The name of the game in youth hockey is protection, above winning and all else. A happy youth hockey player is a healthy one, and a big part of that equation is making sure the player's equipment fits correctly.
Of course, the objective in the NHL is winning, but the importance of correct-fitting equipment and health and safety is no less important than at your local rink and youth league.
Chris Scoppetto knows a fair bit about the subject. Scoppetto is in his second season as head equipment manager of the Florida Panthers. Prior to joining Florida, he spent three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings as the team's assistant equipment manager and earned a Stanley Cup ring with the 2007-08 squad. Scoppetto, a native of Hamden, Conn., spent six seasons on the equipment staff of the Nashville Predators and two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. He attended Arizona State University and graduated with a degree in exercise science.
Scoppetto recently allowed NHL.com to get his thoughts and advice on protective fitting.
NHL.com: How do you determine the correct-size shin pad for a player? Should players wear different-sized shin pads depending on their position?
Chris Scoppetto: I was talking to one of the other NHL equipment managers about the difficulty in fitting players because there are so many NHL players who wear shin pads that, frankly, don't fit them. They like the ones they have because they are comfortable.
The important thing is to make sure all vulnerable areas are covered -- no open spots. Protection is the most important thing when fitting shin pads, and then comfort. Some guys like shin pads that are long enough to go down below the tongue of the skate, some don't. Some like to tuck the tongue under the shin pad.
The Panthers wear the ones that don't have the plastic piece that goes straight up. They wear the ones with the soft, two-inch cushion underneath so that they can bend their knees.NHL.com: Should defensemen wear a longer shin pad because they have to block so many shots? Or is it a case of personal preference?
Scoppetto: It's player preference, but all our defensemen wear shin pads with the full plastic piece that covers the kneecap. If guys are blocking shots or getting hacked in the back of the leg in front of the net, we may add something to the back. We'll cut down an old shin pad and take the plastic and wrap it around the back and then stitch it to the shin pad so it stays in place. Sometimes we stitch on straps so they can strap down the added piece.
NHL.com: Now that you have a new practice facility, are you using two sets of equipment per player? Or are you trucking the same set between the arena and the practice facility?
Scoppetto: We're using two sets of equipment.
NHL.com: So those guys who had their old equipment -- did they get new equipment to use at the practice facility?
Scoppetto: Most of the guys got new gear from head-to-toe and as a result, they're asking if they can use their new practice-facility equipment in the games at the arena. Then we give them another new set of equipment for the practice rink. So it's been better for us because guys are getting out of their old stuff. Even in the case of a guy who chooses to continue wearing the same equipment he's had since he was in juniors and it's become worn and tattered, at least now they're only wearing it 82 games a year instead of 82 games plus all the practices.
NHL.com: And they don't have the discomfort of breaking in new equipment in games, where there's little to no margin for error.
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Scoppetto: We've seen the same thing with gloves, where guys use one pair in games and test a newer pair in practices before switching to wearing the new gloves in games.
It also makes for a better atmosphere for the manufacturers' representatives. They can explain the merits of the equipment to the players and tell them to try it in practices before making the jump to game usage.
Even the coaches now have two sets of equipment.NHL.com: What's the best way to dry the equipment that sits closest to the body, the shin pads, shoulder pads and elbow pads? I know some youth-hockey players just open their bag and let it dry out and I know some don't even do that. What's the best way to position the equipment so that it thoroughly dries? Do you turn it upside down? Do you take the stuffing out?
Scoppetto: Hang as much stuff as you can. Take the insoles out of your skates and hang them. Hang your skates upside-down, by the blades, so all moisture comes out. Fans are very useful. The best situation is to hang your equipment in a warm or hot room with a fan directed at your equipment.NHL.com: Anybody who's ever removed the insoles from an older pair of skates, even a year old sometimes, has seen the rust on the rivets that hold the blade to the boot. Have you ever seen that oxidation start to damage the surrounding material? Have you ever seen a rusted rivet rot right through and dangerously loosen the blades?
Scoppetto: Not at this level, because we change the blades so often. If the rivets get really rusty, we change the rivets, but I've never seen it get to the point where it damages the boot. With proper maintenance that won't happen. But an amateur player who is responsible for his own equipment and just leaves it in the bag after each game, I can see how it could happen.
There's an example of the value of drying skates upside down. Every rink we go into has hooks in the player's stall to hang the skates. That way gravity takes the moisture out through the foot opening at the top of the boot rather than down into the sole.NHL.com: Do you use hair dryers to dry skates?
Scoppetto: We used to do it more than we do now. Players told us that when we made damp skates hot, it tended to break down the material in the skate.NHL.com: What do you recommend in terms of fitting elbow pads? Should they come down to the top of the glove? Should they allow movement side-to-side?
Scoppetto: That's all personal preference. Some guys like longer elbow pads and shorter gloves and some like shorter elbow pads and longer gloves. Ryan Smyth likes really long gloves. We used to add a plastic slash guard to elbow pads but rule changes have lessened that. Whichever way you go, make sure there's no space between the bottom of the elbow pad and the top of the glove because that's where you'll get slashed and get hurt.
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NHL.com: Should the forearm part fit tighter than the bicep?
Scoppetto: I hate to keep saying the same thing, personal preference, but that's the case. Some guys like loose equipment and some like it tight to their body.
I always recommend that a player put on all his protective equipment and then, before you put on your pants and sweater, look in the mirror and make sure that all vulnerable areas are covered.NHL.com: How long should the inner protective equipment last?
Scoppetto: If we're talking about a child, they'll outgrow the equipment before it wears out and you'll want to keep getting larger equipment to make sure he or she has proper protection. At the pro level, we change the kneecaps a lot because they get cracked. We have that luxury here, with so much equipment. We can change a kneecap between periods.NHL.com: With shoulder pads, what are the vulnerable areas?
Scoppetto: Look at the player while he's wearing all his protective equipment and see if there are gaps between the shoulder pads and the elbow pads. Make sure the collarbone and deltoids are completely protected by the padding. Make sure the plastic shoulder cap covers the entire shoulder joint. In hockey you get it in the side a lot more than football, where the hits usually come from the front.
NHL.com: There are 30 head-equipment managers in the NHL. How does one progress to that level of responsibility? Tell us about your career journey.
Scoppetto: I'm from Hamden, Conn., and I started as a stick boy in junior high school for the New Haven Nighthawks of the American Hockey League. John Tortorella was the coach and one year we went to the Calder Cup Final. The Los Angeles Kings were our parent club and they moved their farm team to Phoenix, the Roadrunners. I went with them and went to college at Arizona State.
Since then, I've made a lot of stops. When the (Winnipeg) Jets moved to Phoenix, I joined them as the assistant equipment manager. I went to the Nashville Predators when they joined the League and then up to the Detroit Red Wings as assistant equipment manager to Paul Boyer. After we won the 2008 Stanley Cup, I got offered the head equipment manager's job here with Florida.
NHL.com: So, you're a Stanley Cup winner. Was that the highlight of your career?
Scoppetto: It was so unbelievable I can't even explain it.