Interview with Alain Beaudry of Passau Hockey Custom Goalie Equipment, Part 1
When I was in second grade and still too young to get three words in a row spelled correctly, I wrangled my older sister into writing a letter for me to Le Club de Hockey Canadien. A month later a glossy 8 x 10 of my heroes decked out in the sacred bleu-blanc-rouge arrived, with my supreme idol Ken Dryden seated at one end of the front row. I can still recall the rapture with which I studied his pads; those imposing pillars of brown leather, the impregnable twin towers that could repel every shot with uncanny speed and style.
Despite my daily supplications, my dad forbade me from playing goal, insisting that I was “too good of a skater” to waste my time in net. I believe now that his refusal was grounded moreso in a legitimate fear of me getting injured. One need only think back to the horrible equipment, circa 1973, to realize that this concern was probably well-founded to say the least. The ban, however, didn’t stop me from trying to make my own goalie pads. I took the leftover leg portions from a pair of cut-off blue jeans and tried to stuff them with plastic garbage bags, then attach them to my legs with rubber bands.
I suspect that Alain Beaudry, president of Passau Hockey, probably tried to make his own goalie pads as a kid too; only he was obviously blessed with a whole lot more talent and imagination than me. After 25 years in the business he is still at his craft, turning out custom-made goalie equipment at his factory in Chambly, Quebec, one set at a time. Coinciding with the release of Passau’s newest pad design (more on this later), we met with Alain for a discussion that included the origins of the current flat-pad craze, his work with goalies ranging from Kim St. Pierre to Vladislav Tretiak and various NHL’ers, the future of manufacturing in Canada and the low-down on the newest NHL spec regulations for equipment.
Q: For a period of several years during Patrick Roy’s heydey in Montreal, you were the guy the team called on to make adjustments and repairs to the team’s goalie equipment. What did this experience teach you about goalie pad design and construction?
AB: I was able to see what problems or weaknesses were common to the goalie pads at the time. For example, the stitching in many of the high-wear areas kept breaking down. The pads were poorly reinforced and the stuffing (deer hair and kapok- a fibre from a tropical tree native to South America and Asia) would shift all over the place, accumulating especially in the foot sections of the pads (editor’s note: Canadiens’ backup Brian Hayward was one goalie accused of having pads that were even wider than 12″, perhaps due to the stuffing sliding down). I used to get “emergency” phone calls to rush down to the (Montreal) Forum before game time, where I had to start ripping open and repairing a pad that was to be used that night.
Another thing I began realizing was that goalie pads had some design elements that really had no function. The knee rolls and side rolls might have served a purpose at one point, but as the equipment and particularly the style evolved, they didn’t seem to have much use anymore. For example, we once did a survey of NHL goalies, asking them what they thought was the function of the rolls on a pad. Nobody seemed to be sure. So we ended up decreasing their size and hardly anyone noticed. I have never met a goalie who asked me to make pads with thick rolls on the outside of the leg.
Q: With only a few exceptions (notably Martin Brodeur), the flat-pad is pretty much the standard for all goalie pads now. However, this design is by no means new. Can you tell us a bit of its history and how you played a role in that regard?
AB: There were a number of people who began thinking of the goalie pad in a completely new way back in the 80’s (there was the Aeroflex pad, worn by Reggie Lemelin, Darren Puppa and Tom Barasso. DR made a flat-faced pad that Marty Brodeur wore in junior. There were also the designs of Pete Smith. I was only one of them so I don’t claim to be the “inventor” of the flat pad. However, what I learned repairing other companies’ pads led me to design a cleaner looking, flat faced pad that bore the Bayard (and later Ferland) name (former Chicago Blackhawks goalie and current tv analyst Darren Pang wore Bayard pads for part of his NHL career). Unfortunately, we had the hardest time convincing the stores and distributors to sell them for us. The mentality in the equipment industry was so slow and difficult to change. I finally had to go back and start making “old” style pads with knee and shin rolls to get my line into stores! For years Vladislav Tretiak used our equipment in his hockey schools, even though he found our flat-faced pads so light that they threw his balance off! When we first began to outfit Patrick Lalime, he came into the factory raving about these amazing “Bayard” flat pads that he had grown up with. He never even knew that I was the one who had made them years before…
Q: On that note, is there a reason why up until now you’ve never put your own name on the equipment you made? For example, Michel Lefebvre puts his name beside the RBK label, and JRZ (another Quebec manufacturer) is behind the designs of Itech goalie gear.
AB: Over the last 20 years we have worked for many different companies, both as a designer and as a manufacturer of their in-house designs. For that reason, we chose not to publicize our name, seeing as we did not have an exclusive agreement with only one company. Currently we’ve decided to start our own line. Since Passau belongs to us, we have complete control over all of the design elements and the entire manufacturing process.
Q: Where does the Passau name come from? Who is wearing your equipment now and what clientele are you trying to target?
AB: Passau is the name of a town in Germany that, during the middle ages, was a famous center for arms manufacturing. The weapons made there were of such high quality that some warriors said they held mystical powers. People began believing that anyone going into battle with armour bearing the mark of the running wolf (the town’s symbol) couldn’t be defeated. We think the legend of “invincible armour” fits for what a goalie does out on the ice.
Our clientele is pretty specialized: elite goalies in the age bracket of 12-17 years who play at a high level like Midget Espoir, college, prep school and sports-études programs. A growing number of girls too, because girls’ hockey is just exploding now. We have Midget AAA in Quebec goalies wearing Passau this year, but unfortunately for us, when they move up to Major Junior (the LHJMQ) next year they may be obliged to wear the equipment from the company that sponsors the league.
The kids that buy our gear are on the ice every day, sometimes twice a day. Usually they have tried other lower-end equipment, and through their own experience or based on suggestions from hockey school or coaching staff, realize that they need something that won’t break down so fast. The parents are the ones footing the bill for the equipment. It is a serious investment and in my opinion only makes sense for the serious goalie, not the guy who plays pick-up hockey once a week. Passau makes everything here in Chambly, custom fitted, by order only. Our goalies come in and it takes 20 minutes to size them, then 2 hours for them to decide on the colours and where to put them on the pad. It isn’t cheap, but neither is the top-of-the-line gear from the other companies. We don’t have an entry level product and don’t make junior sized equipment (30″ pads are the smallest size) because the foams and construction we use are too stiff for an 80 pound Atom goalie to bend. People still bring me repairs to do on all brands of equipment. It is time consuming and I don’t want Passau equipment coming back needlessly because the stitching is pulling out or the pads are sagging after half a season. While we do have a website (www.passauhockey.com), our money goes mostly into the product, not into expensive advertising or huge volume sales in retail stores.