Kukla's Korner

Kukla's Korner Hockey

The Gearhead: An Interview With TPS Hockey’s Goalie Guru

By George James Malik

My day at TPS Hockey’s headquarters in Wallaceburg, ON included a teleconference with TPS’s goalie pad design guru, Dave Wilcox.  He and I spoke at length about goaltending equipment and design until everybody left the room, and then we really talked about how goaltenders are smarter, better, and saner than everybody else.

Okay, okay, so not all of that is true, but those pesky skaters did leave the room because there’s one truth that’s undeniable: goalies are definitely the pickiest, most finicky hockey players in terms of their equipment preferences. 

As such, I’d like to introduce myself as a goalie with a dirty little secret.  I actually started out playing hockey as a late-blooming 13-year-old forward.  I loved scoring goals and making deft passes in traffic, but a 13-year-old who’s built like Shawn Burr tends to find himself pigeonholed into a particular role—pushing people around.  When big guys start to analyze how to push people around more effectively, and how to intimidate with a slash here and a cross-check there, the forwards and defencemen who tire of welts and bruises tell that big, vicious guy, “Would you mind filling in for our goalie, please?”

I was one of the last goalies who learned from the stand-up school of goaltending, where anticipation and positioning rule over reacting and playing percentages by butterflying. I’ve never owned a set of leg pads that had “landing gear,” and I swore that I’d never use an NHL-legal glove or blocker, but talking to Mr. Wilcox changed some of my perceptions.

We began our teleconference with a set of the still-rare R8 leg pads, blocker, and glove in the room for me to peruse as the designer himself described the function of every aspect thereof.  If you’re goalie-phobic, forwards and defencemen, you may leave the room, but goalies, get ready for some fun—and a mind-altering experience for a goaltender who was too “old-school” for his old good. 

Me: “I’d like to start by asking about the impact of the new NHL rules on pad design, and gloves and blockers especially, given the injury factor, and the restrictions on the side-board of the blocker, given the injuries to guys like Miller [broken thumb] and Ozzie, who broke his hand…How have you guys tried to navigate the line between protection and trying to deal with the rules, and especially also in leg pads, how you guys adjusted the leg channel to help groin injuries.”

Mr. Wilcox: “From talking to our pro guys, the only real comment I’ve really gotten from our pro guys is that on the catching glove, on the trapper, with the blocking cuff being reduced [to 8”x4”] they’ve had to beef up their chest protector more in the forearm area.

Me: “So it’s catching them on the wrist!” 

Mr. Wilcox: “It wasn’t that much of an adjustment at the beginning.  They really don’t seem to mind the new sizes of equipment now, but, obviously, when that rule came into effect last year, it didn’t really catch us all with our pants down, but…we knew when it was coming, but when it did it was like, ‘Holy smokes, they’re serious.’”

Me:  “And to me it seems that besides the restriction of the blocker cuff, how have the guys adjusted to the tee trap, how have they adjusted to that, to some extent, really re-learning how to catch it?”

Mr. Wilcox: “You’ve got a lot of guys now, um, obviously goaltending evolves year to year, and I truly think that—maybe I’m being biased because I’m a goaltender here—I think that goalies have evolved faster than the forwards have, because, with the goals-against averages going down, and they’re having to restrict the goaltenders because they’re at a peak athletic ability.  They’re working out all the time; it’s not like before, when you went to training camp to get back into shape.  These guys are never out of shape anymore.

”Goaltending styles always change a bit, and you’ll see, with the new rules, you’ll see that a lot of guys don’t even close their gloves anymore.  Henrik Lundqvist, our guy—this just happened in the last year—we had one glove that we beefed up quite a bit in the palm because he was going to use it for practice, every day he was getting 200 shots against him, and he doesn’t want to get hurt in practice, but he realized that once he made the glove stiffer, it was bigger, and he taught himself how to catch it like a lacrosse stick, kind of cradling the puck in, and it seems like more and more guys are doing that now.”

Me:  “Is that why you guys went with the bigger tee trap from the Summit line in the R8?”

Mr. Wilcox: “The tee, the width is pretty much exactly the same, but obviously the depth has changed because we really want our line to make as true as R8 legal as we can, a true legal size because restrictions are going to come into effect with minor hockey in Canada and the U.S., so we’re just trying to stay ahead of the curve, and I think all the companies have done that.”

imageMe: “Going back to the glove design, how have you tried to tow the line between making a glove that’s functional for catching with the fact that so many goalies are puckhandlers these days?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”First off, we really had to work on the break of the glove, which I worked on with an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Jim Kleinert from Kentucky.  Instead of just taking a glove and trying to make it more protective, we started with the hand and started building the foam and plastic pieces around the hand so that it closes properly.”

Me:  “I can feel that kind of flexing, there’s not that much, it doesn’t take that much effort to close it, even though this is a new glove.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yeah, and it’s actually stiffer than what we normally make because the tee-top, we have a single piece of TRI TAN that crosses right across the tee top, normally there’s two different pieces that create the break.  I put that in there because it’s more NHL-influenced there, and also, since you’re down to a 45-inch glove, and being a goaltender yourself, you know that when you come out to the shooter, a lot of times you touch the glove to the side of your hip to make your glove bigger.  That piece of TRI TAN across the top of the glove will do that so that you don’t have to tap your glove on your hip, or not as much anyways to make the glove wider.

“As for playing the puck, I play the puck quite a bit myself, and obviously that’s a key point in the new hockey coming up, and they made the new rules that goalies can’t go in the corners; it’s simply not needed.  You’ve restricted all goalies by making a rule for four goalies in the NHL who really play the puck well.”

Me:  “Turco, Brodeur…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Belfour, DiPietro, the four guys, those are the four key guys who can play the puck, and they made a rule for these guys.  I don’t think the rule is necessary.

“But the tee top, the way it’s laced in, we could have the tee top laying back a little more so you could grab the stick a little better, but the downturn is that then you go and try to cover the puck on the ice, and the tee top is sitting above the ice, and you have to find a happy medium.  I can make a glove with a tee top that’s going to sit right flush on the ice, and nothing’s going to squeak out of the glove when you cover the puck up, but you’re going to try to grab a stick and there’s no way that you can, so you have to find that happy medium.”

Me:  “I can see that there’s, maybe, maybe an inch of clearance, maybe, when you put the glove, when you try to flatten it out, because of the cuff, but it balances things out.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”What are the purposes of the three plastic eye stays on the back of the tee?  They hold down some lacing?”

”Okay, yeah, those look like a washer with holes coming through.  With the velocity of the puck now, it’s coming in so hard that we found, at the pro level, anyways, it never happened to us, but when you saw the puck go through Brian Boucher’s glove in Philadelphia, it wasn’t our glove…What happened was, normally people put the lacing coming through the back, and put the knot in the lace, but material stretches after a while, wet-dry-wet-dry, and then a puck hits you right in the basket there, pulls those knots, and the puck goes through, so we put those plastic stays in there as a reinforcement so it won’t fall apart.”

Me:  “I’m looking at; I can feel on the inside on the index finger, middle finger, and ring finger, those are finger ridges for extra control?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”For control, and those are anatomic relief [A.R.] pads.  What those are, working with Dr. Kleinert on how the hand works, whenever you get a stinger it’s usually just below the index finger on your knuckle, and what most people have done in the past is to add padding there, which will make your hand more exposed to the shot, and it also stiffens up your glove. 

“What we’ve done is that if you feel your hand, there are high spots and low spots on your fingers and palm, and what we’re actually doing is that we’re trying to fill up those low spots so that it makes a more flushed surface, and instead of the puck hitting the high spot of your knuckle, it’s going to hit more of a concentrated area and dissipate the energy.

“Also, on the thumb side, you’ll see something that’s an Ulnex pad; it’s a big foam ridge that hugs all along the inside of your thumb.  Most of the time, with this glove in particular, and normally, in the Exceed, you normally put the strap on the inside of the thumb; with this glove, you put the strap on the outside of your thumb so it creates a little channel there, and that pad allows you to use your whole thumb to close the glove, which makes it easier to close.  Your thumb is the most powerful digit on your hand, so let’s utilize all the strength on your thumb to close that glove.”

Me: “Actually, I’d say this is probably the nicest-closing glove thumb I’ve tried on, because I’m double-jointed on both my thumbs, and most people use their index finger as their control finger, when I’m using the stick or a glove or a trapper or blocker, I’m always using my thumb as a control finger, and this really helps me put it into play.”

Mr. Wilcox: “Yeah, and if you’re double-jointed, too, and normally you’d have that snake-tongue loop which would come around and hug a certain part of your thumb, and I’m sure that your thumb would probably snap a bit, where this creates a channel that’s one level surface so you can use your whole thumb to close the glove.”

Me: “Is there a reason that you guys have put a wrist strap back in the glove instead of just having the strap on the back of the hand to close the glove, which you’ve preserved to some extent here; you have a bigger wrist strap here, and is that pro-influenced, or is that because most people like to strap their glove down by the wrist?”

Mr. Wilcox: “It’s pro-influenced, but, obviously, we have to please the public.  The pros are going to wear it because they’re comfortable with it, and the public’s going to wear it because they’re comfortable with it and it’s what they’re used to.  You can obviously leave it loose or do it up tight; it’s there if you want it.  A lot of our pro goalies do wear that because the puck’s coming at 100 miles an hour, and when you stick your glove out, obviously there’s going to be some give there, and they want to feel like the glove’s actually a part of them.”

Me:  “And the material here is that micro vent?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”It’s synthetic digital.  That’s something that TPS got into three years ago; there’s a material that was originally called digital material that was sheepskin.  It was a really great grip material, a lot of pro guys used them in their forward gloves, but after three games they’d wear through it because it was so thin.  I went to one of our material manufacturers, gave them a sample of the digital, and said that I’d like to see a synthetic version of it.  Within six months they came to us with that, and we’ve been using it on the inside of our trappers for three years now.”

Me:  “And it helps with the grip when it gets a little wet?”

Mr. Wilcox: “That’s right, before we were using a leather substance called BS 2100, and it had a coating on it that was mildew resistant, but halfway through the game, obviously, you sweat, and it kind of creates a little film on that material, and you would get a little bit of slip.”

Me:  “My current catch glove is a TPS Contour, and I’ve had to try to re-break it in and sort of try to ridge up that material to give my fingers little holds to hold in there.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”That’s right, and since that material doesn’t absorb any of the moisture, it sits on top, whereas this material, once it gets wet, it actually gets a little grippier.  It doesn’t get sticky, but with the ridges and texture it has, you get a better grip.”

Me:  “I’m assuming that the thumb angle, and the way the hand closes this glove, I’ve read that some goalies said that going from the Summit to this, the thumb angle felt a little steep, and I’m guessing that you worked with Dr. Kleinert to work and get a more anatomically correct way to close the glove?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Actually, the thumb angle has remained the same since our Bionic trapper, and it could be that the ulnex pad has your thumb in a different position, because we really didn’t want to mess with the Bionic trapper, which brought us up to the forefront and allowed us to compete with other goalie equipment companies, so it was a break that everyone loved, so we figured if it’s not broken, why fix it, so it’s the same break.”

Me: “On the backhand, I’ve noticed that on your other gloves, like the Bionic and the X-Lite, there was a little more mobility, but is there an attempt to tow the line with the NHL rules, or with a desire for a little more padding?”

Mr. Wilcox:  “We’re really looking for padding there.  You know yourself, when you cover the puck nobody’s supposed to hack at you…

Me: “But everybody hacks at you and you get the heck beaten out of your hand.

Mr. Wilcox:  “It’s one of those things where you have to have the back of the glove like an armadillo, so you have different sections that flex to close the glove, you don’t want to have one big split there. 

Me:  “Going around to the front of the glove, how did you manage to keep the flair on the cuff NHL legal?  Is it 4”x8”?

Mr. Wilcox:  “What they do is they pull out a tape measure, and they actually measure the surface across the crease.  I’m working on a new glove coming up for Lundqvist, and he wants to try a glove with a flatter cuff, and when you look at it head-on, it might give him an extra little bit of length; that extra quarter inch may be a game-saver.  What I’m going to do for him is I’m going to cut away part of the wrist area.”

Me:  “Does the binding count for NHL-legal gloves?”

Mr. Wilcox:  “It does count, and we started doing that back in the Bionic days to give it a clean look, and obviously, with the NHL blockers, they fold that binding out and count it as a blocking surface.  So we’ve been doing that for a while, which was great in that other people had to catch up to us in that aspect there, to give a little more blocking surface. It’s what the NHL players call a ‘hard’ 8-inch blocking surface, whereas the binding is called a ‘soft’ 8-inch blocking face.”

Me:  “And I’ve noticed that you have the glove’s stitching to not only facilitate the break, but also to allow the hand to form more of a u-shape?  Some goalies snap their glove together in a v-form, but there’s more of a u-form closure here.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yeah, if you try to close your hand, and you look at it, it’s more of a u-shape than a v-shape, and we’re really trying to work with your hand, so we’ve got it molded in there in our molded poly pieces to create a u-shaped break. 

“What we did with our palm poly’s this year is that we have a flair design, in the past we’ve always had the palm plastic curved for more of a catching glove, and this is still a catching glove with that palm plastic curved slightly towards what we call the crotch of the hand, but the rest of the palm poly is actually flat.  This is an influence coming from Hasek, Roloson, Pascal Leclaire, Josh Harding, Henrik Lundqvist, because all our pro guys have this flat plastic there because, visually, it makes the glove look bigger, and it’s going to prolong the life of the glove. 

“Also, facing the shooter, if it’s curled enough, the shooter can start seeing the backside of the hand, and goalies don’t want to have the puck hit the back of their glove because obviously, there’s less padding in the back of the hand, and if it hits the back of the glove there’s a chance that it’s going to go off the glove and go in the net.  So we make the glove’s face surface as far as possible so that if the puck hits the fingertips, it’ll funnel the puck into the tee, or at least drop down in front of you.

“Plus, people like to use the skate oven to enhance the break, and this way, if the glove has a flat palm plastic, they can curve the plastic to what they want, whereas if we were to curve the plastic and they tried to straighten it out, it’d actually weaken the plastic, so, really, the palm poly, I guess you could call it a ‘virgin’ in that it’s never been curled, if it’s curled once, it’ll still be strong, but if you curve it back again it’ll weaken, so we try to be as customer-friendly as possible.”

imageMe: “Moving on to the blocker, you have a crescent shape for the Summit line, and you went back to the curve because?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”It was more popular in the NHL, and we really try to bring to the public what the NHL uses, I still get a lot of orders coming in where people say, ‘I want pro padding in my pads, pro padding in my blocker,’ but there’s really no difference.  Any high-end pad here is basically the same as the NHL; they just get a few small modifications.  This really is the blocker shape that most of our NHL’ers use.  The crescent shape is great for paddle-down positions, it will get down to the ice and pick up the stick a lot easier, but when the NHL goes to measure the blocker, they measure the entire surface, so it’s the same between our Summit 8”x15” blocker and the R8 8”x15” blocker but again, it’s a visual, people want to look big, they want the illusion of a bigger trapper and blocker.”

Me: “So how did you work on the side padding to make it NHL while preserving a little mobility in there?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”What we really did there, obviously, first of all we added padding right to the thumb, and working with Rip Simonick, the Sabres’ trainer, I showed him samples of the palm that I was thinking about, trying to have the thumb connected to the padding so the thumb moves with it, but still having the shield out there for big impacts.  Other companies have the traditional palm with elastic attached at the tip of the thumb or a big plastic thumb where the thumb moves, the padding usually doesn’t move with it. 

“We also moved the elastic from the tip of the thumb to the knuckle, so you’re able to get a better grip on the stick, and you’re able to use the tip of your thumb to grip the stick, whereas with the elastic at the tip of the thumb you’re using the knuckle of the thumb to pinch the stick, whereas you’re able to wrap your thumb around the stick and have more control of the paddle.”

Me: “Trying to bulk up the blocker’s also why the surface sides of the index finger and pinky finger have some padding as well?”

Mr. Wilcox:  “Exactly, companies before, even us, we had a knuckle guard there and a piece of foam flairing out, but most of the time, when you move your palm and your fingers, they move, but the flaps stay still.”

Me: “So that’s why you went back to the more traditional padding for the exterior of the fingers when you go to the paddle-down?”

Mr. Wilcox:  “No, originally we were going to go to a really high-tech Bionic palm with a Bionic thumb, Bionic Response padding on the fingers, Bionic padding on the sides of the index finger and the pinky, with the power wedge on the palm, but we just thought that it was too much.  We decided that we had enough ‘story’ with the padding on the sides of the fingers, the power wedge on the palm, and the anatomical pads on the back of the thumb.”

Me: “But you do have a double break on the three fingers to facilitate movement?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yeah, because usually the index finger’s resting on the top of the paddle to control the rotation of the stick, and usually you don’t use that finger to wrap around the stick, but we tried to protect the three fingers that work as a grip so that the padding wraps around the top so you won’t have a fluke deflection coming up and hitting you there.”

Me: “Is there a reason you went with a traditional palm material?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”That seemed to be the more popular material, the traditional cream Nash.  The BS 2100, the stuff we had in our Summit blocker, they’re thicker, so they’ll last a little bit longer, but goalies are looking for more control.  We have anti-microbial coating built into the synthetic digital and the BS 2100 as well.”

Me: “What do you feel the stick wedge does in terms of reducing hand fatigue?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”If you have a stick on your hand that you simply grab and hold straight in front of you, you have to really grip the stick with your forearm, but if you grab the stick with the power wedge, and it relieves the stress.  Usually you don’t get too tired in the game, but anything that’s going to help…It’s not big enough that it will interfere with your grip; I believe that on our prototypes in the beginning, we had the padding almost an inch thick, that’s what we were going to go with, but we talked to several guys who said that if it was a little smaller, it wouldn’t bother them, but it’s still effective while not interfering with the goaltender if he doesn’t like it.”

Me: “And going up to the top of the wrist, you guys have a big foam pad on the backhand of the hand, on the top of the wrist, and was that an NHL-influenced feature?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”That’s something that we’ve had before, and it’s just a really popular feature; all of our pro goalies have that, and a little more padding in the back of the wrist area brings the hand up and away from the blocker board, and it gives you a little bit more movement back there because your chest and arm comes down there, so it basically works as a lever.” 

Me: “And the back of the wrist, it has an extended pad for puckhandling, in case you get whacked?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yeah, you still want a floating cuff so it won’t interfere, but you want some extra padding in case you’re on your rear, or in the butterfly position, and the puck squirts off to the right hand side, you’re not supposed to expose the inside of your palm, but of course you’re going to slide over and try to get your hand over and put the paddle down, and there’s not a lot of padding on the inside of the chest protector, usually just straps and buckles.” 

Me: “I’m really impressed with the glove and blocker; I didn’t think I would like them at all, but they’re really comfortable.”

Mr. Wilcox: “That’s great.  Thank you.” 

imageMe: “Moving on to the big R8 pad; did Lundqvist have a lot of input on this one?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”He did have some input into the pad.  Usually I try to get down to that area a few times a year, and whenever he comes in to Toronto, or Buffalo, or Detroit, I usually say, ‘Hi’ to him, and he’s just a super guy to work with, too. 

“The days of wearing a stock pad are done; everyone is custom.  Even though he had influence on this pad, he’s using a stock R8.  He’s got some modifications done to it which, they’re something I don’t think the public is ready for.  Same with Dwayne Roloson; his pad is a true Summit pad; it has some minor modifications done to it, and he actually worked with me on the design of the X-Lite pad, too.

”I get ideas from myself, I get ideas from the pros, and I get ideas talking from the general public, both male and female goalies, because they’re going to be the ones buying the pads, so I ask them to tell me what they think the perfect pad is, and a lot of them are influenced by the NHL.”

Me: “On the front of the pad, you’ve gone to a more flat-faced design; is the knee break just functional there to have two breaks?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yes, and what I did obviously goes back a few years to the X-Lite and the Exceed.  We went with more of an ergonomic break, just a single break in the pad, and functionally it worked amazingly, but the public just wasn’t quite ready for it.  We might have been just a little too ahead of our time there.  We went last year to the Summit pad with the double break for flexibility, so I tried to do a combination of the two here.  This pad still has two breaks, but I made the knee bar a little bit smaller to bring the knee breaks closer together.  It creates the illusion of a taller thigh rise, so it looks like a bigger pad, and it also gives more flat blocking surfaces to the shin. 

“That’s something that Hasek about three years ago with us.  He traditionally had a 36” pad plus 2” on the thigh, so a 38” overall, and he discovered that he wanted more flat shin blocking surface, more toward the shooter, so he added an inch to the shin and took an inch off his thigh, giving him the same blocking surface with different proportions.  That’s where I got the idea there, and in general, it’s a flat-faced pad for rebound control that’s as square as possible.”

Me: “But the outer roll is a single roll…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Once again, that’s pro influenced.  I wanted the double break, but I want the outer roll to be one piece for more blocking surface area, to stiffen up the pad just a little bit to prolong the life of the pad a little longer.”

Me: “Going down the pad to the boot, it’s as flat as possible…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”We tried to make the pad a little more ‘tippy-toed’ to create a taller pad, and when you go down in the butterfly, I know I’ve had this happen a few time.  I don’t really have a wide butterfly, but going down and the puck would hit my boot, and it would shoot right back off my boot, right back out to the shooter, right off that 90-degree angle.  Whereas with a ‘tippy-toed’ pad, you go in the butterfly, and instead of the puck going out to the shooter, it’s going to go out to the corner.”

Me: “You’re going to have a bit of a hard sell here on the butterfly pad because I’m an old stand-up, and I’m looking at this, saying, ‘Geez, how am I going to get used to this?’”

Mr. Wilcox: “Yeah, it’s one of those things where I wish I could design the perfect pad for every single goalie, and there are still some hybrid goalies out there, but when you look at the general public, and when you go to goalie camps to see what’s being taught, everything’s butterfly now.  If I were to come out with a hybrid pad, I’d make you happy, Belfour happy, and a few other stand-up goalies like Brodeur, but then the rest of the public, the other 80%...”

Me: “Well, actually, I look at this pad and think, ‘How do I make it work for me?’  Because this is what all pads are going to right now, and unless I go to a custom manufacturer and spend $1,600 on pads, this is what I’m looking at, y’know.

“Switching to the interior, who gave you the idea for a custom thigh rise stiffener?”

Mr. Wilcox: “That came from my own little head.”

Me: “Wow.”

”Is it just to make sure that it’s more customizable for the goalies who want a stiffer thigh rise, or some goalies who want to wrap it around…”

image Mr. Wilcox: “Exactly.  That’s where I’m trying to get to now; just like you said, you’re a hybrid goalie, and you’ve got to figure out how the pad would work for you. 

“Everything on the back is customizable, from the thigh rise stiffness down to the leg cradle, which is removable, if you don’t like it you can just Velcro it out and take it out.  The webbing straps are just in pockets, so you can put leather straps in there and have three traditional leather straps going off the shin area. 

“The knee cradle is adjustable up and down; a lot of goalies want a taller pad, and you’ve got a lot of kids who should be a size 32” and they’re buying a 35.”  Their knee isn’t sitting in the right area, and if they go in the butterfly, and their knee isn’t gonna hit those big knee lifts, they could really hyperextend their knee and end their careers pretty young.  Once again, it’s trying to make it customizable.  If you want to buy a 35” pad, you can buy the 35” pad, undo the lace on the outside of the knee cradle, and move it down so at least your knee is sitting in the right area.”

Me: “You’ve gotten rid of the thigh boards, but the thigh protector is very functional.”

Mr. Wilcox:  “It is illegal, the thigh board is illegal, and we really wanted to come out with a pad that’s a true legal pad, so going back to a few months ago, when we had the R8 pad finalized, with the designs and everything, the NCAA came out and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to allow thigh boards now.’  We decided to stick with the thigh wrap, keep it as a legal pad, and we do have extra tabs so that if you want a thigh board, you can put it on.”

Me: “On the thigh-rise stiffeners, is there a specific reason that you’ve left it as bare foam?  It’s kind of silly, but some goalies think that it’s chintzy because it’s bare foam, but it looks weight-saving and functional…”

Mr. Wilcox:  “The reason that it is bare foam is because it is still an internal piece and really doesn’t need to be covered with a material.  The only time you would see this is when you are replacing them or modifying your pads.  It would be the same as covering the blocker board….”

Me: “Going back to the face of the material, have there been advances in the plastics and foams, in terms of impact dispersal and making things lighter but stiffer?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yeah, maybe not as light as we’d like, but definitely, rebound control-friendly, a little bit stiffer, so it keeps memory in it.  A lot of companies still traditionally use a LD-45, a memory-friendly foam, and you can get it to different thicknesses, where some companies may go from ½ an inch to 5/8 of an inch to add a little stiffness there.

”Our foam company is in Toronto, and two years ago I went down for a little tour, just to see what they had there, because they make foam for Ford, for vehicles, for rear-view mirrors, for goalie equipment, for everything, so they don’t know exactly what we’re looking for.  So I went down there and I kind of went out and just squished everything they had there, and they had some LD-60 foam and an LD-70 foam.  They’re low-density foams that still have memory, but they were stiffer and had better rebound control off of them. 

“I started experimenting with that on the Summit pad, putting it in the face that pad.  I had a couple of shooters go out on the ice, I had an old pair of my Exceed pads, I took shots off of it in the butterfly position, and the puck was flying off the face of my pad down the ice, and the Summit pad with the LD-60 foam in the face, its rebounds didn’t even go out past the blue line, it killed them by 60-75%.  I don’t know if the other companies have gone to their foam manufacturers to experiment with stuff like that, but I found that to be very valuable. 

“You also have to find out what they can do, because the foam that we have in the R8 pad that goes down from the top of the thigh rise to the toe, it’s actually two pieces of foam, an HD-110 foam and an LD-70 foam, and they’re flame-welded together to create the stiffness we want, but also to allow rebound control, and to bring the weight down.  If I were to use one sheet of LD-70, it weighs more, so trying to bring the weight down, you still want the functionality of what you want.”

Me: “So how do the foams differ from the stuff that the pros wear?  I’ve heard that ‘pro-stuffed’ pads are a little lighter but a lot less durable.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Not really, no.  The only thing that might make the pads lighter, obviously, there’s a lot in the back, and if you were to take a look at the back of this pad and Henrik Lundqvist’s pad, they’re exactly the same, but if you take a look at Dwayne Roloson’s pad, the only things he has are the knee risers, the knee cradle, and the wing wrap.  Everything else is gone from that pad, and it creates a lighter pad.  That’s where you’re really getting down to the light weight pad. 

“As for the foam construction, I truly try to use as stiff and as rigid a foam as I can, because these guys are obviously on the ice every day, and they’re going to get a beating during practice, but they want their pads to be stiff and keep them that way, whereas in the past you used to have guys who’d stuff pads underneath the bench to break them down—those days are done.”

Me: “What influenced the graphic design?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”I was trying to create the illusion of a tall pad.  I tried to make the area of the five-hole white so it says, ‘Hey, here I am, shoot at me,’ but you’re able to take it away, but the graphic is more influenced by trying to make it a higher-looking pad. 

“I can’t tell you how many people email me or say that Henrik Lundqvist’s pads are huge, but they’re completely legal.  If they were to measure him, he’d be fine.  He’d be completely fine because he’s got a short shin—he’s 6’2” or 6’3,” but he’s just got a 33” shin and a really, really long thigh, so even if they were to go the route of measuring his thigh to restrict the thigh rise, he’d still be fine, they might cut half an inch off the top, but not too much.”

Me: “Getting back to the leg channel, how has the 11” pad changed the leg channel?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Really, it’s stayed the same.  What we did was, we took the face of the pad and took half an inch off each side—we wanted to keep the leg as covered as possible.  We didn’t want to expose the leg on the outside, but we also wanted to keep the leg off the ice as much as possible.  Working with Dr. Kleinert, going back to the Exceed days, with the strapping system and the Rotational Relief Strapping System and the sliding toe bridge…

“When a goaltender goes down in a butterfly, going back to the days when even I was playing, there were no knee risers; you had to have knee pads, or your knee was hitting the ice, and your toe was tied up tight in your pad, so your toe was higher than your knee, and that was creating back problems and knee problems.  Then we got smart and started putting knee-risers in there, which kept your leg more level, bringing your knees up to the same level as your toe, and going back to the Exceed, the sliding toe bridge allows the toe to drop to the ice, relieving more pressure on the goaltender’s knee and back, so the goaltender can have a wider butterfly.

“There’s a tendon that attached from your lower back all the way down to your big toe, so allowing your toe to drop to the ice will allow your knees and your back to create a better butterfly.  It will also increase your reaction time in the butterfly, where before you had to elevate your pad and your knee up a little further so your blade could would hit the ice so you could shuffle across.  Now your skate is so close to the ice that you hardly have to move your pad up to get contact with the ice so you can push off, and that’s one thing they’re really teaching a lot of in goalie camps—recovery.

“The idea of the sliding toe bridge came a few years ago, when I was working with Marty Turco.  He had the traditional toe bridge, and he tied a whole bunch of knots in his skate lace.  I asked him why he did that, and he said, ‘I just like the freedom of movement in my skate.’  After a few times of trying it myself, I found that I had a bigger butterfly, my lower back didn’t bother me, and I could shuffle across.

“We needed to come up with an idea that didn’t include putting a skate lace in there and tying eight knots in there, because a goalie would probably come across the pad, think, ‘What the heck is this?’ cut it off, and put a new piece of skate lace in there.  The sliding toe bridge is a functional piece that will make the consumer ask the question, ‘What’s this for?’”

Me: “You went with one bootstrap for the freedom of movement there, but there’s padding around the boot.  Is that because as an offset of mobility, you’re going to be exposed?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Exactly.  It’s more of a tippy-toed pad, so you’ll be exposed there.  Those two ideas came from Henrik Lundqvist—he wanted to hug the post with his pad sitting upright, but your skate has a plastic cowling up there, and he got stung there once, and once was too much. 

“I made the outside one removable so that you can take it off if you don’t like it; again, it’s all about making this pad as customizable as possible.  Usually, a custom pair of pads from us takes 6-8 weeks, so we’re one of the best out there, but kids don’t want to wait unless they need a special colour or their name on it.  We made this pad so that they can go right into the store and customize it.”

Me: “There’s also a boot-riser to give you some height off the boot, and it’s nice and cushioned for your skate boot…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”In the skate area, the plastic toe cowling extends out past that, so you’re able to move back and forth in the butterfly with the sliding toe bridge.”

Me: “In the shin, you’ve got outside padding, with the arch, and where it attaches to the straps…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Right, the part with the TPS arch, and the strap cushion, that’s removable.  The leg cradle, the leg cushion on the inside is removable, too, so if you want a bare-bones pad like what Roloson wears, you can take the calf guard and calf cradle out, and Velcro the leg cushion back in there, and you have a basic pad.”

Me: “So you went with one boot strap, one knee strap, and only two straps to tie your calf to the pad.  Is that to facilitate rotation of the pad?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”We’re trying to have the straps hug your leg in an anatomically correct way, and going back to the fact that goalies are wearing their pads looser and looser, if you have three leather straps that goalies are doing up loose, what’s the point of having three straps there?  It was just weight and trying to hold the wing wrap in place, so why not try to do something different?  That’s where I went to another materials company, and that webbing is actually a seatbelt material that’s actually 10 times stronger than leather and half the weight.  But if you don’t like the strapping system, that’s why I have outer buckle pockets—there’re pockets where you can slip another triton piece up through, and add another buckle onto it.  You can have it, right in the store, converted from the Rotational Relief strapping system to a regular strapping system.”

Me: “Did you develop the strapping system with Dr. Kleinert?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”The strapping system and the sliding toe bridge combine to constitute the Rotational Relief System.”

Me: “So the knee stacks are also removable, and they’re NHL-legal size?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yes they are, and the inside one, it can be an inch taller, and that is the legal thickness with all of them combined together.  One thing we did as well is that our strap passes through the knee risers, because when you go down in the butterfly, if that strap were to pass around the knee risers, the strap would pull on those and lift them off the ice. 

“The knee risers are there not only so your knee doesn’t hit the ice, but also to create a little wall there, so the knee-risers from the left pad and the right pad, the two points can come together and take the 5-hole away.  That’s one of the reasons that they reduced the size of them.  If you had the strap going around them, they’d lift off the ice, and you wouldn’t have that advantage.  The strap keeps them together so they won’t become flimsy and fall apart, but it helps you in terms of protection and a ‘cheating surface.’”

Me: “Going down to the calf wing wrap, that’s NHL legal?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yes, and the NHL was pretty good on that—they did do their research on the restrictions, they did let us help them, and they did ask us for our opinions on the restrictions instead of just coming out and telling us what we would have to deal with.  They do really understand that protection needs to be there; Kay Whitmore heads things up now and he was a pro goaltender, so he knows that these guys can’t get hurt, and he knows they can’t take too much more away from them. 

“Whitmore is the head goalie guy now; Kris King will help him out every once in a while, but he’s mostly working with protective equipment.”

Me: “So the calf riser is removable as well?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Yes, there are two of them there, and if you lie it flat down, you’ll notice that they angle towards the inside, once again trying to make it ergonomically correct, so when you go down in the butterfly, your skate will naturally drop down to the ice.  The calf risers are closer to the wing wrap at the bottom than the top to emphasize that, and again, this is my way of getting to the gray area of the NHL rules, because you go down in the butterfly, and those calf risers are going to push that wing wrap and the slide plate flush on the ice to seal it, and for more stability as well. 

“The NHL gives us rules and we kind of have to find that gray area, but you can’t push it too well.” 

Me: “It looks like you can even remove the leg channel itself?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”The gray part?  It’s removable for ease of drying, or, if it starts to break down and you need another one, you don’t have to order another set of pads, though we’d prefer that you do that, but it’s about knowing you can replace it.  The material is also hydrophobic and antimicrobial.”

Me: “The new composite stick, how much input did you have into the R8?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”I use it.  That’s Dave Ottman, but I do know that, something that I’ve been pushing for a while was done this year, and I’m happy and excited about the fact that we finally have flexes in our goalie sticks.  I want more of a whippy stick, so I can lean on it, load it up, and fire the puck, and with the new R8 stick, it has that in there.  It’s not over whippy, like a willow branch, and it doesn’t feel like it’d fold over when the puck hits the blade, but the guys who like to play the puck, as well as the female goalies, who don’t have quite as strong in terms of flexing the sticks.

“We do also have our Summit stick in numerous different colors, and we do custom orders on our wood sticks.”

Me: “How did you keep the pants protective but NHL legal, given that they really shrank the pads down?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”The first thing we had to do was make the thigh rounded instead of a square thigh, and we had to take the padding on the outside of the pant and move it to the inside—if you feel the inside of our pants, there’s foam padding on each side of the leg channel, and that helps because the foam pieces come together before your legs come together to help you close the five-hole quicker.”

Me: “I’m going to look at the catalog because we don’t have the chest protector here…”

Mr. Wilcox: ”We have two legal chest protectors—the R8, which was heavily influenced by Henrik Lundqvist, and the R6 legal, which is more of a square, boxy chest protector that’s still legal.  We beefed both of them up quite a bit to make it a pro chest protector.  In the past, we never did have a pro, high-end chest protector, but because we want to compete with the big boys, we have to get serious with everything.  We’ve actually got C/A’s coming in, Henrik is still wearing one of the prototypes, and he just received a new one; we have an R6 for Roloson; Josh Harding has one, and we have a few other goalies who’ve inquired about what Lunqvist is wearing because they’d like to use it.  Hopefully we’ll have more exposure in that area as well.”

Me: “But then you switch over to the Summit line, and it’s a radically different design.  Is that specifically a mobility-based issue?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Going back to our shoulder pads, which had a diamond-flex cut, we felt we could bring that over to the goalie line, and so far, it’s been a love-hate thing.  Some people look at it and don’t know how to flex, and some people say they’d never buy it in the stores, but as soon as they try it on, they’re really impressed.  There are no buckles on it—it’s all Velcro closures on the side—and I don’t think that there are another one that has the protection it does on the side and back.

”We also beefed up the forearms on all our chest protectors because the gloves are smaller, and the forearms are more exposed; we beefed up the shoulder and clavicle as you can’t be over 1” thick, so we tried to extend it as far as we could legally.” 

Me: “I’m curious about the pro goalies.  Does Lundqvist go with the R8 line as-is?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”No, he’s got a modified version of the R8.  Most of it is a true R8, and a lot of the ideas came from him, but some of the stuff, if we were to put it in our equipment, people might not like it.  That’s why some of the stuff on the R8 pad is removable, but the stuff on his pad is sewn in.”

Me: “How are the pros different?  You said Roloson wants light weight?”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Roloson wants light weight, and he’s very low-maintenance.  He hardly says, ‘Boo,’ and when he comes around I try to see him as often as I can, but he’s just a happy-go-lucky guy.  He knows how lucky he is to be in the NHL, to be where he is. 

“Pascal LeClaire is a really great guy, very low-maintenance, and he wants light weight as well, and he may help us on the new design.

”Josh Harding may help us as well; he’s down in Houston, but he’s a big part of their team; he comes to Strathroy every summer, he goes over his gear as a hands-on kind of guy, he likes to try new things, and he likes to hear what’s on my mind, too.

”Hasek is the type of guy who says, ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’  I’ve thrown some ideas at him for a new pad, but what he wants, we make for him.”

Me: “I’ve heard he’s really picky about his catch glove.  When he came back, he took his Cup-winning catch glove out of a vault because he felt that his other gloves didn’t close properly.”

Mr. Wilcox: ”Especially for us, it’s such an older style glove; he doesn’t want to get out of it, and we produce 3-4 for him, and we have one employee who laces it up, she’ll repair it for him, she goes down to Detroit, we flew her out to Ottawa.  His blocker’s not a big deal, but his trapper…It’s the lacing, it’s the foam construction; he wants the glove to feel six years old, but he wants it to feel brand new.  We have to pre-break the glove down on the inside, so the foam and the plastic parts start to overlap a little bit, so he gets what’s called a ‘taco closure,’ with a flat palm, flat thumb, so it closes like a taco instead of a catching glove. 

“I wish I still had one here, because I used to keep it in my office, it went up to a hockey show and never came back, but I’d say, ‘This is what Hasek wears,’ and goalies would put it on and go, ‘Oh my God!’  You’ve got Henrik Lundqvist’s glove that doesn’t even close, and Hasek’s got a deep, deep palm break, with very long fingers.”

Me: “How do you deal with the fact that so many consumers want custom everything—when they’re buying a glove, a pad, or a blocker, the retail customer has a laundry list that’s longer than pro goalies.”

Mr. Wilcox:  “It’s funny that you say that. The retail customization is almost more difficult than the pros.  You find a few pros that are tough to satisfy, some guys who’re looking for a bare-bones pad, or stiffening up the pad, but I got an order for an R8 pad recently where the guy wants the boot protectors removed, he wants the slide plate made an inch and a half longer, he wants the thigh rise 3 and 3/4ths of an inch longer, he wants the sideboard, but not the accordion sideboard, and he wants more custom than a pro guy. 

Mr. Watson: “Over 40% of our production at Strathroy is a custom product.”

Mr. Wilcox: “We hardly ever turn anything away, other than if guys want another company’s pad with our name on it, whether somebody wants their name on the pad, or whether somebody wants everything under the sun, and I have to go through and look at what’s possible and what’s not.”

 

I wish I had asked a hundred more questions, so I know, fellow goalies, that this is incomplete at best, but you only get to talk to goalie equipment gurus for limited periods of time—they’re busy men. 

However, Mr. Wilcox was probably the easiest interview I’ve ever had.  I’d like to thank him for his graciousness as this professional beer-leaguer picked his brain.

There’s nothing like two goalies talking shop, and now that I know what I know, I may end up buying a box pad after all.  Even “old-school” goalies can change—except for the butterflying part, that is.

FYI, follow this link to read, “The Gearhead: TPS Hockey And The Art Of Stick-Making”, if you have not done so.

 

Filed in: George James Malik, | KK Hockey | Permalink
 

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