Keith Pogue is the owner of Play it Again Sports in Kirkland, Que., and a member of the Play It Again Sports purchasing committee.
He suggests the following approach to outfitting a hockey player from head to toe.
Begin with the big pieces of equipment -- pants, shoulder pads, shin pads first. Other pieces will fit around these essentials.
- With laces done up, player should be able to squat comfortably and stretch legs from side to side without restriction.
- Pant leg should hang mid-knee length (to provide optimal movement/bend)
- If player blocks slap shots, look for pants with stomach protection
- More advanced players may want padded belt for more protection
- Make sure nylon isn't too thin - thicker nylon is more resistant
- Those with a large midriff might prefer pants with zippers in the inner thigh - this makes it possible to put skates on before pants (zippered pants are more expensive)
- The shoulder and the top of the arm must be underneath the hard plastic cap of shoulder pads - if not, they're either too big or too small. (Older equipment may not have this plastic cap.)
- Pads should fit player's frame, allowing him/her to move freely, but it shouldn't slide around If collarbone (clavicle) area is exposed, shoulder pad is likely too big.
- If shoulder pad isn't touching the player after straps have been done up, then it's not giving adequate protection
- Shoulder pads for younger athletes are simple; for advanced players, they include more protective pieces
- Some parents may buy a size up to maximize use, but too-big shoulder pads may not provide proper protection
- Shin pad should not extend over ankle bone - this could interfere with skate/foot movement
- Pogue suggests the shin pad end two finger widths above the ankle (an inch and a half)
- A more advanced player might want the shin pad to go over the tongue of the skate
- A player might want higher-end shin pads, depending on his/her position (defenders may want more protection)
- Make sure there's no gap between elbow pad and shoulder pad.
- New gloves don't meet elbow pads (to make stick handling easier), so buy slash guards to protect the gap.
- Needed if there's a gap between gloves and elbow pads; buy this piece after the other two.
- Make sure helmet and mask are Canadian Standards Association (CSA) approved
- If buying a used helmet, find its expiry date and make sure it hasn't passed
- Use adjustment features to ensure best fit
- Don't remove foam padding (some players do this to make a helmet fit better, but doing so increases risk of injury or concussion)
- For anyone playing a lot of hockey, Pogue recommends a skate with leather interior and exterior.
- Skates made with vinyl on either the outside or inside can break down more easily.
- When trying on a skate, remove laces, open skate up, place foot inside and slide toes to front, ensuring foot is flat
- Stand up, bend knee, place a finger between the heel and the back of the skate.
- This will be the amount of space at the front of the skate. A child should be able to fit a finger in this space; an adult should be able to slide in a pencil. Wear a hockey sock when trying on skates
Given that a goalie requires more protection than the average player, playing between the posts costs -- a lot.
"There's more padding, it has to cover more areas, so the fit is very important. Shoulder pads should extend down the back of the body, and generally have more around the chest area. They're going to take more pucks and be at greater risk of getting hit," said Hockey Nova Scotia's Karen Decker, chair of Hockey Canada's safety committee.
"Just as with the other type of equipment, you must make sure it fits well and is well-maintained," said Todd Jackson, senior manager of safety and insurance for Hockey Canada.