IceCaps Insider: Padding the numbers Posted by IceCaps on
IceCaps players turn to extra equipment to prevent injury
By Chris Ballard, IceCaps Insider
In the world of professional sports, athletes are now placing more emphasis on training and conditioning than ever before. As these players become stronger and faster by the day, it’s no surprise that the teams they play for are making every effort to ensure their safety and longevity.
Teams and players are always straddling that fine line between comfort of equipment and overall safety and the St. John’s IceCaps are no exception.
Take a good look at some game photos of the IceCaps in action. You may notice that players’ gloves may look a little boxier (and uglier) than you remember.
That’s because IceCaps equipment manager Ian Cox had the presence of mind to only order gloves with a flat extra layer of padding on the back of the hand - a plastic shell covered with layers of foam, appropriately called a ‘backhand’ - to give players a little extra cushion between their paws and a slap shot or errant slash.
The trend in recent years in professional hockey has been for players and their equipment guys to add pieces of extra padding here and there to add a little extra cushion to those vulnerable areas, a trend Cox believes started with the New York Rangers.
“They mandated it with their guys and we saw it then in Hartford,” Cox remembers, referring to the Connecticut Whale, now the Hartford Wolf Pack.
“Then we had a few guys here get hurt and in communicating with the guys in Winnipeg, we decided to push it on our guys. They have most of the guys up there in them as well. Evander Kane has them in his gloves.”
IceCaps forward John Albert wishes he was wearing the backhands last season, as a blast from the point broke his hand and promptly ended his season. Nowadays, he proudly sports the beefed up mitts with no ill-effects on his game.
“You can’t even notice,” Albert said, wiggling his fingers inside his glove.
“There’s no feel difference. It’s just extra padding. I know they had these gloves last year but we weren’t required to wear them.”
Backhands aren’t the only equipment modification that Cox has worked into the regular rotation. While only the backhands and cut-resistant Kevlar hockey socks are mandatory, many players choose to fortify their gear by adding extra protection to their skates, elbow pads and shoulder pads, Albert included.
“I have these too,” Albert said, referring to the extra padding Cox sewed onto his elbow pad.
“Wrist guards for extra protection against getting slashed. A few of the guys have these. I usually wear shot blockers on my feet too. We get special ones made and molded. They’re really light. You can barely feel them when they’re on.”
A main criticism of this trend in equipment modification is that not only are these additions hard on the eyes, pieces can be cumbersome and possibly prevent optimal movement on the ice. As these manufacturers continue to work the kinks out of their evolving products, the issues of straps coming loose and players complaining about limited mobility are becoming ancient history.
“I’ll take an ugly backhand or an ugly foot protection over a guy missing two months any day,” Cox said.
“Everything has gotten so good now that the guys don’t even notice it. Those shot blockers, we send their skates away and they get molded right to their skates. There are straps but as far as how they form over the skate, it’s not like a box on top of their skate. It forms to the shape of the skate.”
Player safety and stronger equipment will continue to be a hot topic in professional hockey as players get even stronger and faster, but that’s not going to stop them from being sentimental and continuing to wear the same gear they’ve worn since peewee, even if that means having to face a stern chat with equipment managers like Cox.
“I can’t make John Albert or Eric O’Dell switch skates for the life of me,” Cox chuckled.
“It drives me crazy. Their skates look (terrible) and they just will not switch them. Then they will get called up to Winnipeg and I get in trouble because their skates are beat up.”