Optimal Safety: Getting The Right Hockey Gear
Hockey offers a host of benefits, including teamwork, sportsmanship and improved physical fitness. But playing the game comes with risk: according to UPMC, the number of youth hockey injuries has doubled in the last 15 years. As noted by USA Hockey Magazine, however, hockey ranks as one of the safest contact sport for kids to play, with only two out of every 100 players each year sent to the ER. Basketball, meanwhile, sends four kids to emergency rooms, while football is responsible for eight injuries per 100 players every year.
Bottom line: playing hockey comes with risk, but remains one of the safest sports to play. Why? The right gear. Here's what you need to know about choosing protective equipment.
Get a head injury, and you've got a big problem. Concussion research indicates that the effects are cumulative, not short-term, meaning the more hits you take to the head the worse it gets. For kids, multiple concussions can mean the end of a potential career or great pastime before they even get started.
Choosing the right helmet is critical. First up is brand choice — this applies to any gear, but it's worth mentioning here — while there's nothing wrong with going off-brand, you'll find better selection with high-end brands like Easton, Bauer, Reebok or CCM. All utilize solid technology, and preference here really comes down to fit and feel. Especially when it comes to helmets, however, you don't want to skimp on features to save a few bucks.
So how do you choose the right helmet? Start with fit. Try on a few and find one that can be adjusted to fit snugly without feeling uncomfortable. All helmets can be adjusted front-to-back, meaning you can lengthen or shorten the fit as desired. Many also include width controls, which allow you to adjust the helmet for better fit over the ears. Properly fitted, a helmet should not move around on your head, even during quick turns or vigorous motion. If you find a style you like but that doesn't fit, opt for something else.
Shoulders, Shins and Elbows
Here, you're looking for a balance of mobility and protection. If you play in a no-contact league or for kids just starting out, maximum protection may prove too bulky. When it comes to shoulder pads, elbow pads and shin guards, you need two things: solid fit and the right features. Solid fit means something that won't move when you're playing, even when you're going all-out. Comfort is important here: if the gear hurts, you're wearing it wrong or it's not the right fit for you.
When it comes to protection, meanwhile, you have a choice. High mobility players, such as forwards, often choose lightweight pads and guards to maximize range of motion. Defensemen may opt for bigger shin pads to block shots or harder shoulder pads to help them while checking.
Another critical area? Your skates. If you fall down a lot you'll get hurt more often, and improperly fitted skates are a huge risk. First, consider your needs: recreational hockey skates are great for starter leagues and kids, but won't offer the same level of foot protection and padding necessary to endure high-speed collisions and the occasional puck. Always buy skates that offer slightly more protection than a player needs — as their skill increases, so does their risk.
When it comes to fit, snug is the key. You don't “grow into” hockey skates, because this extra room means risk of foot movement on contact and therefore injury. While all the major brands offer a range of skate sizes with similar features, fit varies significantly even among models from the same company. Err on the side of caution here. Keep trying on skates until you find the ideal pair: they're your first line of defense.
No gear is foolproof. High-quality, performance-built equipment offers the best chance of mitigating injury, but risk is part of the game. Best bet? Choose equipment that's authentic, backed by solid science and has the right fit.
Nate Puskaric is the Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey (prostockhockey.com), an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. Nate, an expert in hockey gear and equipment, has a passion for hockey and the Blackhawks. The company offers authentic pro stock equipment, including protective gear, stocks and jerseys.