Goalie pad construction has come a long way even in just the past 20 years. Pads have changed from getting stuffed with horse and deer hair too high tech foams and carbon fiber. With each passing year, pads seem to keep getting small tweaks to help make goalies more mobile (and better protected). With all these changes, how do goalie pads, stack up? What does all this mean to me? Goalie pad construction is confusing and hopefully, this article can help break that down.
The Basics: Hybrid & Standup vs Butterfly
The first thing to think about is what type of goalie style are you, Hybrid / Standup or a Butterfly goalie? The majority of goalies are a butterfly goalie and that means they go down for almost every shot and try to block the puck and put the puck into corners. This means the pads that they are using have a harder foam core in them to help push pucks away. They also have very few breaks (usually under the knee if any), this helps keep the butterfly wide. In addition to that, there aren’t any knee rolls meaning the pad is flat. This ensures more predictable rebounds off the knee area of the pad.
The hybrid goalie pads are used for goalies who stand up, butterfly or do whatever to make the save. The pads that these goalies use are “softer” in nature. The softer pad helps keep rebounds closer to the goalie. They like a more flexible pad to help them in all types of situations. So most of these pads have at least a below-knee break and some might have a break above the knee.
After you think about what type of goalie you are, you can better identify what pad might work best for you. In the rest of this article, we will dive into what makes a goalie pad.
What are breaks?
Breaks are both internal and external. With newer pads, the foams can be “cut” or broken internally to help the pad bend or flex. An internal break is the foam is cut and an external break means the outer roll is cut. Most of the time, if an outer roll is cut, there is an internal break there too. Think of the stock CCM E-Flex Series. There is usually one break that is stock, below the knee.
The bend helps conform to the goalie’s leg a bit more. Some goalies with a narrower butterfly might want a double break (above and below the knee) to help close the five-hole.
What is an outer roll?
An outer roll is the block or blocks of foam on the outside edge of the front of the pad. This outer roll used to play a vital part in helping keep the pad’s shape over time. However, with the newer foams and tech, they aren’t needed as much. Some companies have even tried eliminating them, while other designs have tried using them as a “wedge” to help keep pucks down while in the butterfly.
What are knee rolls?
Knee rolls are usually found on hybrid pads like the CCM E-Flex and Vaugh Velocity series. They are the 3 horizontal bumps of foam across the knee. They like the outer roll, helped keep the pad shape back in the day. However now, they are just there for aesthetic purposes.
This covers the front of the pad but what’s on the back?
The back of the pad where your legs go is just as important as the front. There are lots of variables no matter what type of goalie you are from straps and toe ties to materials, and knee blocks.
Straps are kind of important as it is what keeps the pad to your leg! Over the past few years, more and more companies have adopted a velcro strap system. There are a few reasons for this. Velcro is faster for goalies to get ready in and they also allow the pad to be tighter, but also allows the pad to rotate and move. The big difference is with the older leather straps, back in the day you would have to have your pads very tight and leather straps help. Then as pad construction got better, and pads needed to rotate, goalies wore straps so loose, that half the straps weren’t being used properly. (This is coming from a goalie that uses one leather strap and one velcro strap…) Companies realized that pads were being worn loose and their solution was a velcro strap that could keep the pad tighter but allow the leg / pad to rotate to get to the butterfly. Thus almost every company has this design in some form.
The other major strapping area to get revamped over the past 10 years or so is the bootstrap and toe-tie area. The pads in the past 10 – 15 years have gotten rid of the front bootstrap / hole area that was supposed to hook in the front of your skate. In the past five years or so, a few goalies (including myself) have gotten rid of the back bootstrap. This allows for better pad rotation and less tension on your hip. Then the other big adaptation is bungie toe ties. Toe ties for most goalies are skate laces but in the next few years, be on the lookout for more and more bungie ties with velcro bindings. The bungie toe-tie allows for more flex from the front of the pad and for it to move with your skate better.
The toe tie is connected to the boot channel…
The boot channel is a good place to start when breaking down the back areas of the pad. It is directly connected with the toe ties from our last section. The boot channel is how the pad sits on skates. Most pads now have an almost flat or very shallow boot channel as pads sit on top of skates and don’t really have the skate go into them like the old days. (There have been some nifty gimmicks like the TPS boot bump in the R8 model!) However, with most pads having a shallower boot channel and letting the toe ties and bootstrap help anchor the pad, it does help to talk about the boot angle and how the pad sits on the skate. A pad with a steeper boot angle say CCM EFlex, has a much sharper boot angle than say the Vaughn Velocity series. This could make the pad rise up more on the goalie and add overall inches to how the pad is in fit or in butterfly. (This is one of the reasons to take skates with you when buying new pads)
What is a leg channel?
One thing goalies might overlook is the leg channel. For some goalies, they might not care, but for some, it is a vital part of the pad. This is the part of the pad that your ankle through your knee is in. It is important to point out how this works because it can help with comfort and pad rotation. Some pads have a narrow leg channel (personally I think Brians has a narrower channel where CCM feels wider). A wider channel could allow for the pad to move more freely as its wider, this could allow for faster rotation when dropping into the butterfly. This depends on how tightly you are strapping you’re pads on. A narrower fit leg channel could offer a tighter fit. Depending on how tight you like your pads, with a narrower leg channel, you might not get as good of rotation. While this part of the goalie pad is personal preference the next area is critical no matter what level or what pad you get.
Stacks on stacks on stacks… Knee stacks or knee blocks or knee cradle
Knee stacks are super important for every goalie no matter the age or level. They play a major role in deciding if a pad fits or not. (See our article on how to fit goalie pads.) A knee stack is critical for all goalies because it is the landing pads or gear for your knees. If your knee isn’t in the center, then the pad doesn’t fit right. In addition, to fit, this area has been explored by companies to see what can help give goalies an advantage. For example, Warrior has a wedge in their knee stack with the thought. Process of a better rotation and then the ability of that knee to drive into the pad better and more powerfully. CCM has a tackier landing surface on theirs. A few years ago, Itech / JRZ had a moveable knee stack. Knee stacks can also be modified with custom pads. They can have extra or less padding, more firm or soft depending on your needs.
Materials are important to mention. As far as most pads go, when you get to the more expensive / custom price point that is where you get options.
For outside and front-facing options, most pads offer 2 types of materials. There is jenpro which 99% of pads in-store have. The other material, which Brians used to have some stock pads made from, is a weave material. Some goalies (Brian Elliott used to do this) have jenpro on front and then on the slide plates / knee stack, have the weave. Some goalies think it helps them slide better. Then CCM offers speed skin. This material is supposed to help your slides be better and faster.
The inside materials usually is made of nylon. The spot where you get the choice of materials is in the leg channel, knee cradle / stack area. Some goalies say for faster rotation, keep nylon all the way. Most pads have some type of a nash material. This material can help wick away moisture and also allow for a little more grip on your leg.
This article has a lot to take in but offers a brief overview of what makes up a goalie pad. It also might help with all these parts (sort of) explain why they cost so much. Pads are a large investment, and it is important to know what you’re getting into before you spend upwards of $1000 and hate your purchase. Feel free to reach out with any questions firstname.lastname@example.org .