Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Shining Armor

Futuristic flak jackets or the greatest innovation in hockey since the curved blade? The greatest team in all the land, (the Edmonton Oilers… erh slight bias), seem to think the latter as Farrell shoulder pads have spread like wildfire through oil country’s dressing room. Farrell pads have gained notoriety by using a unique technology to enhance absorption and are able to give greater protection than the bulkier competition while maintaining a streamlined fit.

This “Compression Block Technology” is made up of individual cells which spread out impact horizontally to avoid strain on certain areas. Originated in football shoulder pads, the technology has now been tweaked for the ice. Each cell is hollowed out to enhance ventilation and keep the body cool while total weight is held under 2 lbs. In addition to these compression cells, Farrell uses “impact plates” in key zones to give areas of repeated abuse that extra layer of protection. These plates can be shifted around the vest, anywhere from bicep to ribs and even kidney’s to sternum.

Founded in 2001 by Dan Farrell, Farrell hockey made its auspicious beginnings in the state of Delaware before making its way through collegiate and major junior levels, prior to reaching the pros. Today, several NHLers don Farrell shouldies, especially those with a history of the dreaded “upper body” injury.

Aside from shoulder pads, Farrell Hockey has been making advances in other facets of equipment including their base layers for both goalie and players. Consisting of moisture wicking compression shirts with a low profile cell technology added to impact areas. Carey Price can be seen sporting the Farrell base layer as it gives him added protection to the collar bone and ribs, areas that often become exposed while playing.

Since spawning Farrell pads into the Oilers’ dressing room, forward Dustin Penner has even taken a share in the company. Although, Farrell hockey is seeing rapid growth, many fans are left wishing Penner’s game could do likewise.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Player to Painter

Looking to add that personal touch to your goalmask? Anything from Indiana Jones (pictured), to vintage Patrick Roy, Diel Airbrush is establishing a reputation for quality and creativity. Custom airbrush techniques allow founder David Leroux to add that extra detail that stock decal masks cannot produce. Former Shawinigan Cataractes forward of QMJHL, Leroux has had a lifelong passion for hockey and painting. Starting at a young age, Leroux was designing the goalmasks’ of teammates throughout minor hockey and following his playing days has decided to fuse these pastimes together as a career. Leroux’s story and his designs are beginning to earn notoriety around the hockey community and can be seen at http://www.dielairbrush.ca/

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Supreme One95: Behind the Glory

We recovered the black box. Inside would lay the answer to our quarrels, an end to the rumours and the beginning of a new era. A life changing innovation? Hardly, but to us the latest promo from Bauer had our heart rates redlining.

“Power reigns supreme,” was etched into the side of our long black treasure chest, with the date ‘12.15.08.’ Our collective ecstasy in welcoming the newest member in Bauer’s Supreme stick family was shattered like a brittle pane of glass. After all, the leafs were still in playoff contention, meaning it was early October and the 12.15.08 release date was still months away. The evil genius’ at Bauer fixed a four-digit combination to secure the goods until mid December; building the ‘hype’ they called it. Meanwhile, we waited in agony, yearning for a chance to test the pricy one-pieces.

Of course I had an opportunity for a sneak preview this summer when Montreal Canadiens defencemen Ryan O’byrne diligently worked on his One95 sticks in the shop. Nope, instead I took the opportunity to rib him over the purse snatching fiasco.

12.15.08 eventually arrived with the One95 seeing the light of day before flying off our store shelves like free beer at a frat party (Thank you Pierre McGuire). Clearly the next generation of the legendary Bauer Supreme line has taken everything into consideration, from performance to looks and even the feel of the stick have all been addressed.

Aesthetically, Bauer listened to its players in designing a simple yet recognizable stick. Player feedback indicated a desire for a matte black finish to the lower third and blade of the stick. Several NHLers including Sam Gagner, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa spray painted this area in past seasons, but wont need to with the new supreme One95. The stick itself cuts down on glare and has a sharp yet clean look to it, “probably the best looking stick I’ve ever seen.” Said Blackhawk forward Patrick Kane.

By staying away from the flashy graphics that adorn most one-pieces, Bauer needed a way to make their product recognizable. To achieve this, Bauer stole a page out of Nike’s golf line that uses a distinct yellow stripe on the bottom of the shaft to catch the eye once the golfer has finished his swing. Similarly, Bauer wanted consumers to “see it on TV when a player scores and raises his stick. We wanted something simple to help a [player] perform, but once they score you want people to know he’s using a Bauer.” Said Evan Baker, product line manager of Bauer sticks.

The appearance of the stick is not the only difference between the One95 and other Bauer models. While Bauer’s Vapor XXXX stick focuses on a quick release through a low kick-point, the One95 offers more ‘power’ with a mid kick-point. What does this mean exactly? Well, the One95 can offer greater power when taking one-timers and teeing up clappers by having a larger loading zone (mid kick-point). However, Bauer has made changes in the construction of the blade to make it an all around threat. Using a dual density foam in the blade, Bauer was able to create that soft puck feel of a wood blade, but keep the rigidity by using aero grade stiffness material.

The overall responsiveness has been echoed by several pros, “I love stiff sticks, but I also like to walk the line and get away those quick snappers.” Said Kings defenseman Jack Johnson who “can still get good whip when you don’t have time to tee one up.” Even the league’s sharpest shooter Alex Ovechkin has made the jump to the One95 along with several others including Vancouver’s Sedin twins.

Another aspect that influences performance is the overall feel of the stick. Whether it’s what grip or texture is used or the weight of the stick, it just has to feel right in a player’s hands. The One95 incorporates a new tactic in improving the grip of the stick. The “Stick’um” models use an enhanced grip only on the corners of the shaft to save unnecessary weight in coating the entire surface. This reduction in weight helps keep the stick balanced from blade through shaft. Simon Gagne acknowledges this improvement and believes, “the balance of the stick is number one. This One95 feels very good.”

As Bauer Rep Randy Senges recently told me, “sometimes they just seem to get the technologies right.” And a few months in, it’s safe to say, “Power reigns supreme”.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Toast! To A Hockey Day Host

After watching the 8th annual Hockey Day in Canada in Campbellton, N.B. on CBC I couldn’t help but notice one trendsetting host in particular. Not the flashy fedora’s or the pink and plaid suits that Don Cherry is renown for, rather it’s his down to earth partner Ron MacLean that seems to unearth the latest trends in equipment. The annual celebration of our game gives us Canadians an opportunity to see our favourite hockey faces hit the ice during the 12 hour broadcast.

In 2004, MacLean tore up the frozen rinks of Shaunavon, Saskatchewan with a new phenomenon called ‘T-blades’; a disposable blade runner that does not need sharpening. T-Blades were designed to give users a consistent edge every time and allow for seamless interchanging with an easy six screw system. Players can customize their radius and hollow to suit their game. The idea was popular enough that Graf Canada made the blades stock on their higher end boots that season. Eventually the price and durability of the blades forced them out of favour, but you can still catch them on MacLean. The next revelation came in the spring of 2006, during the Stanley Cup playoffs where MacLean endorsed BladeTape on the air. BladeTape is a stick tape replacement with a rubber strip that adheres to both sides of your blade adding better feel and durability. The Canadian owned BladeTape saw sales soar after the airtime, which helped popularize the product across the nation. MacLean has been using the stick tape replacement since the 2007 instalment of Hockey Day in Canada in Nelson, B.C.

It seems MacLean has taken pride (or money) in supporting Canadian companies and businessmen alike while this years’ edition from Campbellton, N.B, MacLean was seen yielding a matching set of Ballastik gloves and one-piece stick. Ballastik hockey is an Ottawa based company producing all its products on home soil, right here in Canada.

Manufacturing composite sticks since 1992, it wasn’t until 2001 when Ballastik decided to produce under their own name and avoid overseas production. Previously, Ballastik had been producing sticks for popular brands like Bauer, TPS, Mission and Hespeler to name a few.

Ballastik offers a full line of equipment with everything from gloves to composite sticks, and a wide range of goal pads. MacLean auditioned the 52 .cal high end one-piece stick and pro level gloves from their cx series.

And for next years’ Hockey Day in Canada, if you can look past Cherry’s wacky wardrobe then be sure to check out the oft mundane MacLean for the latest innovation to hit the ice.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Warrior Hockey: 007

A relative new-comer to the hockey equipment scene, Warrior hockey has been quickly turning heads with their products and much more. Despite success with the pros, their popularity among the hockey community can be largely attributed to their catchy slogans and 'out there' advertising. Whether it's the Johnson stick or Nut Hutt jock, Warrior is adding a little colour to the industry. For their latest check it out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

X 60 Sightings!

Although the new Bauer X 60 skates won’t be released for retail until late spring the latest in their high end Vapor line has recently found its way onto the feet of several pros. And yes it’s Bauer, the ‘Nike’ that superseded Bauer has now been lifted from the name since they sold their share of the company last summer. The much anticipated release of Bauer’s latest skate has been amid controversy when this fall a long time Bauer employee was fired after leaking a cell phone picture of the prototype X 60 onto the internet. Needless to say, Bauer keeps a tight leash on their latest designs making the recent sightings at the NHL level big news to the hockey community.

The flashy wheels were first donned by Flyers forward Mike Richards on March 15 against the Rangers. Bruins forward Marc Savard was spotted sporting the highly anticipated model later that day along with Blackhawks defencemen Brent Seabrook.

The evolution from the Vapor XXXX’s are rumoured to be similar to their predecessors while having made slight improvements. The fit is said to be closer to the Vapor XXX’s of a few years back, having a slightly more open heel to accommodate more players while emphasizing that foot ‘wrapping’ feel to reduce negative energy.

Stay tuned for a full product review once these rockets are released, but for now enjoy the X 60 paparazzi’s at work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hometown Headgear

A goalie’s canvas, the one piece of equipment a hockey player can customize; his mask. The artful aesthetics of the mask began in 1967 when Bruins goaltender Gerry Cheevers began painting stitches on his mask each time he took a puck to the face to signify the many zippers it saved him. Since the auspicious beginnings goalies have donned many fancy facelifts with some paying tribute to family while others have sported anything and everything including their favourite cartoons. (Yes, Avalanche goalie Petr Budaj has Ned Flanders waving a Slovakian flag on the rear of his mask.)

However, few have honoured such a noble cause as 18-year-old QMJHL goalie Karel St-Laurent. A native of Ville Ste-Catherine, Quebec the rookie netminder who plays for the Saint John Sea Dogs was asked what he wanted on his first custom mask? His answer was simple: something to honour his new town. Together St-Laurent and team equipment manager David Kelly decided to honour fallen Canadian soldier Private David Greenslade. Greenslade, a 20-year-old Saint John native was one of six soldiers soldiers killed April 8, 2007 by a roadside bomb.

“What more Saint John could you want than someone who sacrificed their life for us to be able to live the life we do and to be part of the game that we love?” Said Kelly.

The artwork itself depicts a portrait of Greenslade on the left side with the words “Lest We Forget”, while the right side is adorned with a silhouette of a soldier bearing a Canadian flag. Important themes to the young St-Laurent who thinks, “we all need to support the troops. I wanted to paint it for his memory.”

The mask was painted and prepped in time for the Support Our Troops game where St-Laurent led the Sea Dogs to an overtime victory in front of members of Greenslade family.

And for his selflessness, St-Laurent’s headgear will land itself in the Hockey Hall of Fame following the season, not a bad place for an 18-year-old backup.