In 1979, the NHL laid down the law: All players signing new contracts had to wear helmets on the ice. This rule didn’t affect older players like Craig MacTavish, who was the last NHLer to play without protective headgear. Oilers fans used to joke that this explained some of his more … unique coaching decisions. The introduction of composite sticks to the league in 1994 made stepping on the ice even more of a risk; heavy hitters like Zdeno Chara were now able to send pucks screaming toward the net at over 105 miles per hour. Bottom line? Even if you play beer league or casual pick-up games, you need protection.
If NHL talent scouts haven’t shown up at your door, you’re probably not getting paid to wear brand-name hockey equipment. So how do you find great gear on a tight budget? Here are five essential tips:
Don’t Forget the Basics
Remember the old line “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” Hockey equipment is no exception. Even if you’re getting the best deal in the world, it’s no good if the chest protector is paper thin, the shoulder pads pop off and the shin pads are two sizes too large. Staying on budget shouldn’t mean sacrificing quality.
Buy Last Year’s Model
So how do you get high-quality gear without a million-dollar salary or endorsement contract? Start by browsing last year’s models online or in store. Often, retailers are willing to part with this equipment at lower prices to make room for new stock. One or two-year old equipment that’s never been used is there for the taking, often at a fraction of its original price. While you may not be the flashiest puck handler on the ice, you’ll be safe and under budget.
Try Previously Used Equipment
The Minnesota Hockey Association offers another option — try used. Often, local sports associations have older equipment they’re willing to sell or lease, and some sporting goods stores stock equipment for older players that’s been traded in for new gear. There are two things to watch out for when you’re buying previously used gear: Protection and perception. When it comes to the protection offered by older gear, you need to be diligent, so check for proper fit and mobility and thoroughly inspect any piece before you buy. Perception is another matter, since many players don’t feel comfortable in used equipment, believing it somehow impacts their performance. Here it’s important to remember that equipment rises to the level of the player, not the other way around — skill always trumps sale.
Time Your Purchase
If new is really what you’re aiming for, then consider waiting for big sales. Many happen around March or April when retailers are bringing in new stock, and some stores have a once-a-year-sale that coincides with special events. Getting gear at a steep discount is a great way to grab everything you need for the next season, although it’s a good idea to hold off on customizing this gear, especially if you’re buying it for kids. For example, it’s tempting to bake new skates right away but if your child grows half a shoe size over the summer, that “perfect fit” will suddenly be uncomfortable.
Scale Back Stick Spending
One non-protective area that’s tempting to spend big on is your hockey stick. If you’re considering a total composite stick, for example, you could easily spend $250 to $300. Scaling back and opting for perhaps a heavier composite alternative can save hundreds of dollars. Especially for players in junior leagues or who play casually, a more expensive stick will not be the difference between good games and bad breaks. And by spending this saved money on better protective gear, you’ll be able to play longer, harder and faster knowing you’ve minimized your risk.
Want better protective gear on a budget? Keep the basics in mind, buy what’s not hot right now, consider used equipment, look for sale prices, and don’t be afraid to scale back your stick. Stay safe!
Cover Photo by: www.prostockhockey.com