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            Unmasked

            Goalies have increased mobility with lighter leg pads

            Evolution of gear leads to more sliding movement on knees

            by Kevin Woodley / Independent Correspondent

            Classic NHL games have become prevalent since the NHL season was paused due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus on March 12. The games have been fun for fans to watch, but they are also instructional. Unmasked focuses on the goalies from previous years, explaining how changes in equipment altered playing style. Last week, Unmasked looked at how the evolution of chest protectors changed the way goalies play. This week, we examine how advancements in leg pads had a significant impact on goalie mobility.

            It's hard to miss how different the goalies look while watching the classic NHL games airing across multiple platforms with this season paused.

            Some current players have certainly noticed, commenting on how much smaller goalies used to look. That may be the most obvious change, but the biggest transformation from then to now is how goalies move, in large part because of the evolution of the equipment they wear.

            In the case of leg pads, heavy, form-fitting pads made of deer hair and leather have morphed into ultralight versions made of foams and synthetic material that has allowed the position to be revolutionized. 

            In the past, stand-up goalies were the norm because going to the ice was not effective. Goalies of this period had to get back to their feet to move laterally again, or they would scramble around their crease, unable to move freely because of the form and functionality of the leg pads. 

            These days, goalies have little impetus to get to their feet, using the newer leg pads to push across the crease while in a butterfly stance, staying balanced with the ability to keep the ice sealed and their hands active while sliding around on their knees. 

            The butterfly was popularized as a save technique by Patrick Roy of the Montreal Canadiens in the mid-1980s, but it was roughly a decade before goalies started moving side-to-side in the butterfly, and longer still before pads were made specifically for those movements. 

            Jamie McLennan, who played 254 NHL games from 1994-2007, never fully adopted those butterfly movements and shakes his head at some of the goals he gave up as a result.

            "Some of the goals I allowed by coming across trying to stay on my feet, like I can picture a goal I gave up in Buffalo on a wraparound and if I slid post to post it's an easy save," said McLennan, an analyst for TSN. "Those are routine saves nowadays, and I was giving up a four-spot and two were wraparounds because I couldn't go post to post down."

             

            [RELATED: Check out the NHL Pause Binge to watch classic games]

             

            Today, some goalies move as well on their knees as they do on their skates. That type of sliding movement took hold in the mid-'90s, but it wouldn't have been possible without the evolution of the leg pads.

            "It was probably a 60-40 split to start in terms of the technique or the gear (driving the change)," said Kevin Weekes, who played 348 NHL games from 1997-2009. "But over time, that started changing and the gear started changing."

            During the 1999-2000 season, Weekes was a teammate of Roberto Luongo on the New York Islanders. He said Luongo was already incorporating butterfly "power pushes" but didn't have leg pads designed to do them effectively.

            "I was starting to learn that style, but the guys out of Quebec, like when I played with [Luongo] on [Long] Island, he was already playing that way," said Weekes, an NHL Network analyst. "And he was wearing those Heaton pads that were sick, but they still weren't really a full butterfly pad yet in terms of their design, so that's why I say the technical and how it was taught was ahead of the gear."

            The noticeable change began with the fit of the leg pad, which traditionally had been worn tight against the body and wrapped over the top of the skate, causing goalies to be in unstable and vulnerable positions when they landed on the face of those pads when going to the ice. 

            Some goalies began wearing their pads looser in the '90s, allowing for rotation of the legs inside the pads during the drop to the ice, putting the faces of the leg pads squarer to the shooter upon hitting the ice. 中国体彩官方app companies began adding knee wraps to the pads in the '90s, but most were still marketing a tighter fit around the knee and a pad that didn't rotate. 

            Further alterations saw flaps added along the inner edge of the leg pad for the knee to land on when a goalie dropped to the ice, and the introduction of a flatter, squarer inside edge down the length of the pad to the skate to reduce resistance when sliding along the ice.

            "I remember playing with Bob Essensa, and when he went into the butterfly he was flat on his pads because that was the only way to land on something soft," said Martin Biron, who played with him on the Buffalo Sabres in 2001-02, the last of Essensa's 12 NHL seasons. "When the knee stacks were added [to land on], it helped with sliding and closing the five-hole."

            The five-hole, the space between the leg pads open to a shooter, became easier to close with the improvements. Also, tension in the hips of goalies was eased with the ability to adopt a wider and more stable butterfly.

            "I was a part of that," said Mathieu Garon, who played 341 NHL games from 2000-13, "and I remember having the piece on the inside, the flat piece, and it made a big difference because now you would go down and you'd be solid, you wouldn't fall forward or backward. You'd be strong on the ice, so it made a big difference."

            中国体彩官方app companies continue to facilitate that, introducing new materials to the leg pads that make sliding even easier, improving knee stacks to allow for better pad seals, and developing taller, more streamlined skates, which allow goalies to quickly and easily grab an edge to stop or push.

            The gear has come a long way from when Luongo learned the movements as a teenager with goaltending coach Francois Allaire at least five years before getting a set of leg pads designed to accommodate the style. 

            "It's nuts how far the gear has come," Luongo said. 

            If you want to know how far, just watch the goalies move after making a save in those classic NHL games.

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