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Unmasked: New skates giving goalies an edge

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- From revised training methods to new techniques and tactics, NHL goaltenders are constantly looking for anything that will give them an edge on shooters.

The latest evolution in goalie skates is giving some that edge -- literally.

New models from Bauer and from VH Footwear, a small skate company based in Winnipeg, have taken the hard plastic cowling off goaltender skates, removing the extra layer that used to wrap around the front edge of the boot and provide an extra air gap around the toe. The result is a thinner profile across the width of the foot and less material on the inside edge below the big toe, which allows a goaltender to dig in his blade at more extreme angles before that inside of the skate boot makes contact with the ice, which can cause him to lose that edge and slip out.

Goalie skates were already moving toward better attack angles, but by removing the traditional white cowling (seen on the left two skates) entirely, new skates like Richard Bachman's Bauer Supreme 1S have taken another big step in allowing goalies easier access to a better push edge.


This means a goalie can hold his inside edge better from a lower, wider stance and still be able to push laterally with power. It also makes it easier to establish a good edge when he is down on his knees and wants to push side to side.

If removing that thin layer of plastic sounds like a small thing, consider how big a difference New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist said it has made in his game. Lundqvist, who was top five in the NHL in wins (eight), goals-against average (1.65) and save percentage (.949) after a shutout Tuesday, talked with Larry Brooks of the New York Post about the skates in late October.

"The way I can move in my new skates and new pads has definitely helped my game," Lundqvist, who also is wearing lighter leg pads this season, told Brooks. "Maybe it's a small point, but what can I say? I really like the new skates. … I feel that I'm lighter on my feet. I feel I've moved better around the net. It's been easier for me to recover."

It's not surprising to hear Lundqvist is benefitting from skates that improve the attack angle, the angle between the ice and skate at which he can hold an edge, by 10 percent while reducing weight by 11 percent, according to Bauer. He already plays from a wider stance than many, and is known for having his steel sharpened inside-edge-high, an unbalanced approach that effectively puts more of the inside edge in contact with the ice. But Lundqvist isn't the only goalie experiencing the advantage of not having a cowling on the new Bauer Supreme 1S goalie skate, which looks a lot more like a traditional player skate.

Bauer says it's new OD1N skates increase attack angle by 10 percent while also reducing weight by 11 percent compared to older models.


Vancouver Canucks goalie Richard Bachman got his new skates shortly before being sent down to the American Hockey League this week, and after years in an older model from another company, he was ready to wear the Supreme 1S skates in a game after one practice. Bachman was able to quantify how much easier he could get a push edge from his knees.

"Popping into the butterfly and then going for a recovery push (side-to-side), I am taking 2 inches off that lift of your leg," Bachman said.

He was referring to how high he has to lift his knee off the ice before he is able to feel the edge of the skate dig in enough to push laterally. Two inches may not sound like much, but think of it as the thickness of two hockey pucks. When he needs to move side to side from his knees, Bachman's pads are now two pucks closer to the ice, which not only reduces the time it takes for him to get an edge, but also how long he has to open that hole and how big it is.

In a game of inches, gaining two every time you move is not insignificant, but it is not the only advantage of removing the cowling.

"You can get your edge with the heel, toe, anywhere you want, and it feels like you are in control the whole time and can really grab it and get a solid push every time," Bachman said.

By allowing goalies like Richard Bachman, seen here in warmups for a recent Vancouver Canucks game, to establish a push edge from a sharper angle, new skates reduce how high a goalie has to raise his knee to push laterally, making it easier to close the gap under the pads.


The trend toward improved attack angle is not new. The extra protection of the outer cowling may have been necessary in the era of skate saves, but the reality of modern butterfly goaltending is pucks almost never hit the skate directly, so equipment companies have been reducing the thickness on the inside edge for several years, shaving off the edge and cutting out small sections entirely.

The other trend for NHL goalies is custom boots that reduce lost energy transfer from the foot to the ice through a better fit.

That's where VH Footwear comes in, with 19 NHL goaltenders wearing their custom-fit boot based on a monocoque, or one-piece skin design that started in speed skating and is quickly gathering momentum in player and goalie skates. A lot of NHL goalies, including Montreal Canadiens Carey Price and Mike Condon, and both Toronto Maple Leafs goalies, are wearing the VH boot attached to a traditional cowling, but Canucks No. 1 Ryan Miller and Columbus Blue Jackets backup Curtis McElhinney are wearing a prototype of a new VH Footwear skate that, like Bauer's Supreme 1S, doesn't have any cowling.

Miller said the switch was more about adjusting for an anatomical anomaly without sacrificing a responsive connection to the ice. His left leg is "a shade" shorter than his right, so he always needed a spacer between the cowling and boot of his skate to balance things out.

A traditional cowling is attached to the boot by rivets, so he said he always felt there was some give because of that spacer, even when as many as 10 rivets were added. The new VH skate wraps the custom-fit boot in carbon fiber to create a true one-piece skate, eliminating that give.

"This gives me more stability, and honestly I can really feel the difference," Miller said. "When you lifted that side, you could feel the boot shift and bend no matter what we did, so it helps my lower back and groins to have a stable blade."

In addition to removing the cowling, VH Footwear has created a true one-piece carbon fiber skate wrapped around their custom-fit boot, creating skates for Ryan Miller (left, black) and Curtis McElhinney (right, with white paint) that eliminate lost transfer energy between the foot and ice while allowing for an improved attack angle and reduced weight.


Miller also flattened out the angle on his new custom skates, reducing the forward pitch found in most goalie skates, and McElhinney said that was the biggest difference when he got his pair.

"It feels like I am standing more upright and I feel more calm; there's not that panic where you get locked in," he said. "I can hold my feet a lot longer, be more patient."

Richard Bachman's new Bauer Supreme 1S look more like a player skate but provide a significant advantage for a goalie.


The VH skate also allows for better attack angles by removing a traditional cowling, but Miller wasn't interested in increasing his. Instead, he used that advantage to maintain his old attack angle while decreasing the height between the bottom of his foot and the ice, another personal preference he said is paying off with improved play.

As for the future of skates, the Canucks veteran said he thinks attack angle is nearing diminishing returns because the blade will eventually skim the ice rather than dig into it.

"It gets to a point where you are just shaving ice, and if you get a nice flavor you can make a snow cone," he said.

For now, the latest improvement is helping goalies make saves.

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