The puck is hard. The rink’s surface is also hard. Falls can hurt. Pucks and the hard playing surface distinguish hockey from other sports. The amount of equipment it takes to play hockey safely is challenging. If you spend time finding the right equipment you will make your hockey experience safer and a lot more fun. This web page will give you information on:
Additional topics covered on our next web page:
Hockey Socks and Stirrups
This is the most important piece of safety equipment. Purchase a hockey helmet that fits tightly on your head without pinching or restricting your movement. The newer helmets have earflaps for additional protection. If you have an older helmet you can purchase a retrofit kit to add ear protection. Colors can be altered by painting or the application of colored tape. Hockey helmets wear out so you should buy a new one every six years if you are playing regularly. The Figure below shows a contemporary hockey helmet.
Securing the helmet to your head is important. Chin cups (usually made of Styrofoam) that utilize chin-straps that snap on to the side of your helmet work best and provide the most safety. Positioning a chin cup below the cage works well to soften blows to the jaw in addition to securing the helmet to your head. Be sure that your helmet is not too small or large. The size of the helmet can be adjusted by loosening the screws on the side to slide the front portion forward. The protection built into the helmet won’t work with a helmet that does not fit as intended by the manufacturer.
Face protection varies. A full metal cage provides maximum protection. Some players find it difficult to play with the cross hatching of a cage in front of their eyes. Those that struggle with a cage sometimes have a difficult time locating pucks when they are just in front of their skates or in their skates. Others players prefer a clear Plexiglas shield. Plexiglas shields work well but they do have a tendency to scratch through contact and scratches can cause some of the same problems that the cross-hatching does on a wire cage. A Plexiglas facemask also has a tendency to fog up when the humidity is high at the rink.
Masks are now available that have a combination of the traditional metal cage with a piece of Plexiglas inserted in the middle. This provides a player with both the opportunity to view the game through a clear material and it reduces fogging by allowing air to circulate through the mask.
Half shields are also available. A half shield covers the top half of the face only. Many leagues require the use of mouth guards for players that choose a half shield. Half shields provide maximum visibility, less chance of fogging with protection for the eyes and mouth. However they do not permit the use of a chin cup and chin strap and the mouth is vulnerable to injury. Many injuries occur when a player has accidentally gotten a stick up and it gets up under the half shield or causes injuries to the chin. Sometimes better players seem to choose a half-shield claiming that can’t see the play as well with a full mask and others chose it because it is “cool” and riskier. In most cases a full shield is the best choice for the adult player.
Mouth Guards are also important to protect your head. They not only protect your teeth but shield you from a concussion. We recommend you get a custom mouth guard from your dentist as they will fit much better than those that are generic and low cost. Custom made guards also making speaking much easier and understandable to your team mates.
Many ask why are shoulder pads necessary in a no-checking league? In fact many players forgo them. The football style shoulder pads may not be necessary in a no checking league. However, they provide maximum protection and can be invaluable protection for the beginning skater who is struggling with stopping on their skates. They run the risk of collision with the boards, the goal or other players. Shoulder pads do provide stability and protection for the shoulder blades and the muscles of the shoulders. Shoulder pads can also provide some chest protection which can be useful if you play defense and block shots
A lighter pad provides some support without the weight and limiting flexibility of the checking league pads. A shoulder pad of some type is recommended.
Next to the helmet, this is one piece of safety equipment you cannot do without. The banging that your elbows take when you fall and hit the ice, collide with other players or the boards cannot be understated. A split elbow is prone to infection and is difficult to heal and it is prone to re-injury. Purchase the average to good pair of elbow pads.
Shin pads are another critical piece of safety equipment. Don’t skimp here. Some players (especially the better players) believe that lighter equipment gives them an advantage. Lighter equipment gives you an advantage to some degree, but in the long run the player is going to have less injury, more confidence and greater enjoyment if the best safety equipment available is purchased regardless of its weight. The heavier and sturdier shin pad with the higher quality interior padding is the best choice.
A slap shot on the knee or shin, even if it does not directly cause the pad to physically contact the leg, has a tremendous shock impact. Huge and painful bruises from front full impact slap shots are not unusual. Again – the proper size equipment is crucial. If the shin pads are too long they will hinder your ankle flexibility and skating. A shin pad that is too short provides inadequate protection.
Some players chose to keep their pads in place under their hockey socks by using hockey straps (strips of nylon with Velcro at one end with a plastic fastener with a slot) around the pad and leg. Others prefer to use hockey tape (cloth or clear vinyl) or the hockey straps over their socks or Cooper all pants. They now sell a hockey “boot” that is elastic and slips over the shin pad to keep it in place. It is a personal choice.
An athletic supporter and a cup are a necessity for male players. A cup designed for hockey is larger and provides more protection. A special, larger protector is made for goalies.
A pelvic protector is available for women. Some women do not feel that it is necessary for players except goaltenders. It is an individual choice.
Next to skates, breezers are the most expensive piece of hockey equipment. They are important to the protection of the groin, thighs, waist and buttocks and, surprisingly, the tailbone. There is nothing more painful than a bent or broken tailbone. This injury can easily occur through contact with the ice, boards or a goal post. A good quality pair of breezers with adequate padding in all of these areas is critical. A good quality pair of breezers should last for years.
I had a pair of Tacklas that lasted eleven years. I finally “retired” these pants when my team changed colors. – Mark
An alternative choice to breezers is Cooper alls. They were very popular about ten years ago but seem to have become passé. Cooper alls consisted of a girdle with pads (similar to football) and are covered with a shell (pants); either short or full length. They are not as readily available as regular breezers. In fact, it is our understanding that for a short time Cooper stopped making the covers, but is now producing them again in blue, black and red. Cooper alls tend to have a tighter feel than regular breezers and are strictly a personal preference.
Some players like using suspenders to keep their breezers up. Another choice is a belt made for your breezers. This belt used with the front tie laces is sufficient to keep them up.
The quality of one’s skates is the one piece of equipment, which can enhance any player’s performance. Don’t accept the assumption that some players are intrinsically better skaters and you will never skate as well as they do. This is a wrong assumption! If two players have the same quality skates that could he true. However, there is a huge difference in a player’s ability to skate and to improve their skating if they purchase the best quality skates that they can afford.
The ankle and arch support in the highest quality skates provide an incredible advantage in assisting your ability to skate. There is no such thing as “weak ankles”. This is an old hockey tale. It is also not necessary to purchase “ankle guards.” Modern skates provide adequate protection from shots on both the toe, side of the foot and ankle.
Your feet and your skates
Form fitted skates – where the skate boot is “formed” to your foot are a good choice. Some hockey shops offer the opportunity for certain types of skates to heat them up and then the player laces up the skates to get a “form fit” and then the player places their feet with the skates on them into an oven and then takes them home and places them in their freezer for a few hours. Adequate arch support is critical to a player’s ability to maintain an “edge” when turning or crossing over.
Evaluate your foot’s arch through a physician or chiropractor. If you have “flat feet” or arch support is recommended, consider placement of an arch support into your skate. A boot supply store has several choices available for someone who needs minimal support.
Consider having a pair of “orthotics” made for “your” feet. Many ski stores make them for ski boots and will make a pair for your skates. One method is to heat up a form and you are asked to step in it. It is then “cut down” or trimmed to fit hockey skates.
A Toronto company makes orthotics for professional figure skaters. Their system requires you to walk with your normal gait over a sensor that creates a computer form that is transmitted to the company that makes an orthotic insert for your skates or shoes. Expect to pay around $100 for a pair through a ski shop and up to $400 through the computer designed insert. If a player needs arch supports, even an inexpensive boot support can make a tremendous difference in the skater’s ability to push off, turn and maintain balance.
Size – Stiffness
When buying skates remember that hockey skates usually are about a half to a full size smaller than shoe size. Wear a pair of athletic socks. The heel of the foot should be kicked snug against the back of the skate. The big toe should just touch the inside end of the skate. The skate is too small if the toes are pushed up against the end of the skate. They are a good fit if the big toe just touches the inside front of the skate. Walk around the store with the skates completely laced. The heel should feel secure with little movement. Try to get the tightest fit that you can.
Skates now come with various levers of “stiffness.” Most beginning or intermediate players will want to get skates with minimal stiffness.
When playing use regular athletic socks in your skates. It is not necessary to wear heavy wool socks or boot socks. Those socks were worn in the “olden days” when people only skated outside in sub-zero temperatures or were trying to accommodate that older siblings skates that were a bit too big. To avoid the leg chafing that occurs with some pads, long lightweight soccer socks can be worn.
Consider not wearing socks at all. Many players swear by the feel they get skating without socks. (Our hunch is that their skates probably smell and wear out sooner due to feet perspiration).
Taping the top of your skates is a personal choice. Some players believe that ankle sprains can be avoided and like the tightness. The downside is that it can restrict your flexibility and if it is too tight it could cause a sprain or strain a ligament in your foot.
Tightening your laces
Looser – rather than tighter is better for skate laces. A good model is to divide your skate laces into thirds. The lower one-third closest to the toe should be tight, the next one-third not as tight and the top one-third as tight as the bottom.
Sometimes players that have extra lacing will wrap it around the back of their skate. There is nothing wrong with that, except that the laces are exposed to being cut or frayed. Purchase laces intended for hockey skates and the number of eyelets that you have on your skates.
You can purchase either regular or waxed laces. Waxed laces will stay tighter as the stick together better than regular laces. However waxed laces are a real pain to tighten until you use them a few times.
When beginning to lace up your skates be sure that the tongue is straight and properly positioned. Generally the tongue will lie on the inside and under the front part of the skate that has the eyelets. Improper positioning of the tongue can affect the tightness of the laces and can actually cause ligament strain or bruising of the front of the foot.
Lace bite is a very painful injury that can occur on the top of your foot if you lace your skates too tightly. If this happens, go to your hockey store and buy a pad that is specifically designed to be placed under your skate laces.
Additional equipment information is continued on the next web page.
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