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Goalie gear for dummies

By Jeff Hall, 04/25/19, 10:45AM CDT

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Goalie gear does not come with an instruction manual, but maybe it should.

Goalie gear does not come with an instruction manual, but maybe it should. As the equipment evolves, it can be confusing on how it should be worn and sized. Helping your child get the right gear and use it properly is important for their safety and performance. If you’re a goalie parent who never played goalie, you can feel a little lost. If you’re a goalie parent who never played hockey, you probably feel like you’re from another planet. Parents of new goalies make common mistakes that are dangerous and detrimental to skill development.

Protection leads to confidence
Picture the goalie’s butterfly position as a brick wall. Would you build a wall with the strongest bricks on the top and corners, leaving soft and mushy bricks in the middle or near the bottom? That wall would crumble and bend. A goalie’s protective gear can be the same. Many young goalies start with quality products on the perimeter of their wall, the leg pads, gloves, blockers and masks. But if the chest, stomach, collar bone, knees, and most importantly, the “mid-section” are neglected, the goalie will struggle to stay square to the puck. Instead of facing shots with confidence and closing the five-hole quickly, they will bend and twist in awkward ways that open holes, leave the goalie off balance, and they will struggle to track the puck into their body.

• Start with a goalie jock. Offered in both male and female versions, these pads are essential to building a solid goalie. They have thicker foam padding on top of and underneath the traditional plastic piece that other athletes wear. One of the wonderfully crazy things that goalies are asked to do is to try to get hit in the midsection. No other athlete has that strategy in mind.  

• Upgrade your knee pads. The thigh pads that may come with your leg pads are usually sub-standard. They just don’t offer great protection and tend to be cumbersome. They are removable for this reason. Get a supplemental knee guard and secure them in place above the calf muscle with a tight strap or clear sock tape.

• Chest pad must have overlap with other pads. If the chest guard is too small, there could be gaps in the protection around the waist, collarbone or wrists. The collar bone is the most important part to protect. Get a goalie collar, which is a neck guard with bib-like pad that hangs down. The lexan/plastic neck shields that tie to the mask are good too, but make sure to use a clear one, not a tinted shield that makes it harder to see the puck. But a chest pad that is too bulky will slow a goalie down, and slow goaltending is no fun to play or to watch. 

• Goalie pants (or breezers as we say in Minnesota) are designed to make more saves. Some goalies resist the change from their skater pants to the bigger goalie pants. But when properly fit, the pants should be loose around the waist, offering excellent range of motion. Goalie pants have extra pads on the front of the hip, outer hip, inner thigh, outer thigh and all around the waist. All that extra padding, along with a looser fit, will help keep a nice small number on the scoreboard with no extra skill or effort. 

Goalie stick guidelines
Controlling the goalie stick is a crucial and challenging skill set for young goalies. When you consider how quickly a goalie has to move around the crease, you realize that holding that long, awkward tool with one hand and keeping the blade in the 5-hole all the time is actually very difficult.  

• Get the right paddle length (err on the small side). Remember, most of the time you need your stick in position is when you make a butterfly move, not when standing upright. Paddles that are too tall are the biggest cause of sloppy stick position. Sizing can be confusing, especially considering that most stick companies use different measuring systems. Here is a chart we use explain it:

Paddle Length    Height
21" CCM              4" - 4'11"
23" CCM              4’9" - 5’5"
24" CCM              5’3" - 5’8"
25" CCM              5’7" - 6’3"
26" CCM              5’11" and Up
27" CCM              6’2" & Up

• Do not cut the shaft (top of stick). The shaft provides balance for quicker reactions with both the stick blade and the blocker.

• Avoid use of black tape. White tape makes it easier to see the puck.

• Too much tape on the shaft inhibits ability to poke check and puckhandle. Knobs that are too large inhibit a goalies ability to pass/shoot.

• Some grip tape at the top of the paddle/bottom 3 inches of the shaft is common, especially on sticks with glossy paint which is slippery. The extra grip is also helpful when the stick gets wet from the snow on the ice.

• Always have a backup stick. They can break at any time.

Goalie skate guidelines
Every goalie needs to be strong on their skates. Make sure you select a skate with the proper stiffness for ankle support. For beginners, a softer boot that you find on less expensive skates will be fine. As goalies grow stronger, they will need to invest more to get the support they need from stiffer boots.

• Sharpen skates regularly. Once a week is a good start. Some prefer more, some less.

• Find the right edge. The bigger and stronger the goalie, the smaller the radius of the blade needs to be. This provides the stopping power needed for their stronger pushes. Young and small goalies that have their skates too sharp will be encouraged to play on the knees too much as opposed to learning to play on their feet. 

Weight    Goalie Skate Edge
70-90       7/8" – 5/8"
90-115     ¾ - 1/2"
115-150   5/8 – ½”
150+         ½” - 3/8"
    
• Blade height, attack angle and edge control: Some skates and aftermarket replacement blades offer taller steel. Be careful with this. While it serves to increase the “attack angle” (the steepness of the angle at which your blade can make contact with the ice), it also decreases your edge control and ability to stop quickly. Some goalies can benefit from these models, but the majority should get standard blades to optimize their balance and overall skating ability.

Leg pad guidelines
Another very important piece to the goalie puzzle, we have seen a simple upgrade in leg pads give goalies an enormous confidence boost. The wrong pad can slow a goalie down, throw them off balance and leave them unprotected.  

• Mobility: All goalies (especially younger ones) should avoid over-sized pads that inhibit skating and crease movement or force goalies into a wide stance. The width of the leg pads is a big factor.  Senior size leg pads are 11 inches wide. Intermediate leg pads are typically between 10 and 10¾ inches. Junior pads are around 9 or 10 inches wide, while youth/beginner pads are even narrower. Taking the pads out for a skate before you buy can help ensure that it’s the right fit. At Goalcrease, goalies can try any pad on the ice before they decide.

• Comfort/feel: Every goalie has different taste. Try pads on and move around on the ice to decide which one feels “right” to the goalie.

• Soft pads vs. hard pads: Some pads are designed to cushion rebounds while others are designed to deflect rebounds further away from the net. In our experience, these designs do not affect a youth goalie’s performance. In either case, there’s some luck involved with rebounds. While the pros might have enough skill to make these features work, there is still no consensus on whether hard foams or soft foams are better.

• Curved pads vs. straight pads: Some of today’s leg pads are made almost straight, while others are designed with more curve. Most youth (and pro) goalies find curved pads to fit better and offer better feel and maneuverability. The straight pads can be a little clunky, even though the “V” shaped butterfly from those pads makes sense better rebound control.

Catch glove guidelines
Catching a puck is one of the most fun saves a goalie can make. Yet we see goalies all the time with gloves that make it nearly impossible. Many are too big, too stiff or were broken in poorly. Usually it’s a combination of all three. It’s more fun to play if they have a glove that works for them.

• Problems with sizing: Just because it’s bigger doesn’t mean it will make more saves. The bigger they are, they heavier they are. And the larger they are, the more the glove’s balance point moves away from the hand. Ideally, the center of gravity is on the hand, not beyond the goalie’s fingertips. The catching motion is really one of fine-motor skills and using the small muscles in the wrist and hand more than the big muscles in the shoulders and upper arms. A heavy glove makes the young goalie wave their arm in a big motion, usually moving it forward or backward. The proper motion is up, down, or side to side and within a very small space. Since there are very few really good junior and intermediate catchers on the market, we at Goalcrease keep a very close watch to find the best options and those are the only options you will find in our store. You can find a lot of bad ones if you’re not careful. 

• Breaking it in: Heat, moisture and movement. Those are the three main ingredients that help break in a glove. Body heat, sweat and playing hockey are obviously important. At home, using hot water, steam, and working with the glove open and shut with two hands will help a lot. Gloves can also be baked in a skate oven to help start the break-in process, but playing hockey and making saves is still the best way.  

• Since they are made of synthetics, do not use baseball glove oils. When not playing, you can wear the glove around the house to help. Catch gloves are the most intricately built piece of equipment and should be treated as such. Just throwing it in the bottom of the bag and smashing the other gear on top of it can cause irreparable damage to the break in the palm.  Instead, close the glove at the optimum angle and secure it with a lace or strap during transit. Loosen it later for proper drying.  

• Break angle and shape: These features are more important. Some catchers are more round and some more of an oval. Some close across the palm at a 60-degree angle, others at 90 degrees. There’s a lot of variety out there and every goalie has their preferences. Try to find something that is comfortable on the hand, light and balanced. The center of gravity should be as close to the palm as possible.

Goalie mask guidelines
• Protection comes from proper fit. There are a lot of good masks out there and most offer great protection, but it has to fit properly. Make sure you are buying from an expert who can tell you if the size is right or if there are any adjustments to improve the fit. 

• Shell construction: Other protection factors are the foam and the shell construction. Most shells are hand laid from fiberglass/carbon/aramid materials. The most expensive masks have the most aramid fibers because they are both lighter and stronger. These types of shells are ridged, durable and can be painted. The least expensive masks are actually mass produced with more flexible materials and cannot be painted. At Goalcrease, we recommend these for only the youngest goalies. 

• Sightlines: Just like every car has unique blind spots, every mask will have different sightlines. The importance of sight cannot be overstated. If the mask is too big, the chin area will block the ability to look down. Also if the chin is too long, it will be harder to turn the head when the puck moves quickly across or behind the net.  

 

Jeff Hall is the Coaching Director at Stauber’s Goalcrease Training and Equipment Center in Edina, Minn., and serves as goalie coach for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. 

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