Last week, the Washington Capitals posted a picture on their tumblr blog of Neuvy's new glove and blocker. This got me curious. What does a goalie do to break in new equipment? So I posed some questions to a few hockey goalies.
Mark: When a catching glove first arrives, it is generally very stiff and difficult to close, which can be problematic if the puck can't be properly sealed into the glove when caught. Goalies have many different ways to break-in their gloves - bending them back and forth to break down the materials, resting heavy objects on them to work them into that closed position, and tying a softball into the webbing to get it nice and open in there to ensure the puck stays tightly enclosed. There is nothing a goalie won't try to break the glove down, but in the end it takes persistence and use to get it to where it needs to be for game action. I usually will bend it back and forth quite a bit trying to flex it as much as possible, and then I will also rest a heavy object on the glove in a closed position so that it starts to get bent in that direction. After that, it's just constantly working it and using it trying to get it broken in... You really do see a lot of different methods, and it really seems to be what feels best or gives the goalie the most confidence that it is going to be game ready. The pads require the least break-in of any equipment, as they are made with a certain amount of flex already built in by nature should be a bit firm on the outside.
Angela: Thankfully this is something you don’t have to do very often. I’ve been playing for almost 15 years and I still have my first trapper. For my trapper, when I first got it, I wore it every chance I could and continuously opened and closed it. Probably not the best way to do it, but it worked for me. For goalie pads, you want to beat them up, HARD. You can use a baseball bat to beat them (lying on the floor, pad side up) and this is actually a pretty common practice. Obviously don’t do that to the inside part where your leg/knee goes. If you don’t want to do that, you can also put them at the bottom of the stairs so that every time you go up/down the stairs, you have to step on them. Really though, the best way to break in pads is to wear them and play lots of hockey. It takes a looooong time to break them in! It took me several seasons and I play all year round.
Jacob: When it comes to breaking in equipment the only pieces that need any special attention are the catcher, leg pads and skates (full disclosure, I still play in the same used chest protector and breezers I started with, so I've never had to break them in). I break in my leg pads wearing them around the house and playing drop in games in them. For my catcher I wear it and just keep opening and closing it over and over until it loosens up.
Chris: Out of all the equipment gloves are the items that need the most work when getting new goalie gear. What I have always done is loosen the webbing in the mitt. Dumped a glass of water on the glove and fold it inside out. Normally I will sit a desk or something heavy on top of it for 24 hours. Every time I've done this the glove is easy to open and shut the next day. You need to be able to easily hold the glove open as wide as it can go and I have found doing the above helps tremendously. As far as the leg pads go, it's close to the same thing. I will dump some water on them and take the top buckle and latch it to the bottom buckle bend the pads in half. Wetting the pads first makes it easier for them to bend. After they dry I unlatch them and they normally have a nice bend to them. Another thing i have found is that the bend really seems to make the pads more flexible when you butterfly. The blocker's I have never really needed to do anything with.
Angela: No special preparations. But, in order to keep my equipment in good working order, I air it out as much as possible and frequently check all pieces for broken clasps, holes, etc. My pads got a hole in the leather on the inside bottom where the skate goes…I took it to a leather repair guy and he fixed it up for $30.
And finally, is there anything special about the fitting of the equipment; i.e. sizing, weight, helmet specifications, etc., that the average hockey fan wouldn't know but might find interesting?
Jared: Well, my pads are sized specifically to the length of my legs. I believe I wear 35 +2.5 length Reebok Pads. My helmet is fitted to the size of my head. Usually this is the size of one's baseball cap. I think my head is somewhere around 7 and 1/4 so my melon isn't too large! Lastly, I like to have a hand on deciding the paint job on my helmet. I usually do it through Eye Candy Air. They do an unreal job and they are fun to work with!
Mark: It's incredibly important to get the right fitting pad as not only does it need to fit the playing style of the goalie but it also must fit properly for safety. The main point that all goalies look for is the size of the pad; all goalie pads come measured in inches, and a proper measurement will take place by measuring from the top of the foot to the center of the knee. The key to that is the "knee stack"; this is the pad that will be directly under the goalie's knees when he goes down to the ice, and must be lined up perfectly under the knee or an injury can occur. In addition, it makes it much easier to slide from side to side when the knee stack is positioned correctly, as the knee stack is the main contact point with the ice when a goalie is down to make the save. When it comes to equipment, the most glamorous part of the bag is the mask. In terms of fitting, the high end masks are made of Kevlar and can be fitted by doing a plaster mold of the goalie's face, which will then be used to make the inside of the mask so there is a snug fit for protection. But most masks can be bought without having to do the plaster mold and as long as the head size is correct, a goalie can get a good, safe fit.
Angela: DON’T BUY ANYTHING TOO TIGHT. It’s much more preferred to have equipment that is on the loose side, but not huge. You need to be able to move in the net quickly, and being constricted won’t help.The helmet should fit snugly, not tight but not moving when you turn your head from side to side. Don’t ever cut a goalie stick, they are balanced. When buying a chest protector, move around in it; make sure that the tops of your arms and shoulders aren’t exposed to non-padded areas.
Chris: Regarding the stick: You should be able to easily hold in one hand and hold at eye level. If not, the stick is too heavy for you. Make sure you get a stick that is not to heavy and you a comfortable with. I cannot tell you how important this will be for when you need to make some amazing Holtby stick saves. Regarding the leg pads: If you plan on butterfly goaltending, spend a lot of time making sure you are comfortable in the butterfly position in your leg pads. Newer pads are made to butterfly easily but some older pads actually require you to awkwardly wear the pads on the sides of your legs. Before purchasing any legs pads make sure you fully suit up and spend at least an hour playing with them in butterfly.
As you all should know by now, I am a fan of goalies, so I personally enjoyed getting this wealth of knowledge regarding goalie equipment. Sadly, I wasn't able to interview Neuvy himself for this post, but maybe I'll be luckier next time I get a spark of inspiration. Thanks again to everyone who helped educate me!