Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 01/25/07 at 12:02 PM ET
By George James Malik
Competition Committee founder Brendan Shanahan held court before the All-Star Game’s skills competition on Tuesday, and the Human Quote Machine made an interesting comment regarding the league’s crackdown on goaltending equipment:
“The goalies are going to hate me for saying this, but I think we failed a little bit with the goaltenders and streamlining their equipment,” said Shanahan, one of a handful of players on the NHL’s competition committee.
After the lockout, the committee pushed the league to downsize goaltender equipment by about 10 percent. But Shanahan—and others—aren’t so sure the changes had the desired effect.
“So much of the focus was on the width of their pads, and it’s really about the upper body,” Shanahan said. “You want to make sure these guys are protected.
“But I just don’t understand how a cop can walk down the street in a bulletproof vest and look normal, yet our goalies have to look like lacrosse goalies, or Michelin men, to stop a puck.”
With all due respect to Mr. Shanahan, Kevlar/steel/ceramic vests are intended to withstand one or two tremendously high-energy ballistic impacts to protect the wearer from severe injuries, but the wearer’s body still absorbs the full impact of the bullet. The impact is simply spread out over a larger portion of the body, but the blunt force trauma still causes bruising and internal injuries.
Pucks aren’t obviously traveling at thousands of feet per second, but the severe impact of a six-ounce puck traveling at speeds in excess of 100 miles can result in broken bones, lacerations, deep bruising, and concussions.
The myth that goaltenders are impervious to all impacts is bunk. Pro-level chest protectors don’t make the impact of a shot feel like a slight punch, and if a puck hits you in the right spot, such as the top of your shoulder, or the sternum, even NHL goalies have to stop and shake off the pain. Goaltenders simply accept that pain comes with playing our position, and we tend not to complain about it.
Those same NHL goalies leave practices and games with at least a few welts on their chests and arms, not only from the impacts of pucks, but also 230-lb players’ skates, sticks, and charging bodies.
When I spoke to TPS Hockey’s goalie equipment designer, Dave Wilcox, he stated that the NHL and lead “goalie cop” Kay Whitmore, a former NHL goaltender, worked with the equipment manufacturers to straddle the line between reducing the size of every piece of goaltending equipment—chest protectors included. Every goaltending equipment company had to beef up their chest protectors significantly to simply meet the NHL’s size restrictions while affording goaltenders an adequate level of protection. Mr. Wilcox suggested that the current restrictions are pretty much at the limit of the protective technologies that exist at present.
If Shanahan wants a direct comparison, material for material, he needs to look closely at the results of shots to the head of goaltenders who wear custom-molded Kevlar/graphite masks.
At the NHL level, you pretty much expect that players who’re hit in the mask can and will regularly have the masks jarred off their faces, suffer dents to their cages, and may be temporarily stunned or even concussed, especially if the puck hits the flat sides of their masks. For every five shots to the head that a goalie takes, you’ll see him shake off four of them because they hit the forehead or chin of his mask, and the fifth will leave him stunned or dazed.
Goaltenders seethe with anger when the NHL considers increasing the size of their nets for a simple reason—the crossbar’s so high that goaltenders’ heads are exposed as soon as
The NHL could at least ask equipment companies whether they could safely round off goaltenders’ shoulder caps or elbow floaters. The NHL could also tell goaltenders like J-S Giguere and Roberto Luongo that, as wiry, lanky guys, they shouldn’t be allowed to use XXL-sized chest protectors.
Shanahan’s assumption that vest-sized chest protector will protect goaltenders is an unreasonable one. Vest-sized chest protectors would produce simple results—goaltenders would regularly leave games after facing half a dozen shots due to some sort of significant injury to their upper body.
If that’s what you’re looking for, Mr. Shanahan, I’d suggest that you test your proposed chest protector against NHL shooters before deeming it safe for NHL play.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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