Coinciding with the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament over the weekend at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul was the Let’s Play Hockey Expo. For die-hard fans of the sport or just curious bystanders this was a wonderful place to see and test the newest equipment, safety gear and learn more about recent developments in the sport.
In a high-flying collision based sport like hockey there has been an increasing emphasis on player safety and equipment, but also a need for that equipment to be lightweight and comfortable. Several companies on display at the Expo understand the specific demands for high-quality equipment in a sport where new developments and technology are constant.
One company, Blade Buster, is taking safety to a whole new level in order to protect players from deadly cuts from skates.
President Allan Pasloski started the company four years ago when his son, Mathew, was a goaltender playing junior hockey in Canada. During warmups a skater caught an edge on the ice and crashed into him, leaving a serious cut above his knee. After Mathew’s injury, Allan wanted to start a company that would prevent accidents like this from happening in the future. Pasloski was able to find a company in Germany that made a cut-resistant, yet breathable product called Dyneema.
Dyneema is a unique product that is washable, won’t break down in UV light, is bendable and non-brittle. Pasloski’s company is based in Canada and he has started marketing the protective equipment to PeeWee and Bantam teams and even Junior League players.
"[Cuts] don’t happen often [in hockey], but when they do it’s usually serious,” Pasloski said. “Our products are designed by NHL players and trainers. In the NHL, they look for a lot less protection, because to them weight is everything.”
Pasloski had found success with his product in Canada and is introducing it to the United States in order to promote awareness for skating cuts and protect future players from serious injury.
There is a need for this new protective gear because as Pasloski puts it, “The game’s faster, the kids are bigger, the skates are shaper — it’s inevitable that [cuts] will happen.”
Another technology designed to be lightweight and movable is Poron XRD. Poron XRD is a product made by Rogers Corporation and their XRD impact protective product has been around for the past five years.
According to Joe Blair, a brand architect for Poron XRD, a company using the Poron technology in its hockey equipment is G-Form, which converts the material in a molded shape to put in certain areas such as shoulder pads, heart guard and rib guards.
Looking at the protective gear made by G-Form, I have to admit I was skeptic about its protective capabilities. It just looked like it was too small to provide adequate coverage or take on serious hits.
However, the technology is made so when the product is impacted the molecules momentarily bond together or freeze creating a hardened shield.
All-Star goalie and former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas is a user of the G-Form goalie padding. Also using Poron XRD technology is running back Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers offensive line.
With the technology they’ve developed, Poron is integrating itself into protective equipment found in many different sports.
“Lighter, faster, and thinner… those are all the questions [about our products] we’re getting from our customers all the time and we’re able to do it,” Blair said. “The challenges we’re getting are in the consumer’s perception.”
Shock Doctor, a local company based in Plymouth, was the first company to make specifically engineered mouth guards. That happened more than 20 years ago. Since then they have developed a full-body protection line.
The development of the hockey gear started about five years ago according to Darci Eckermann, director of marketing for Shock Doctor.
“Think about your hockey gear and where your pads are and where you are missing protection. This is designed to take over where normal gear takes off,” Eckermann said.
“We provide pads in those areas that aren’t protected,” continued John Keppeler, senior vice president for Shock Doctor. “In our pads there isn’t any glue or sewing, it is all high frequency welded seams. The pads float within that seam and will mold to your body.”
A requirement for equipment that Shock Doctor makes is that it has to be technologically advanced and innovative. Their protective clothing is used by three players with Minnesota connections: Nick Leddy of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Shock Doctor’s clothing is brought to the three NHLers to sample and wear during games, according to Keppeler.
“We’re fortunate to work with a bunch of design firms in Canada and the U.S. so we can create prototypes for players,” Keppeler said. “With guys like Nick and Jake, we show them a shirt and they go, ‘Oh god I’d never wear that,’ but they put it on and see how light it is and what its all about.”
With the increased awareness and emphasis on the safety of the game we love today it is refreshing to see so many companies accept the challenge and responsibility of designing elite products that are still comfortable, lightweight and durable, but make players as safe as possible. Now with this new equipment people can be at ease and only concern themselves on the score of the game.