You can tell when new sticks arrive or an equipment rep is in the locker room. It’s as if Christmas has arrived for the players – except for Manny Legace, who likely walks the other way to grab a cup of water and wonder what all the fuss is about.
When Legace crouched in the crease Nov. 11 in his Carolina debut against the Los Angeles Kings, many commented that he looked a lot like former Canes goalie Arturs Irbe. And while the two are similar in size and stature, there was a more underlying reason for the comparison.
Each goalie has held on to his favorite equipment like pack rats hoard food, even venturing on-line to find relics from the past that will function well for them in the modern-day NHL.
There is a story behind Irbe’s affinity for sewing up his own goalie pads and coveting every last piece of equipment like it was a piece of gold. Growing up in the poor country of Latvia, Irbe’s equipment was akin to a precious metal as he made the transition to the National Hockey League.
“Archie was the ultimate extremist,” Carolina TV color man Tripp Tracy said, himself a former goalie who had a cup of coffee in the NHL. “Here is a guy that came up in such a meager Communist environment that he made his first stick out of a tree; he’s like Roy Hobbs in ‘The Natural.’ You can tell at times with goalies that the equipment and all of the armor matches the personality and with him that is the case because he couldn’t afford equipment growing up. So he was just going to keep all the same non-descript stuff throughout his entire career.”
In fact, Carolina equipment man Bob Gorman once had to track down an old-fashioned style goalie mask and helmet Irbe was fond of wearing on a Web site in Scandinavia.
Legace’s kinship for his old equipment stems more from a “comfort level” he seems to only find in some worn-out leather glove or knee pads from a Canadian sports manufacturer that doesn’t even exist any more.
“It’s all mental. I am very superstitious and everything has to feel great,” Legace said. “And I like to take my time with change.”
Legace still wears 20-year-old knee pads from Cooper, and has 15-year-old skates he’s rather fond of. And the veteran goalie wore his body armor for more than a decade until it virtually fell off his chest.
“It was just time, it was dilapidated,” Legace said of his protective equipment. “It used to hang really, really low and I was just feeling too many shots, and I had so many pieces sewed on. And with the new rules they were like, ‘OK, it is time to change.’ But I got an exact duplicate made.”
Legace has ventured somewhat into the 21st century since his body armor, catching glove and blocker were acquired when he was signed by Detroit after the 2005 work stoppage. I guess for a goalie like Legace that would qualify as “new” equipment.
Still, that hasn’t stopped Legace from logging on to the Internet and scouring page after page for old equipment – especially those out-of-date Cooper knee pads.
The knee pads were phased out for most goalies in the early 1990s when extensions were added on to the pants, but Legace tried the new equipment that protects the knees of goalies and couldn’t digest the change. So it was back to the throw-back Cooper pads for good.
“Those things are older than dirt,” Legace said.
The 36-year-old Legace has a collection of the old Cooper pads, from his searches on eBay to ones given to him by former goalie John Davidson (who found them in his basement) to a few he was able to negotiate from the general manager of the Manitoba AHL team a decade ago.
“They were in the back room and my eyes just glowed,” Legace recalled. “It was like one of those wow moments and I said to GM Craig Heisinger, ‘Can I have those?’ He said, ‘What do you want those for?’ I said, ‘I love those and mine just broke.’ It was perfect timing. They were probably sitting in there from the early Winnipeg Jets days.”
Legace let Cam Ward try a pair of the old-fashioned Velcro pads after he suffered a leg laceration in early November, but Ward didn’t feel comfortable wearing the hand-me-downs.
“I don’t think he likes them so I’ll be getting those back,” Legace said with a broad smile. “They are old style and they are real small. I don’t like anything big and they are tight.”
Tracy said the bottom line for most goalies is “feel.”
“Some guys don’t have it as much and can wear a set of new pads in a game after wearing them once in a morning skate,” Tracy said. “I wasn’t one of those guys and you are talking about two guys in Irbe and Legace that clearly aren’t either. To an extent it’s just a tag line that goalies are different birds, but most of them are.
“Manny is a guy who is very, very particular and likes to find a way to get every mile, every inch out of his equipment and constantly find ways to be able to keep it manageable and keep it working,” added Tracy. “Team equipment guys have to be accountable to the GM for their budgets, but it’s just as challenging when they have to find ways to make sure equipment continues to work for some of these guys.”
That can be difficult for goalies like Legace, whose gloves and blockers have been heat-dried between periods hundreds and hundreds of times.
“It’s real tough because they become crusty,” Tracy said.
The newest part of Legace’s equipment is his helmet, which recently was painted Hurricanes’ colors and is the new Tim Thomas version.
“I kind of like it because I can turn my head easier,” Legace said.
As far as his helmet design, Legace doesn’t change that much either. He has a dedication to 9-11 and the troops across his forehead and retired or honored numbers of players from the franchise he’s playing for on the remaining portion of his helmet, including Gordie Howe, Steve Chiasson, Glen Wesley and Ron Francis from the Whalers/Hurricanes.
“It’s to say thanks to the guys who have paved the way for me to have a job,” Legace said. A nice “old-school” gesture from one of the NHL’s remaining throw-back goalies.