There has been a lot stink bemoaned over the changes in goaltending equipment through the years. Chances are that you have heard that painfully obtuse criticism of, “The equipment is twice as big and half the weight.” Which makes me automatically want to reply, “I’m sorry you fell off your dinosaur. It’s time to accept change.”
Has the equipment gotten bigger and lighter?
But if you’re going to blame goal scoring dearths on goalie pad innovations, you better blame the person that invented skate laces. That’s right. I am implying that the down fall of goal scoring is a result of skate laces.
The above picture is not just a set of goalie pads. This is the original Vaughn Velocity. This set of pads changed goaltending for a handful of reason. First of which was the reduction of the amount of leather straps to reduce weight and surface drag. These were also the first flat faced pads which provided a significant increase in rebound control. Most importantly, this was the first set of pads to feature toe ties.
What’s a toe tie?
In the picture above, see that loose lace at the bottom of the pad on the right? That’s a toe tie, son.
Pre-Y2K, goalie pads had toe buckles and looked like this:
Both the toe buckle and toe tie were designed to tether the front of the pad to the toe of the goalie skate to keep pucks from getting in-between the top of the goal skate and the bottom of the leg pad. Once upon a time, the thought was that the tighter you could tie your pad to your skate, the better the feel.
Check out my dude, Jose Theodore here:
Theodore played goal in those funky “hybrid” days that existed between the butterfly 90’s and the VH present. The only way he was able to make the acrobatic saves that he did, was because he and his gear were one. More specifically, look at how tightly the front of his pad is tied down to his skate.
During these same years, the butterfly style never went away, it just changed with the times. The adaptation that the Allaire brothers (the butterfly Yoda brothers as it were) started having their goalies wear their pads looser. This was unconventional at the time, however, the thinking was that by wearing your pads looser, you would be able to rotate your pads quicker to face shots, and put less stress on your knees as you needed less flexibility to get into the optimal butterfly position.
For a while, there were “blocking goalies” that had less mobility because their pads were too loose, and there were “acrobat goalies” who possibly moved too much because their equipment gave them possibly too much freedom. Case in point, the above picture of Theodore has him facing the wrong way in his net Then came along some ugly beast from Sweden who changed everything…
I chose this picture of Henrik Lundqvist for two reasons: 1) It makes me laugh; and 2) Look at the difference in the way Hank’s pad is strapped vs. Theodore’s.
If you’re executing the butterfly style at the professional level, you should be maintaining your center line (imagine a straight line drawn from the puck, through the goalie’s chest, and the center of the net) on almost every shot. Which means that the puck should be hitting you in your torso or your five hole. Which also means, that your feet are in less danger and don’t need to be protected as much.
Some time ago, Lundqvist and his goalie coach, Benoit Allaire figured out that the less your pad is tied to your skate, the more your pad will rise up towards your torso to give you a more effective five hole closure.
Huh? What? How can that be?
When you go into a butterfly position, you’re not just jumping down on your knees while slamming your them together. You’re rolling forward on the insides of your big toes while squeezing your knees and thighs together. So, your momentum forward and inward will cause your pads to move forward and inward unless they are tethered tightly to your skates.
So, if we look at the two keepers’ skates more closely, we really begin to see the differences:
In the top photo, we see that Theodore’s pad is super tight in the heel. He actually has two straps to keep his pad in place. Conversely, Lundqvist actually modified his skate to have a loop in the back of the heel so his pad could be worn even looser than what the design of the pad and skate would allow for.
Then there is the toe tie. For Theodore, you would need to be an Eagle Scout/shiphand to tie a knot as tight as the one on his toe. Lundqvist’s toe tie on the other hand simply exists to prevent the front of his pad from rotating too much and exposing the top of his foot.
For most people, the “cheater (the bridge between the cuff and the thumb on the catching glove)” is the most controversial piece of goaltender equipment. The truth is that the toe tie is the real culprit in thwarting goal scoring in the present day NHL.
Rule 11.2 in the NHL rulebook outlines the dimensions of legal pads for keepers. While idiots will claim that pads keep getting bigger, they have actually gotten smaller over the last 10 years. The toe tie has changed the way that goalies wear their legal pads, and changed the way that equipment manufactures design their legal pads.
Since technique has evolved to the point where your feet are in less danger, the pads can now eliminate the 2 inches that used to protect the feet and move them to the top of the pad to give goalies better five hole coverage. Case in point, if you click on this link here, you will find the new pads that Steve Mason is now sporting. Once you stop pooping yourself over the price, go back and click on the sizing and you’ll see 35+1, 35+2 and so on. What that means is that you can now purchase your pads that measure 35′ from the top of you your foot to mid-point of your thigh to adhere to rule 11.2, and then you have the option of of adding an inch or two to the top of that to give you more five hole coverage.
In fact, goalies have gotten so good at achieving center line angling that companies like Bauer and VH Custom Footwear are beginning to remove the cowling (the big protective part) off of goalie skates to reduce weight and increase edge control:
And to think, all of these changes in style, technique, and technology have been made possible by one piece of skate lace.