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Padded goalie gloves making biggest saves during practice

Second set of equipment being used to combat hundreds of shots faced at workouts

by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

Jake Allen discovered early in his NHL career that stopping pucks is a lot safer when you have an extra catching glove just for practice.

After the St. Louis Blues goalie used the same glove for practice that he used for games in junior hockey and his first two pro seasons in the American Hockey League, Allen added a practice glove with a reinforced palm shortly after arriving in the NHL in 2013. He can't imagine life without the extra glove now.

"You get zingers and your whole hand goes numb," Allen said. "Guys shoot so hard."

They also shoot a lot more in practice, with estimates ranging from 200 to 400 shots per practice, depending on the length and type of the session. Goalies rarely face more than 40 shots in a game. 

So it shouldn't be shocking that most goalies have invested in a second glove with additional padding, commonly called a practice palm, that is used in nongame situations.

"I feel like I'm going to break my hand if I don't [use a practice glove]," Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom said. "You take so many shots in practice, and if your eyes are not really tracking the puck 100 percent, it is going to hit you in the palm. You still get stingers with practice gloves, but not as bad so I don't mind. It's heavier too, so it makes the game glove feel a little lighter."

A practice glove typically involves using thicker layers of felt padding in the palm, though the amount varies. CCM and Bauer began using more advanced impact-absorbing products, including D3O and Poron, the material that can be found in everything from cell phone cases to motorcycle apparel. 

CCM, for example, offers three levels of palm protection: Game Ready, with a 5/16-inch layer of felt; Pro, with a 1/2-inch layer of felt; and Practice, with two 5/16-inch layers, with the additional option of a D3O foam layer just under the catching surface.

According to the company, the extra layer has led to fewer NHL goalies choosing their thickest Practice palm option, but 80 percent order a second glove with more padding than their game glove.

Not all goalies, however, are comfortable practicing in something different than what they use in games, and the thicker padding in practice gloves makes them harder to close.

"I used a practice glove years ago and hated it," Buffalo Sabres goalie Carter Hutton said. "Felt like a brick, couldn't catch pucks clean, and didn't make sense to me transitioning from that to a game. I use a Pro CCM palm in practice and for games this year went to a Game Ready. It's strictly for games."

New Jersey Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood agrees with Hutton.

Video: ARI@BUF: Hutton robs Hinostroza with the glove

"I don't care if my hand dies, I just like it feeling the right way all the time," Blackwood said. "I don't care. I'd rather my palm fall off than wear a Pro palm where it doesn't feel the right way. I'm a huge feel guy."

Then there's Henrik Lundqvist, who tried a stiffer practice glove early in his career with the New York Rangers and liked how big and open it presented because it took away space visually from shooters. He then used it in games for years despite barely being able to close it.

"My glove was so stiff I couldn't close it at all," Lundqvist said soon after he made the transition.

Some goalies have found other ways to improve palm protection in practice.

Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators wears a baseball batting glove inside his goalie glove during games for extra grip and to keep the goalie glove dry. He needed more protection after a shot caught him just below the index finger and left him bruised. The constant repetition of catching pucks in practice wasn't letting the area heal properly, so Saros tried taping gel pads to his batting glove until equipment manager Pete Rogers came in with a better option.

"His neighbor is an MLB baseball player, so he has this and he brought it into the room," Saros said, gesturing to a PalmGard glove with extra padding sewn in. "I use them in practice now."

Even goalies who don't like to use a thicker practice palm typically have at least a second version of their game glove.

For some, it's about breaking in their game glove to a certain point and trying to keep it there as long as possible. Gloves wear out faster with all those extra saves in practice.

"I have a practice and a game set, but they're not made differently," Canucks rookie goalie Thatcher Demko said. "The [manufacturer] sends me two sets and one calls out to me to be the game pair."

Jimmy Howard doesn't have practice-specific gloves but instead rotates through two sets, even within the same game, to keep them similarly broken in.

The veteran Detroit Red Wings goalie uses one set for warmups, then leaves them on a drying rack while he wears the other set for the first period. He swaps back to the first set for the second period and goes back to the first-period set, which has been on the dryer, for the third period.

"I just rotate back and forth," Howard said. "I've never used a practice glove."

In the NHL, that puts Howard in the minority.

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