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InGoal reviews Brian’s new OPTIK line

The first thing you notice when you open the box from Brian’s is the profile.

With an almost non-existent outer roll, the new OPTIK pad is thinnest yet to arrive at the InGoal Magazine offices. And when you pull it out of the box you begin to understand why: our 34+2 “FLY” model test pad weighed in at four pounds, 15 ounces, and the more flexible “FLX” version of the pad is three to four ounces lighter, with a stock 33-inch pad in that model coming in at just four pounds, three ounces.

Brian’s complete rebuild in the new OPTIK line is about a lot more than cutting weight, however.

The new OPTIK pads also slide noticeably better than their predecessors and have a significantly improved knee stack. And the blocker and glove include the award-winning BOA system, an adjustable dial used to lock in your preferred fit perfectly and keep it that way, without loosening, as the game goes one.

So, what does this mean for the other lines from Brian’s Custom Sports?

In the short term, the new OPTIK line immediately replaces the SUB-ZERO product, but with the two distinct OPTIK pads to choose from, don’t be surprised if it eventually replaces G-NETIK too, with the more traditional Heritage line the lone carry over as a super-soft, old-school pad with knee rolls.

After playing in OPTIK, and getting a handle on the options, it’s easy to understand why.

(ALMOST) NO OUTER ROLL

When InGoal first got on the ice with NHL goalies wearing the new OPTIK pads way back in August, the distinct lack of an outer roll was the hot topic and something other NHL goalies in the group wondered aloud about. Frankly, we expected it to be a bigger talking point as pictures hit social media showing an outer roll that is at most one-quarter of an inch thick. But just as the professional goalies wearing the pads – and the list includes Craig Anderson, Scott Darling, Eddie Lack, Jaroslav Halak, Antti Raanta and Aaron Dell in the NHL alone – haven’t had any issues with it, neither have any of our InGoal testers.

The reality is the outer roll originated with the need to add structure to the soft, stuffed leather pads of yesteryear and haven’t been a necessity on the solid core construction of most modern pads. While other companies still have a square outer roll that sits one inch beyond the face of the pad, potentially getting a piece of pucks chipped up in tight, others have angled or softened theirs, to the point this doesn’t seems to be a big issue, at least to the pros and testers using OPTIK.

The core thickness of Brian’s new OPTIK pad actually appears similar to Bauer’s Supreme OD1N pads, but with no outer roll on the top edge and no binding on the inside edge of the OPTIK pads, the profile is notably thinner, especially in this bird’s eye view of a butterfly.

So why remove the outer roll in the first place?

According to Brian’s, in addition to shaving a little weight and creating more consistent rebounds off a no-lace face, re-designing the pad without an outer roll allowed them to create those two distinct product lines – the stiffer “FLY” pad InGoal tested and the softer “FLX” pad – without having to add breaks. Instead they adjusted the core of each pad to create the unique flex profiles, allowing them to essentially just swap out the “chassis” to change how the pad performs.

The results include reduced break-in time compared to previous models with solid outer rolls, something that might appeal to once-a-week recreational players in search of playability out of the box. It’s also made it easier to service a wide variety of personal preferences, with college goalies like Notre Dame’s Dylan St. Cyr transitioning easily into a “FLX” pad out of the softer Heritage product, and Lack in the same pad with a “FLY” chassis to meet his “stiff-as-possible” preferences.

The other added bonus may be appearance – beyond 26 color zones that could cost you a day of productivity on the online OPTIK customizer – more than one observer asked if our test set was wider than the 11-inch standard, and while we’re not sure if it’s the lack of a distinct outer roll or the graphic itself creating that illusion, looking bigger has never been a bad thing.

THE SLIDING STORY

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but the InGoal testers felt they had to adjust how hard they pushed into slides, or on lateral recoveries on the knees, because of how well the new OPTIK pads slid, especially on fresh ice. It’s a sentiment we’ve heard before while testing the Bauer OD1N line that started this trend towards new materials that create less friction on lateral slides, and continued with our testing of CCM’s new Speed Skin on the Extreme Flex3 pads.

With no truly accurate or scientific way to test the differences, we’re left relying on anecdotal evidence, but it’s worth noting that OPTIK testers still felt the same way despite having also already played in those other, “improved-slide” models. And while most pads slide better on wet ice, it seemed especially true in OPTIK, to the point several testers noted they had to be especially careful not slide right through their intended position early in their first games.

Brian’s OPTIK sliding video from InGoal Magazine on Vimeo.

So how did Brian’s achieve this improvement? Similar to Bauer and CCM, it was all about using new materials, or in this case using a proven material on the inside edge for the first time.

You can see the rich texture of the Primo material on the inside edge of Scott Darling’s Carolina Hurricanes pads. photo: InGoal/Buren Foster

For Brian’s that comes in the form of Primo, a rich-looking material with an almost carbon fiber-like appearance that they were already using in higher wear areas on the inside of their pads.

The concept of using a different material on the inside edge isn’t new at the pro level. Several NHL goalies used weave on the inside edge for years, but with an endless supply of new pads at no cost, they didn’t have to worry about weave wearing out faster than traditional materials like JenPro. Therein lies the beauty of Primo, which Brian’s began using for durability.

At the pro level, they began testing it on the inside edge last season with Halak and Raanta, and with feedback so strong all their other pros wanted it, the decision to include Primo on the inside edge at retail was a no-brainer, even if it is more expensive than other materials.

(If there is a catch, it’s that Primo comes in limited colors – silver, black and white, with limited availability in other colours, like the red on Darling’s pads – but because this color zone doesn’t carry over to the front of the pad, it shouldn’t be a big deal)

Add in the thinner profile, which creates less surface resistance, and elimination of the nylon binding along the inside edge of past pads that served as a prime spot for snow to gather as the ice broke down, and the new OPTIK pad provides a better slide goalies will notice.

FLX VERSUS FLY

So, what is the difference between the two new models of the OPTIK pad?

The truth is we have only tested the FLY model, but we will be adding an update once we get a chance to compare the two. But according to Brian’s the biggest differences are the profile and the boot taper. The FLY pad has a 90-degree boot (effectively no) taper, maintaining a straight-line down the inside edge of the pad. The FLX pad has an 80-degree taper on the inside edge of the boot, angling in slightly towards the toe like the G-NETIK pads have done. This reduction in material in the FLX boot accounts for most of the three- to four-ounce weight difference.

The flex profile is the other big difference between the two. The FLX is again closer to a G-NETIK profile, with more curve and flexibility in the knee and thigh compared to the FLY, which still comes with a slightly pre-curved shape above the knee but is noticeably stiffer.

Even the stiffer FLY model of the OPTIK pad comes with a subtle, 5-hole closing curve above the knee

Just as the G-NETIK and SUB-ZERO lines started to blend into each other a little over the years, there are also a lot of similarities between the FLX and FLY models of the new G-NETIK pad.

Each has a relatively flat boot break, rather than a steeper boot to help steer pucks off the bottom of the pad into the corner, but each also comes stock with Brian’s softest boot flex, which gives goalies the ability to flex and actively steer those pucks (there is a stiff boot break option available in custom) instead of having them kick out front off that flat boot break.

The leg channels are also the same, and while the FLY might feel a bit narrow for some coming from an open channel, Brian’s prefers to let goalies dial in the fit through the adjustability of their elastic Smart Strap system and a removable pillow below the calf on the inside edge.

IMPROVED KNEE STACK, STRAPPING OPTIONS

Speaking of strapping, Brian’s continued but updated the “double-X” version of their Smart Strap system that was on the G-NETIK 3 Pro pad. This system featured the calf straps crossing each other, rather than forming a “Y,” and the elastic from the kneestack ran down to the same “anchor” attachment on the outer calf wrap (so all three effectively run to the same Smart Strap tab that Velcro’s onto the outer calf wrap). But where the double-elastic strap from the knee stack was thin in the G-NETIK, it is now thicker to provide more support.

The OPTIK strapping features a thicker double elastic from the knee stack down to the outer calf, and the double “X” over the back of the lower leg, polkas one more elastic strap connecting the inside edge with the outer calf wrap.

For goalies that don’t like running their knee elastic down to the outer calf (widely known as the Carey Price set up after he sparked the trend), Brian’s has another, thinner elastic strap that runs from the inside edge, just above the top of the calf, to either the outer calf wrap or a removable outer knee flap. It’s a great option for goalies who want that extra layer of connection to the outside of the knee, and easy to remove both the strap and flap for those who prefer it wide open.

Both the thin strap and the outer knee flap it is connected to in this photo are removable.

Speaking of knees and knee stacks, the one in the OPTIK is a significant upgrade, something that any goalie who wears pro-sized knee pads will really appreciate. With up to an inch of extra room to land on, and a “leveler” tab to keep the larger knee stack stable, the upgrade from past Brian’s pads was quickly noted by InGoal testers and put the OPTIK knee in line with CCM as an industry leader.

The new OPTIK knee stack is also slightly tapered on the top inside edge, a trend that started as a custom mod by former NHL and current KHL goalie Ben Scrivens, and hit retail on the Bauer Vapor 1X line, though that pad had a more dramatic cutout than the OPTIK does.

The OPTIK knee stack is available in a stiffer foam option that has proven popular, and every set of pads comes with kneepads that can be worn independently or attached to the back face of the pad with a Velcro tab that is hidden inside both the pad and the kneepads.

NEW GLOVES MORE THAN BOA STRAPPING

The big news with the new glove is the addition of the BOA System instead of Velcro strapping.

Already used in hundreds of other sports and industries by big brand names like Adidas Golf, Billabong surf wetsuits, Burton snowboard boots and K2 ski helmets just to name a few, some may view the use of this new dial-and-lace technology as gimmicky, and to a certain degree we wondered the same thing. But tester after tester came back raving about the ability to lock their hand into the OPTIK glove with the easy-to-use dial system, which matched some of Brian’s experiences at the pro level. Halak was hesitant at first and asked for another set of gloves with traditional straps but by the time they started making them, he had called back to say he’d fallen for the fit of the BOA and asked that the new set have them added.

There are two BOA dials on the glove, one over the back of the hand, just below the knuckles, and another at the wrist. While most of our test goalies kept the wrist strap a bit looser, Brian’s floating cuff allows you to tighten it up without losing the ability to cock your wrist and keep the face of the glove open and pointing at the shooter, even in a fingers-up position.

Add in individual gussets for the fingers and a Velcro strap running over top of it that allows you to tighten up those channels, the BOA dials, and Brian’s moving the hand up a bit to get goalies deeper into the glove, and it’s easier than ever to get a great grip on the new OPTIK catcher.

The BOA strapping is not the only change, however.

The new OPTIK glove is based in part on what has become known as the “Darling spec” because of the personal preferences of the Carolina Hurricanes’ new No.1 goalie. It’s essentially a squared edge at the end of the fingers, which helps form a better seal against the pads and pants, but where some old Darling spec mods basically involved cutting off that extra rounded edge, the new OPTIK glove has been completely redesigned to maximize coverage.

A lot of that coverage comes in a deep pocket that looks and plays even bigger because they used the popular thumb piece from the G-NETIK glove preferred by so many pros and beer leaguers fell in love with, with a steep, concave angle that funnels pucks into the pocket.

There are actually two breaks in the palm. While it was originally designed to be the 40-degree break from the SUB-ZERO line, and that is the primary break, there is also another 35-degree break from the G-NETIK line that goalies can choose to work in as their main break.

Scott Darling flashes his new Darling-spec inspired OPTIK glove. photo: InGoal/Buren Foster

Overall, the goal was the feel of the SUB-ZERO with the vacuum-like catchabilty of the G-NETIK, plus the popular Darling-spec perimeter, a hybrid of the best features of other lines.

With re-worked internals that make it easy to snap shut out of the box, the OPTIK glove is game-ready with good feel. The only thing you have to really break in is the ability to flush the pocket to the ice when covering a puck, a bugaboo here at InGoal with past Brian’s gloves that continues. The good news is it always get there, and this glove is worth that wait.

The no-binding blocker also uses the BOA system over the wrist, and while it might feel like overkill to some, there certainly doesn’t seem to be any harm in locking it in and being able to adjust it down to the millimeter, even if almost no goalie is going to crank it down tight. And, like the floating wrist cuff on the glove, the blocker BOA is positioned below the wrist in a way that shouldn’t limit the ability to cock your wrist and actively steer pucks or handle them with your stick.

About the only down side we could see is if for some reason, you really did want to wear the wrist strap really tight, because the thickness of the BOA strap itself pushes the strap down over the bottom of the palm and thumb when you do roll your wrist over.

As for the rest of the blocker, the OPTIK maintains the switch to a traditional beveled edge we saw in the SUB-ZERO PRO3, but is about 20 percent lighter than a G-NETIK blocker.

Velcro tabs allow goalies to adjust how tightly the finger protection is connected to the end of the fingers

The palm sizing has also changed a little in the OPTIK blocker. The new regular is a little snugger than the old standard, which was actually an XL palm, to make it more size appropriate. For those who weren’t swimming in the old blocker, you can still order an XL to get than size.

The protection has also improved, with a removable pillow that runs along the thumb and an increased edge running around the finger tips that can also be adjusted with a Velcro-and-elastic strap that allows you to dial in how close you want that edge to your fingers.

Add in the continued use of Brian’s No-Slip Grip material and their germ- and smell-limiting microbial x-Static silver fiber and the OPTIK gloves build on the improvements of both the G-NETIK and SUB-ZERO lines, with a catcher that now combines the best of both.

SUMMING IT ALL UP

The new OPTIK line was a needed refresh for Brian’s after the G-NETIK and SUB-ZERO brands began to blend into each other over six seasons (three iterations each), and it was nice to see a company once best known for its incredible custom graphics continue to push innovation and performance.

Is the OPTIK pad going to be for every goalie? Maybe not. Some might find that leg channel too snug and that boot break too flat for their personal preferences, but between the FLY an FLX model (which we will repost back on once we get a chance give then a whirl) and the adjustability of Brian’s Smart Strap system, we’re betting that’s a pretty short list.

As for the gloves, don’t discount the BOA System; this is more than a gimmick, with a fit and feel that can quickly become addictive, at least on the back of the hand. And much like the original G-NETIK glove, the pocket on the new OPTIK mitt feels like a vacuum cleaner.

Add it all up and the new OPTIK line is definitely worth a look for goalies eager to combine modern innovation with the durability of the proprietary E-Foams Brian’s has become so well known for – and likely another must have for long-time Brian’s enthusiasts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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