It is tough being a goalie in any setting. Whether it is in the NHL or on the driveway, you’re the last line of defence, the hero when you stand tall, or the whipping boy when you let in a soft one.
Thankfully, due to the extreme creativity of goaltenders across the globe, the position is getting huge help as today's goal equipment gives them an edge on even the very best of shooters.
When most people talk about Jacques Plante, they talk about how he started the modern day revolution in goaltending equipment. This, of course, was because the great Montreal Canadiens net minder was the first to introduce the goalie mask during a game in 1959. Plante had been using the mask in practise as he healed from various injuries, but hard-nosed coach Toe Blake saw it as a sign of weakness and forbade him from using it in a game. Without a backup on the bench during a game against the New York Rangers, Plante took a puck to the face and broke his nose. He was taken to the dressing room for repairs and returned to the ice with his mask on. Coach Blake was livid, but after Plante refused to take the net without it, Blake had no choice but to allow the mask. Plante went on to wear the mask as his nose healed, rifling off 18 straight wins while it protected his face. At Toe Blake’s request, Plante did not wear the mask against heated rival Detroit in March of 1960. Montreal lost that game 3-0 and the mask returned for good and was here to stay. Since then the goalie mask has become a required staple in ice hockey, and continues to this day to be the most creative way players add personal flair to their gear.
That was of course until Hockey Night in Canada’s Play On! goalies got wind of the possibilities.
It would seem that almost every child who has grown up in Canada has a memory of playing street hockey with siblings, parents, friends or neighbours. With this longstanding tradition became another, the little brother/cousin/friend/classmate taking his fair share of reps between the pipes. Typically this included hauling out extremely heavy, water logged, musty leather pads from the garage that weighed about 20 pounds each leg. The blocker palm worn through many years ago, and the catcher crusty from dried sweat mixed with years of use made it next to impossible to close quick enough to catch a ball headed for the top corner, no matter how quick your reflexes were.
Desperately needed, annual help would come, usually with new street hockey gear left under the Christmas tree.
Right around the time Patrick Roy began dominating the NHL record books and Dominik Hasek started flopping around a crease, equipment manufacturers realized that more and more kids wanted to play goal on the street. Like matzah from heaven, out came the first set of goalie gear designed specifically for street hockey. It was not perfect, not even close, but it made transporting the gear from one end of the street to the street hockey cathedral at the end of the cul-de-sac much, much easier. Light weight, easy to put on snaps, sizing more appropriate for the scrawny legs of those most easily convinced to don the equipment.
Unfortunately, however, and as every goalie that ever strapped on street hockey gear (anything circa 1985 - 2005) knows, that equipment just wasn’t ready for the rigors of an every day after school game schedule each spring and fall season. Each and every two-pad-stack would see the pads fall out of position, since the straps would not hold the gear in place. Every post to post slide, intended to absolutely rob that 9th grader from tapping in a lame back-door-feed would result in a huge tear in the fabric. I mean sure, it was nothing that some of your shin pad tape couldn’t temporarily repair, but those pads would never be the same again after a few uses. At least you made the save.
Every goalie who experienced the privilege of a scraped knee when the pad shifted at the absolute worst time sighed a collective breath when someone in your neighbourhood upgraded his equipment. However, this excitement was offset by the sighs of hockey parents everywhere else, who were now under pressure to keep up with the neighbours. Before long, there were thousands of dollars worth of equipment roaming the streets. Don't you just remember how glorious that feeling was, the first time you finally had great goal equipment for your street hockey team combined with the feeling of having an elite level goaltender to wear it?
As time went on, more and more parents started realizing the impact that the asphalt would have on your brand new Brian's custom ice hockey goal equipment, and started reigning it it. Kids everywhere began scrambling again for a solution.
In 2003, when the highly organized Play On! street hockey tournaments started across Canada, a new creative trend emerged. It continues to this day as the perfect compromise between player and parent, between performance and preservation.
What we are now seeing is the customization of existing ice hockey gear, modified with some creative form of "pad wrapping technology." With a few simple, yet highly effective customizations an entire nation would begin to not only preserve the gear from the asphalt but - like Jacques Plante started in 1959 - add flare and style to each goalie.
Over the years, it has been so much fun to attend each Play On! event and watch the personal style of thousands of Canadian goalies shine through. More and more teams are opening twitter accounts, then using them to show off their custom jerseys, with their goalies using seemingly every colour of duct tape to match. Those teams that exert this effort automatically receive a psychological advantage over their opponent before the ball is ever dropped.
Check out this picture below of pads customized for Play On! by Edmonton Oil Kings start goaltender, Patrick Dea. The tape along the inseam of the pad creates a barrier between the material and the road as protection. Less rips, easier sliding and style all brought to the streets, just as Jaques Plante once brough to the NHL. Patrick would tell you how good this stuff makes his team, except, of course most Albertan's already know.
There are many ways to customize your equipment depending on your handy work ability like this goalie shown who covered his entire pads in duct tape to create the ultimate in tape protection.
Or the goalie shown here, who used synthetic ice attached to the pressure points of his pads to allow the ultimate movement when in his butterfly position.
Whatever way you decide to hit the streets this season, the important part is taking that first step. Dusting off the gear, lacing up the shoes, getting the team back together and having some fun. With divisions for literally everyone you can think of Play On! is the best place to make kids feel like NHL stars, and adults feel like kids again.
Now get to work on that equipment.
Jake Clarke (@PlayOnJake) is a former Equipment Manager. After spending 12 years working at various levels across junior and professional hockey, he is now entering his 6th season with Hockey Night in Canada's Play On! Make sure you find him at your event this summer to have a chance to get your pads mentioned in his equipment blog at some point in the near future.