A goaltender's leg pads are one of the most important pieces of equipment. Not only do they cover the most surface area, they are also used for mobility with the hybrid and butterfly slides. If these pads are sized incorrectly or are not adequately constructed, it can result in poor goaltender performance and goals being scored.
In the early years of hockey, goaltenders essentially used cricket pads to protect their legs. These pads did not cover much surface area but were adequate enough to protect the wearer's legs. In the 1920's pads specifically designed for hockey started to emerge. These pads were modeled off the cricket pads but were wider, and constructed of leather stuffed with animal hair. These pads made a big difference in goaltender's performance as they coverd much more surface area however they were heavy and absorbed water, making them extremely heavy at the end of games.
In the 1980's these natural materials began being replaced by other synthetic, lighter materials that do not absorb water. Pads were remodeled in the mid 1980's to adapt to the new buttefly style. This new style required pads to lay flat on the ice instead of just covering surface area, additional padding was also required on the knees to reduce the impact of goaltenders falling down constantly. In the 1990's, goaltender pads started adding sliding surfaces to the interior of the pads to help with the use of hybrid and butterfly slides.
In the early 2000's, pads were again changed to allow the redirection of shots rather than the reduction of rebounds. Previously, it was though to be advantageous to reduce the rebound of the puck so the goaltender could freeze it easily. The philosophy has now changed to have the pads give a bigger rebound, but have the goaltender redirect them to the corners and out of play. Not much has changed since the 2000's other than the adoption of even lighter materials and changes in pad sizing due to NHL regulations.
In the next pages, we will explain the various terminology associated with goaltender leg pads.
Terminology - Exterior
The section of the pad that covers the foot from the toe to the ankle is referred to as the boot.
The leg section is the main section of the pad, located between the boot and the knee rolls.
The knee rolls are located towards the top of the pad, they give flexibility to allow the pad to bend at the knee. In some newer pad models, the knee rolls have been removed to allow for better redirection of rebounds.
Terminology - Exterior part 2
The section located above the knee rolls is called the thigh rise. It is mainly used to increase coverage of the 5-hole.
The thicker portion on the outside of the leg pad is called the outer roll. It is included in the pad to prevent shots from being directed into the net should they slide on the pad surface.
The sliding surfaces of the pad are located on the inside of the leg pad. They allow the pads to slide on the ice. The surfaces also include protective padding for the knees and the calves of the goaltender.
Terminology - Interior
The leg channel is the portion of the pad where the goaltender's leg makes contact with the pad.
The knee protector is a protector attached to the pad which is designed to protect the knee from shots. This is usually limited to the top of the knee and part of the thigh.
Newer style knee protectors wrap around the knee as thigh boards were banned in the NHL a few years ago. Some pad manufacturers will however give the option of adding thigh boards to the pads. An image of thigh boards is displayed below.
The knee wrap ensures the pad remains in good contact with the knee. It usually also has some additional padding to protect the sides of the knee from impacts with pucks or to help cusion the butterfly.
The calf wrap ensure the leg has good contact with the leg section of the pad. It also has some additional padding to protect from shots.
Terminology - Other
The knee riser offers additional padding to protect the knee from the impact of going down in the butterfly. It also increases the distance between the ice and the knee for better goaltender comfort.
Much like the knee riser, the calf riser increases the distance between the ice and the calf for better goaltender comfort.
The leg straps are used to attach the pad to the goaltender's leg. There are two main straps used, the belt with holes and buckle type and the simple buckle type. The simple buckles are preferred by some since the length only has to be adjusted once.
The belt with holes and buckle type are preferred due to thier simplicity and small size.
The toe attachment is used to tighten the pad to the goaltender's skates. Some older pads use a leather straps which could be adjusted on either side of the toe. For most pads recently, a lace is used to tie the pads to the skate. In the following picture, a sliding toe attachment is shown. It allows the ankle of the skate to change when the goaltender is in the butterfly to facilitate the hybrid slide. (Instructions on how to tie the laces to the pads are available here)
The breaks are locations in the pad where a discontinuity has been introduced to increase the flexibility of the pad. The breaks are located in areas where the pad should bend. The following picture highlights breaks in the outer roll. There are also breaks in the main pad itself (aligned with the ones highlighted in the outer roll) however the knee rolls are not considered breaks.
Now that we know pad terminolgy, we can discuss proper pad sizing. Pad sizes are measured in inches representing the total length of the pad. However as manufacturers build their pads differently and have different styles, the sizing is far from standard. Manufacturers have also recently added a "+" to the sizes representing extra inches added to the thigh rise section. For example, a 34" pad would fit the same as a 34"+1" pad however, the latter would have a thigh rise that is 1" longer for total pad length of 35". The idea is that a goaltender that wants a longer thigh rise can get it without having to buy a pad designed for a taller goaltender.
In my opinion, a new standard should be developped so goaltenders can change from manufacturer to manufacturer and keep the same pad size. Only the length of the boot and the thigh rise would change from manufacturer to manufacturer and could also be included in the size number. This would come down to being personal preference rather than actual sizing. (Some measurement such as "Boot length - ATK - Thigh Rise" could greatly help goaltenders in their sizing)
ATK stands for ankle to knee measurement. It is often used in trying to "ballpark" the size of goaltender pads but in my opinion is currently very innacurate due to lack of consideration for the size of the boot or the thigh rise in the goal pads and no mention of the use of knee protectors. Goaltenders usually measure their ATK and then compare with other goaltenders with the same ATK who have listed their pad size/manufacturer/model. If this measurement method were taken into consideration by manufacturers it could increase the accuracy of pad sizing.
Below is a video outlining how to measure your ATK.
In my opinion the best method of sizing for goaltender leg pads is to go to a local store and try them on with your skates and knee pads. This will allow you to see how they actually fit and feel when you do a butterfly or are in your basic stance. To know if they are the correct length, you should ensure your knee is located in the knee wrap and is aligned with the middle knee roll (if the pads have any). If the pads you are trying on have no knee rolls, your knee should be in the area where the pad bends. If you bend the top of the pad, you should feel if your knee is located in the correct area or not. Remember that pads will "shorten" slighty (approx 1") with time, so it is better to take slightly longer pads as they will be shorter when they are broken in.
Pro vs Mid-range pads
Manufacturers of goaltender pads usually have different models at different price points. Their flagship "Pro" pad is the most expensive and usually what is used by goaltenders in the NHL (with some modifications). They will then be followed by one or multiple Mid-Range pads as well as an low-end pad. Manufacturers may also have more than one line of pads meant for different styles of goaltenders.
Personally, I have had both pro and mid-range pads and would steer away from the low-end pad. I have found that the main difference between the mid-range and pro pads were the materials and worksmanship. The pro pads I have were handcrafted in Canada while the mid-range ones were "Engineered" in Canada but build elsewhere.
The mid-range pads seem to have lacked some attention to detail as small defects can be found. There is also a much more liberal use of less-durable synthetic materials in key areas where wear could be an issue (near the skate). There is also a lack of calf wrap on the mid-range pads. Protection for this area is replaced by extra padding held in place by the leg straps which in my opinion does not offer as good a feel or protection. The knee riser on the mid-range pad is also much thicker than required and is not flush when standing in the basic stance.
|Pro pad leg channel||Mid-range pad leg channel|
Comparing the front of the pad, the pro-spec ones have an extra break in the outer roll and seem to be better designed for flexibility. As for feel, the pro pads can withstand stronger shots without having the impact feel too strong.
It is my impression that the pro pad will be more durable and more suitable for higher levels of play. The Mid-range pad is suitable for most goaltenders as I have used them in leagues with players that had played competitively, some at Junior levels including major junior and the occasional time against an ex-NHL player. Although they were borederline for some shots, most goaltenders would not face shots of that caliber and so they should prove adequate especially considering they can be half the price of the pro pad. The pro pad is really aimed for high-end players that need the best equipment, can feel the difference and can afford the higher price.
Preferences and Conclusion
Each goaltender will have a preference in how the pads fit and are strapped to their legs. Some like the straps extremely loose, others like the pads to be tight at all times. The use of belt and buckle or simple buckles depends on the person. The length of the boot and thigh rise is also quite a personal thing. It is therefore impossible to have one pad model or pad size that will suit everyone. It is only though experimentation with different models, sizes and styles that a goaltender will see what he likes and dislikes.
Finally, the important aspects to remember are to buy a pad that is sized correctly, ensure the materials are of good quality especially on the sliding surfaces and surfaces prone to wear and make sure that your are comfortable moving with the pads on before buying them.
If this is your first set of pads, be sure to consult our detailed instructions on how to put goaltender equipment on!