A key component of the hockey experience is the equipment. It is more than just what you wear on the ice but it shapes the experience of players and parents across the board.

Players spend a vast amount of time in locker rooms putting on their gear, forming relationship, and building the team culture. Equipment can also shape a player’s on ice experience, every player can recall breaking in their toughest pair of skates or having a piece of equipment that didn’t fit right, this is especially true for youth players.

As a coach I can tell you that at the 8U level there isn’t a practice that goes by without a player skating up to you and ask you to help with their tight helmet, an elbow pad rubbing them the wrong way, or their skates that are too loose or too tight!

In our house we have developed an equipment selection strategy that takes three components into consideration: Quality, Fit/Comfort, Protection. These are the priorities for us primarily because we have three players, when we buy something for the oldest girl it is really being bought for three girls (we try to hand down as much as possible!). Our players are also complainers, so if the fit isn’t right they will let you know and will be distracted on the ice.

  • Quality: This characteristic can be hard to judge and we normally look for a few things depending on the type of equipment we are buying. Strong materials that are similar to what is used in adult/ senior gear. Double or triple stitching, especially in key spots where there is a lot of pressure or movement. Key materials in “rub” spots to reduce wear and tear. There is not a specific brand we look for and primarily have a mix of Bauer and CCM equipment, but we have had better luck overall with Bauer.
  • Fit/ Comfort: The gear needs to feel good when it is being worn or it will cause issues on the ice and could even cause problems such as rashes or cuts that can impact how the player feels about the game. We look for soft materials when it touches the skin and how the equipment bends and flexes are key points when it is being worn to prevent pinching and rubbing. We also try to buy equipment that is not too big, this is very hard for youth players who are growing like weeds. Another mistake we have made is having our players wear gear that is too small (especially skates, breezers, and elbow pads). Ultimately parents and players need to keep an open dialogue on how things feel, how the player likes to wear their gear, and really listen when they say something doesn’t feel right.
  • Protection: Many parents want to make sure their players are fully protected and safe on the ice. We are in the same boat, but prioritize where we want protection and where the kids need comfort. This can be a delicate balance for youth players that can’t always accurately express themselves. We make sure that the helmet and elbow pads are maximized for protection. Everything else we buy for fit/ comfort, bulk or overly protective breezers, shin guards, or gloves can impact on ice performance of our players so we don’t swing for the max protection fences on these items.

Another critical piece of equipment that may get overlooked is under garments. This is another key balancing act especially if your players spends a lot of time outdoors during their season. Our decisions here is less is more and look for function. Our players all wear Bauer leggings with built in velcro to hold up their socks, they also wear a Bauer undershirt with built in neck guard. We have found this provides them what they need to stay warm and wick sweat without being bulky. we also wear Bauer socks inside the skates that provide some protection in the calf area where shin guards may miss.

Finally, we try to make the equipment but process a fun experience. We always bring our player and let them explore, try different piece of gear on for fit and comfort and try to create a holistic experience to help build their love of the game. We are lucky that there is a Bauer Hockey Experience store near our home, which is the ABSOLUTELY best hockey store I have ever been to, it is truly an experience!

In my next blog I will talk about in season dryland and what our players do.

-North Star Hockey Dad

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