Gear advice for newbies

by barbaragarn

We have a lot of new folks trying hockey these days, and I’ve seen a wide variety of gear choices. Some people make do, some borrow and some hit the stores.

“Making do” usually means digging the ancient stuff out of the garage: old Cooper pieces manufactured 30 years ago, rigid foam helmet and heavy–but paradoxically, with less ankle support–skates. They don’t make ’em like they used to… and with good reason.

Newer gear is both lighter and more protective. Shin pads have patella cutouts (especially useful for new folks who fall down a bit). Helmets–the foam of which degrades after just seven years–are softer and more comfortable, built these days with several tiers of concussion protection.

And skates–my first pair were used, 1970s era Coopers and I loved them dearly. In 2005, I splurged on Grafs and was astonished at how light they were, flexible yet more supportive protection. Taking an instep shot always hurts, but MUCH less so in my Grafs.

If you’re choosing to make do, think about safety. Which pieces are adequate and which could be upgraded for better protection?

Borrowing gives you access to newer stuff, but sometimes in the wrong size or style. Moms will borrow their children’s gear–handy, but longer legs need correspondingly longer shin pads, and too-small gloves can leave wrists unprotected. Not to mention the exquisite, excruciating pain of a tiny helmet. Yelp!

I’ve also seen people OVER-protect with borrowed gear from ex-pro pals: “linebacker” quality shoulder pads, and breezers so stiff and bulky that they can hardly skate. Make sure you’re protected, but make sure you can move, too.

When buying gear, the options are of course new and used. New stuff boasts state-of-the-art plastics and foam, cutting edge protective technology. And it’s perfectly sized for its only owner: you.

The only issue is MONEY.

Of course, barely anyone HAS money these days. Clever folks can watch for end of season hockey sales. The small percentage of people who DO have disposable hockey funds should also be wary. As a neophyte, it’s easy to drop several hundred on brand-new, top of the line gear.

You don’t need it.

There are a lot of gear style options and you don’t know what you like yet. Don’t spend too much money on something that your preferences will outgrow far too soon. If you’re buying new, choose longevity brands and sturdy, serviceable pieces. You’re not a pro and you don’t need to kit out like one–or have the pro salary to heft the price tag.

Don’t be sucked in by gimmicks, either. The clear plastic helmets from several years ago were interesting and cheap, but I’ve never heard a good user report. And do women really need special skates for the female foot? Of course not. There are narrow (Graf) and wide (CCM) options in mainstream offerings.

Likewise, I don’t think women need special “female” breezers, and I believe only Dolly Parton would benefit from the special shoulder pads with extra breast room. You may be new to hockey, but it doesn’t mean you have to pay extra for something different!

Used equipment is the best choice, though it’s the most work. Once you know what you want (more on that below), scour Craigslist or eBay to find your pieces. My black Tackla 2500s (hooray! I finally match my team!) are decades old and came from a nice guy in Pennsylvania, who sold them for $15, shipping included. Sweet!

People are ALWAYS selling gear–some models as recent as last season from rapidly-growing high schoolers of parents with money. You just have to find it, and a good place to start is the JMS equipment forum, with for sale (FS) and want to buy (WTB) listings.

So what’s the best plan for newbies needing gear?
A combination strategy.

Borrow or make so for your first session–or as many as it takes for you to decide that yes, you will do this hockey thing. Using other people’s gear for a short time helps you develop your own preferences–which saves you from dropping a lot of cash on something you won’t like later. I borrowed some Tackla 2500s in 2003 and fell in love, haven’t worn any other style since.

But you’re new. What do you like? Do you want bigger shoulders with more protection, or less protection and more flexibility? Do you hanker for larger shins with wraparound coverage, or the low-profile, lighter version?

Try it out. Test drive gear from friends and family to figure out what you like and need. Then, watch the sales and surf the net.

I do think three pieces are worthy of buying brand-new: skates, gloves and helmet. Sizing and protection on these three items is crucial.

We’ve all had the misery of improperly-fit skates, and older models are usually clunky and lack support. Buy new, but don’t spend too much.

Value your brain? Get a decent helmet.
If you’re going to splurge on anything, do it on your head protection. I love the Cascade (though not as much as the now-defunct Carbster), but I know the Intake and 6k/8k have equally rabid fans.

And just like your feet are uniquely sized and needing a perfect fit, so too are your hands. Incorrectly fitting gloves will interfere with your stickhandling, which impacts EVERY aspect of your play. And of course, gloves too small leave delicate wrist bones exposed.

I have long fingers but not big sausagey “man hands.” I like the Bauer XV glove for its finger Lycra–it grips to each digit and makes stickhandling much easier. My hands were just lost and swimming in my old TPS gloves.

For the rest of your gear, don’t be afraid of buying used. Craigslist and eBay have great deals. Once you know what you like, search and you will find–even if it comes from Pennsylvania!

Good luck gear shopping! Don’t forget to use the JMS equipment forum to buy, sell and note sales online and in the Twin Cities area.