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HEATING EQUIPMENT LEADS TO BETTER FIT

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
(Getty Images)
Stan Wilson is generally considered one of the top head equipment managers in the League at conditioning and repairing equipment, and his expertise is a huge bonus for the players on the Phoenix Coyotes.


Wilson is now in his 20th season with the organization, going back to the days of the Winnipeg Jets, and has been head equipment manager for 14 seasons.

The Melfort, Saskatchewan native began his career as an equipment manager in 1980 with the Junior B Melfort TM’s. He joined the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League for the 1982-83 season, winning a Memorial Cup championship in 1985. Wilson then joined the Winnipeg Jets in 1990 as an equipment manager and has been with the organization ever since.

In 1997, Wilson represented the Coyotes as one of the equipment managers for the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose.

Internationally, Wilson has won gold medals as the head equipment manager for Canada at the 2003 and 2007 World Championships in Finland and Russia, respectively.

Wilson recently gave the following advice on breaking in new equipment.

NHL.com: When kids and teenagers get new equipment, more specifically gloves and pants, what recommendations do you have for breaking in new equipment?

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Wilson: For gloves, we actually put them in our skate oven and warm them up to a reasonable temperature. Then they become flexible and the player can either tape the fingers back over the back of the glove, or they can just put them on and wear them to break them in.

All the teams have a skate oven, but pretty much any pro shop or rink would have them as well because of the sizing of the skates. So if you bought a pair of gloves and you're at the local rink you can probably ask someone who works there to heat them up for you. Throw the gloves in the oven for a couple of minutes and soften them up. It considerably helps the break-in time. (Warning: do not place equipment in any type of oven other than an authorized skate oven operated by a professional.)

Most of the skate ovens are pre-set to 220 degrees. On most that I've seen anyway. I wouldn't want them any warmer than that.

NHL.com: Compare today's gloves to the older models that had more leather. How long did those take to break in?

Wilson: The old gloves were a lot harder to break in. The new materials now are more heat sensitive, so after you warm them up we have guys that can put them on and use them the same day, compared to years ago when it would probably take a week of practicing with them to break a pair in.

NHL.com: As far as pants, are those similar to gloves in how you break them in?

Wilson: Pants are a tough one because of their bulk and size alone. It takes a bit of wearing to get pants to break in. We do sometimes put them in our big dryer to just warm them up because generally the heat softens all the materials, because most it is foams and plastics. Anytime you can get a little heat into the material it will soften it up a bit and makes it easier to break in. But pants are a tough one. You pretty much have to put them on and wear them. Out of all the equipment, they're the toughest one to break in.

NHL.com: As far at the other equipment, do your players wear a lot of new shin, elbow or shoulder pads? Is it the same type of thing as skates and gloves, is it just a matter of wearing them?

Wilson: Most of the new equipment is a lot more ergonomically fit, so that helps with the break-in time also. Shin pads are pre-curved to the shin bone. The elbow pads are now made much more flexible in the joint for the elbow. The manufacturers have improved the break-in time just by the new designs of the equipment, where you're not trying to take a straight piece and put it on something that's curved. It's already pre-fit, and that helps to make the equipment work better.

NHL.com: You have a long history in the League as far as sewing and repairing. What items do you find yourself working on and repairing more often?

Wilson: The gloves are the main thing you work a lot on, altering or changing to make fit or make comfortable or whatever. The big thing is to keep the palms patched or replaced, depending on the wear, whether you're going to fix a small hole or re-palm a whole glove. There's a lot of wear and tear on the corners from guys who go along the boards and are up against the boards because that wears into the glove. So there's always patches and repairs from those kind of things.

The other thing we do a lot of repairs on are straps on elbow pads, either tightening them or stitching on new Velcro. There's a lot of Velcro used in the new equipment now, so we do a lot of replacing of that. The Velcro is so important because it keeps the equipment in the right place so that it can protect the player.

(Getty Images)
NHL.com: Do you do a lot of rebuilding of equipment season after the season? For example, a player likes a certain type of elbow pad and doesn't want to change out of it. Are you doing a lot of reconditioning to older equipment?

Wilson: We do as much reconditioning as we can. But when it gets to a certain point that we can no longer keep it working we try to get the player to try on a new piece of equipment and encourage them to use it in practice and break that in and keep the old piece in as good a shape as we can for the games. Then eventually the player will switch over to the new equipment once he's comfortable with it from practicing.

A lot of teams now have practice rinks where they store a second set of gear. So the player will wear that stuff at the practice rink and eventually it gets broken in and we'll say, "Hey, want us to bring these gloves or elbow pads down to the game rink?"

The hardest piece of equipment to get them to change are shoulder pads. That upper-body comfort is hard to replace. Players will generally wear a pair of shoulder pads for a long period of time. Some guys in the past have worn the same pair of shoulder pads their whole career.

NHL.com: And it's your job to make sure they remain in one piece.

Wilson: Yeah, exactly.

NHL.com: Sewing is such an art form. It's becoming more of an art form than even skate sharpening these days. There's guys that do it really well and some that are still learning, but you're one of the masters at fixing and sewing. Where did you learn that trade in the early days?

Wilson: It depends on where you're at, I guess. Back in junior hockey you're hand-sewing everything because you don't have the big sewing machines and stuff like that. Once I started in Winnipeg I worked with Craig Heisinger, the head equipment manager at that time, and he did all the sewing and I basically learned a lot of the machine-type sewing from him.

Sharpening and sewing and those type of things are something you either have a knack for it or you don't. It's what you can come up with to make a repair and make something last. There's a bit of creativity to it. You make things work that will keep the player happy.

When I first started in the NHL there were only a few teams that had the big sewing machines that did all the repairs themselves. Winnipeg was one of them. A lot of teams in the early days, the repairs had to go out to a shoe maker or whatever. But now, pretty much every team in the League has an equipment guy that is skilled in sewing on the big machine. Pretty much all the repairs are done in house now.
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