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Halak adds new wrinkle to practice-only equipment

Bruins backup catches fellow goalies off guard with leg pads specifically for workouts

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

When it comes to wearing equipment exclusively for practice, Jaroslav Halak has a preference that raises eyebrows even among his puck-stopping peers.

Though many NHL goalies use special practice gloves with extra padding to protect their hands, the Boston Bruins backup is the only one with practice-specific leg pads.

"I don't want them to be to beat up for games if I keep training in them all the time," said Halak, who started using an extra set four years ago. "Practice is when you get the most shots."

Goalies and goaltending coaches estimate that between 200 to 400 shots are taken per practice, depending on length and type of practice, which is why it wasn't surprising to learn in last week's columnthat so many goalies used practice-specific catching gloves. Most add padding to the palm of their practice glove to reduce the chance of injury. Others dedicate an extra glove for practice in order to prevent the glove they use in games from breaking down too fast.

Though Halak has additional padding in his practice glove for protection, the second set of leg pads with "PRACTICE" stitched into the sides, is more about helping the pads he uses for games hold their form longer. 

Just as the foams and plastic inserts in a glove can start to wear out from the impact of hundreds of pucks in practice, leg pads can get softer and even shrink in height over time. Some goalies use up to eight sets of leg pads per season.

By dedicating a set to practice, Halak makes sure the pads he wears in games have an extended shelf life.

The theory made sense to St. Louis Blues backup Jake Allen, who keeps a set of old equipment at the team's practice facility but doesn't travel with extra pads like Halak. Now on his second set of pads this season, Allen will use the first set for practices at home. 

"When we're at the practice rink, I'll throw that stuff on to keep my other stuff fresh," he said.

That said, traveling with extra practice pads was a novel idea to Allen -- and most goalies.

"Nobody here ever had it before," Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said of his playing partner's pads.

As unique as Halak's practice pads are, they weren't the only piece of practice-specific equipment uncovered while asking NHL goalies about their use of practice gloves.

Some of the extra padding was hidden -- and homemade. 

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington wears what he called a "double-stuff neck guard" for practice, with additional layers of protection extended further out over his collarbone. 

"Guys can shoot the puck incredibly hard nowadays, and it's almost all about protection," said Binnington, who also describes himself as a "big-time practice glove guy."

Mackenzie Blackwood is adamant about not using a practice glove to catch pucks, saying he'd rather his "hand dies" than sacrifice having the same closure and feel he wants in games, but the New Jersey Devils goalie does have a re-enforced undershirt to help protect him in practice, with extra padding sewn in over the ribs and around the collarbone and shoulders. 

"I just created this monstrosity because my shoulders were getting absolutely destroyed," he said. 

Blackwood is also considering making some practice-specific alterations to his current mask once he gets comfortable enough to wear his newest mask, recently received, in games.

"I'll make this one a practice mask and put a huge chin sling in there to protect my chin," Blackwood said of foam that attaches to each side of the mask along the jaw line and sits in front of the chin. "That's my intention. I haven't got there yet, so we'll see how it goes."

NHL goalies even use special practice equipment to protect their goalie equipment during nongame action. 

During practices and morning skates, there is often a piece of black rubber clipped onto each goal post. The Edge ProTech saves goalies from losing the edge on their skate blades by banging the blade into the bare metal post.

Similarly, some NHL goalies have started adding a piece of black rubber to the paddle of their sticks for practice this season. The product, which launched in the summer, is called Goalie Blok and has a raised-edge design to sit next to the blocker underneath the index finger. It adds a layer of protection to the hand for shots that hit the stick and ride up the paddle. 

Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky added a Goalie Blok on all his practice sticks this season, and New York Rangers veteran Henrik Lundqvist has recently been spotted using a similarly themed protective piece called the Paddle Wedge in practice. 

"For sure, you feel some shots there (without it)," Bobrovsky said. "It's good extra protection."

Most goalies facing hundreds of shots in practice will take whatever measures they can to get some physical relief and save some wear and tear on their most valuable pieces of equipment.

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