tie/Bridge – A toe tie is a simple lace found at the bottom of the pad used to anchor the pad to the skate, as it is tied through the skate. A toe bridge acts the same, but it is two pieces of sliding plastic with a lace that allows for the lace to slide along the bottom of the skate to offer more comfort. They function equally, however I personally find that the bridge does offer more comfort but creates a possibly undesirable looser feel.
Thigh Gaurd – An additional piece of protection that attaches to the goalies knee or thigh area. These are laced in and can be removed and customized to a goalie’s needs. Some are squared and some are rounded to sit under a goalies pants. Some are thin, some have extra padding. Some goalies have even completely removed them and used separate knee padding.
Knee Lock – Sheets of foam padding on either side of the knee area, attaching together with a Velcro strap to keep the goalies knee in place within the pad.
Landing Gear – Found on the inside of the pad, beside the inside knee lock, it is typically a foam block or foam sheeting used to cushion the impact of the ice to a goalies knee upon dropping to the butterfly. Pads can be added or subtracted.
Leg Channel – Refers to the channel inside the pad where a goalies lower leg would sit. They vary on length, depth, and width depending on style. This is where a lot of pads will vary the most. Some have added gel or softer materials for comfort such as Brian’s Sub Zero line, where others are still very traditional with moisture absorbing materials and lightweight materials. Deep narrow leg channels are usually found on hybrid pads to promote comfort and control of the pad. Shallow, wide channels are for a blocking style pad as they allow the pad to rotate better and sit in position.
Calf lock – Sheets of foam located on each side of the goalies calf, very similar to the knee lock. They allow for greater protection as well as keeping the pad tighter to the leg and less use of the leather calf straps required.
Boot Channel – The area of the pad that sits on the goalies skates. Like leg channels, boot channels also vary in depth and how they sit. Some may even still have boot breaks like older pads, allowing the skate to sit “in” the pads, while some may be filled in completely and make the pads sit on top of the skate such as Mission’s lineups.
Medial Edge – This refers to the inside edge that hits the ice while in butterfly.
Keeping all things in mind, maybe now we can all see why Goalie pads fetch quite a high price, especially at the pro level equipment. There are so many things incorporated, kept in mind, thought out, and tested on when fabricating goalie equipment. Check out this video on how goalie pads are made to see the amount of detail that goes into making a single goalie pad.
Every year it seems there are not only rule changes but slight design changes or material changes making it “The best pad to date!” Due to the rapid change of pace in the game of hockey with harder shots and faster skaters, we needed faster, stronger, and more flexible goalies to keep up. I don’t know about everyone else, but I remember one of my first set of pads. I had Koho Revolution’s from 1993; they were red and blue, obviously styled after Patrick Roy’s pads during his time with the Montreal Canadiens. I loved those babies! I actually sold them to a collector, but would I wear them now for competitive play? Hell no! I would more than likely not know what to do in terms of form anymore, not to mention that they weigh as much as all more current equipment combined.
I know I’m certainly happy and more than thankful for the modern goalie pad, how about you?
Cover Photo Credit: Randy Friesen-Pixel Photography