The current debate in hockey about the size of goalie pads has again reached the GM’s and the NHLPA, as last month they agreed to set up a committee to investigate and discuss the size of goalie equipment in the game.
Go back and watch any classic hockey game from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and you will see a steady increase in the bulk of goaltenders over the years. Part of that is literally the size of the player, but a big part of it is the size of the pads.
In years past, the goalie was usually the smallest guy on the ice…and they became goalies because when playing shinny with their friends, nobody wanted the little kid as their left winger; think: Mike Vernon…Johnny Bower. Fast forward to today and you have goalies like Roberto Luongo, Ryan Miller and Mikka Kiprusoff with size and bulk without pads. Add the pads, and there is very little daylight between the goaltender and the net.
The NHL has discussed this in the past, reducing the size of the pads. The goalies have stated it’s not about ‘cheating’ but about protection. After all, these are men that stand in the way of 100mph, frozen, vulcanized rubber disks for a living. The point has also been made about the size of defensive and offensive players pads…that the increase in size and hardness of shoulder pads, etc., of the inline players pads has led to an increase in concussions in the league (without really mentioning the uselessness of much of the NHL players helmets).
If you look at classic NFL games from the 70’s, the players shoulder pads were huge. They stuck out like giant water wings. They were bulky and heavy (Jack Lambert pictured below). As the NFL evolved through the 80’s, players demanded protection as well as a lightweight package, in order they could utilize their speed. The result is the NFL player of today has 1/3 the size in padding as the player of the 70’s…but all the protection (and more). Why is hockey so different?
Why can’t player and goaltender pads offer all the protection, without the bulk and allow for more speed and agility in the player? I’d argue that the players haven’t demanded it of their equipment companies; therefore, they use what they are used to (or what they are shown) or they want to gain a competitive advantage with the larger pads. In football, larger pads don’t present an advantage…in hockey, they do.
As well as goaltenders, forwards have slowly grown their equipment as well with shoulder pads being the biggest change. Compare a player who plays with 20 year old equipment, like Chris Chelios, to a player that has grown up with the bloated equipment, like Sydney Crosby. The equipment has gotten bigger and harder...and players tend to think of themselves as bullet proof...see the rise in blocked shots in the past decade for proof (who in their right mind would dive in front of a 100mph puck, if they knew they were gonna suffer the consequences)...also see the dramatic rise in concussions over the same period (jaw, meet rock hard shoulder pad).
Goalies also contend that they need the extra padding, because shots are harder and harder, due to the increased usage of composite molded sticks, instead of the classic wooden stick.
Baseball resisted the temptation to allow aluminum into their game in the 70’s and it stands today as one of the best decisions the game has made. The game is still played with the same tools, made of the same materials. Oh, technology has changed how those tools are made and they are much, much lighter and more efficient than they were 20 years ago…but the consistency of tools remains.
I feel as though the increased use of composite by players, is tantamount to watching a college baseball game with aluminum bats. Oh yeah, the purist of the sport in me says, ‘I hate the ‘tink’ of the bat,’ but there is also something else about it…long fly balls. College baseball is all about long fly balls and home runs, rather than the classic ‘small ball’ of manufacturing runs of the professional game. Hockey has turned much the same with people blasting from the point and 'pin-balling' the puck through to the net.
The solution for hockey is simple…1) go back to wood. 2) shrink goaltender padding, while adding protection through technology. 3) shrink forwards padding accordingly with goaltender padding.