Every hero has an Achilles' heel and for hockey goaltenders it's the space between their legs, but new pads based on research from Western University could help to close that gap and make it easier for goalies to stop pucks.
Western University PhD candidate Ryan Frayne is a goaltender himself and knows all too well the disappointment of having a puck slip through the five hole.
"[It's] almost kind of a shot to your ego because the puck goes through you... That means the player's shot was more powerful than your ability to stop pucks," Frayne told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Tuesday.
Of all the goaltending methods out there, perhaps the most common is when goalies drop to their knees while flaring their legs outwards to block pucks, a move called the butterfly. But the technique can leave goalies vulnerable to having pucks go between their legs, a problem made worse by heavy pads that can weigh goalies down and make it tricky to be swift on the ice.
An 'arms race' of goalie companies
Frayne says that's spurred a whole field of research dedicated to improving goalies' performance, involving everything from making pads water-resistant to using lighter-weight material such as synthetics instead of the traditional horse-hide leather.
"It's the arms race of goalie companies right now," Frayne said.
Together with industry partner Reebok-CCM Hockey, Frayne is studying goalie pad motion and the science of body mechanics, examining how goaltenders move in simulated performance exercises.
He says even the straps that attach pads to goaltenders' legs can add bulk – up to one-fifth of the total weight of the pad.
"We wanted to figure out if we could correlate which straps were the most pertinent to performance," Frayne said in a release Thursday.
'Always looking for that edge'
As it turns out, it's possible to remove select straps, keeping only the ones needed for prime goalie performance.
"A goaltender can now have the ice sealed, blocked and protected in a way for pucks to not go between their legs versus somebody else, in a different setup, who is still vulnerable to pucks going through their five hole," said Frayne.
The details can seem minute to some, Frayne admits, but it reflects how the goaltender's role has changed.
"Goaltending has become a really academic position over the last ten years," he said.
But he maintains interest in the technology behind goaltending equipment isn't slowing down. "I think it's because goaltenders are always looking for that edge," he said.
And with the Kitchener Rangers getting set for their game against Guelph Tuesday night, Frayne's research could make it that much easier for goaltender Luke Opilka and other goalies to take their teams to a win.