SUN Hockey Pool

New rules impace pad makers

Morris Dalla Costa, Free Press sports columnist

, Last Updated: 12:45 PM ET

It may only be an inch but it has much bigger ramifications on and off the ice.

When the National Hockey League resumes play sometime this year, goaltenders will return to face new rules governing the size of their equipment. The significant number is the loss of one inch in pad width, from 12 to 11.

Blockers will also be smaller by an inch while the diameter of catching gloves will be smaller by two inches.

The objective is obvious. The NHL wants more scoring and goaltending equipment has grown over the years like someone on a not-so-successful diet.

But the rule change will have great implications off the ice. It will force significant changes for those who manufacture goaltending equipment. Depending on how quickly leagues follow suit with the NHL, there will come a time when minor hockey parents and organizations will eventually have to use equipment that adheres to changes in the NHL.

"I wouldn't think it would happen right away," says Ross Agathos of Eagle Custom Sports in London, a company that has for years provided top-quality goaltending equipment. "The simple reason is, what do you do with a store that has so much product? I think there will be a grandfathering of the rule changes."

Agathos says there is no way to make a 12-inch pad into the 11-inch variety.

With the cost of goaltender equipment grandfathering is essential, especially in minor hockey. Agathos, who has several NHL goaltenders as clients including Robert Esche of the Philadelphia Flyers and Tomas Vokoun of the Nashville Predators, says the American Hockey League and other minor pro leagues may follow suit immediately.

"That's because with so many players moving up and down, it would be difficult for a goalie to be using a 12-inch pad in one league, then have to go to 11-inch in the NHL."

Agathos says it will likely be between three and five years before all leagues use the same size pad.

"That will give stores the chance to clear out inventory."

In the meantime, Agathos' Eagle Custom Sports is working on test pads for clients to see what works best. He stresses that even though it's only a one-inch change in width, it's more than simply cutting an inch off and producing new pads.

"We aren't making widgets here," Agathos said. "It's not like we can turn our backs and let the machines run.

"Everything here is hand-crafted. You have to make sure everything is balanced."

That means distributing the reduction of the one inch in width over the entire pad. Everything has to be sized accordingly.

"It has to feel right. It's like when you have to fit someone with a shoe because he turns his feet a certain way. We have to watch all that as well.

"It has to fit with the way the player moves, the way he skates."

Agathos said the players are so sensitive to the feel of the pads that when one of his pro clients finds a set of pads he likes, he makes sure the same employee sews the next set for him.

The company has files on the players it serves, including who is high-maintenance and who isn't.

"And it isn't as if they are the only ones who gets this kind of equipment," Agathos said. "Our retail is made the same way."

Eventually the changes will mean having to construct a new set of dies for the retail sector at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Agathos won't say how many goaltender pads his company sells in a year. He does say his company is cutting back on its production of hockey gloves but is increasing its production of pads. He expects to produce about 50 sets of the new pads.

In Eagle's factory in London, there are about 30 employees cutting, shaping and sewing everything from goaltender leg pads to goaltender gloves and padding.

The Eagle factory in Montreal employs about 40. That's where the hockey gloves and Eagle's new line of baseball gloves are produced.

Agathos is headed to China next week to investigate new production possibilities.

It's necessary to ensure that Eagle stays sharp and flies high in the sports equipment production business.


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