To say the highlight of InGoal Magazine’s recent trip to Montreal was the chance to visit with Michel and Patrick Lefebvre is a pretty bold statement.
After all, the nearly three-day adventure included an exclusive first look at the new CCM line of goaltending equipment at company headquarters, a day on the ice and in the locker room with Canadiens’ star Carey Price, and the chance to chat with, and learn from, Montreal goaltending coach Pierre Groulx in his Habs’ office.
In short, it was a trip from heaven for any goaltender. But with all due respect to Price, who was as nice and easygoing in person as he appears while shutting down the world’s best shooters, and Groulx, who to our delight also pledged to pen a future article for InGoal Magazine, the highlight was an afternoon chatting with the Lefebvres at their suburban factory.
After all, this father-and-son tandem has played a significant role in the evolution of not only goalie equipment, but also in the way the position is played. From the original Lefevre equipment and masks for many of the NHL’s biggest starts; to the evolution of the butterfly and Koho while working with Patrick Roy and Francois Allaire; to the rise of Reebok and now the return of CCM, the Lefebvres have been front and center in several of the position’s biggest changes.
(Editor’s note: Yes, the equipment and those now-famous labels all say “Lefevre,” which is the corporate name, but the family name includes a “b” so we’ve included it in all references to Michel, Patrick and the family).
So to have a chance to tour their factory and sit for a couple hours listening to stories about how it all started with Michel making his own gear with his mom’s sewing machine 50 years ago, or how NHL goaltenders used to visit the original workshop – in the family basement – to see what was new, was a rare treat any goalie would appreciate.
Much of the conversation focused on the CCM line that Price debuted at a photo- and video-shoot the following day, and most of that conversation, including responses to questions from InGoal readers about the new gear, will be saved for stories and reviews in the near future. For now we will present Ask A Pro questions about the history that led to the return of CCM, the oldest hockey equipment company. Given the Lefebvres’ history with the position and equipment, that seems appropriate.
~ InGoal reader Jean Lavery asks: How did you get started making equipment, and what keeps it interesting after all these years?
Michel: “What we love about it? Patrick was playing in the net, I was playing in the nets and I was always making masks, so goaltending was always a passion for me.”
Patrick: “And my son [10-year-old Mathieu] is a goalie too, the third generation. I love this work because it is a passion for me, and it is challenging. I am a goalie, so I like to build a better product, and to watch the guys on the TV stop the puck in my product and get better and better each year. Evolution, better products, more functional, to work with Francois Allaire, to work Michel, and I am a goalie and my son is a goalie and I teach goalies – every day I work with goalies.”
~ And how did that all start for you Michel?
Michel: “When I just started high school at 14 years old I started to play hockey too, and I already started making my own gear. I made goalie pads with my mother’s sewing machine, and then at 17 I started the masks. We had a really modest family, so I started building shoulders and arms, everything I could to make pieces of equipment. I’m 64 now, so that was 50 years ago.
“I have been making masks for 45 years. It started with like a Terry Sawchuk mask, very similar, a thin fiberglass mask. Each year we would make changes and it started to go to junior major and then the pros. Some time around 1975 with pros like Mike Liut, and some guys like that, that’s when I thought it might be a career. At age 15 I was working in plumbing. My father was a plumber, so I had my card at 19 to be a plumber, but all those years I was working on masks. Not really gear then, just masks.”
~ So how did you get started back into the equipment?
Michel: “In 1987 I built a pair for Patrick [his son, not Roy] playing Bantam. We still have the first set of pads here [pictured at top]. I had a friend back then – Ted Bourdon – and during the 1980s most of the goalies played with his pads. He was a friend of mine and for 10 years I’d go to his shop and he’d give me the plaster mold to make masks for his clients. I was in the shop maybe once a month to see how it was going and then one day I said ‘I will make goalie pads,’ and I started in 1987. Patrick didn’t want them, he said to me ‘you cannot make goalie pads, you make masks, not goalie pads.’ He liked playing with those Bourdon pads all those years. It was very different. To make pads was one thing but to play with it, with ‘Lefevre’ on the side, was different. But he started to play with the pads and we had lots of friends like Pat Labrecque, who was the second or third customer to buy Lefevre pads, and he played for the Canadiens. And now October is 25 years of the Lefevre name on pads.”
~ InGoal reader Michael Stevens ask: How did you start with Koho?
Michel: “It started with Bob Sauve, who was working for Koho, and they asked me to put their trademark on the mask because I had maybe 10 goalies in the NHL wearing my mask. Two or three years after that we signed a contract with pads and gloves. When we really started the first goalies using it were playing midget or junior, like Felix Potvin or [Jean-Sebastien] Giguere and [Jocelyn] Thibault. A lot of Quebec goalies coming up were using our product and then Koho came in 1994 and brought all those goalies with them, and then there was a big push of a lot of French goalies like [Roberto] Luongo, Giguere, and Patrick Roy. And that’s how we built our relationship with goalies.”
~ And all these great goalies were coming to the basement of your house?
Patrick: “When we started making pads, it was in the basement until 2003. We didn’t switch inside factory until last production of Koho 580 and first RBK 1.”
~ And now it’s come full circle, with NHL goalies like Jonathan Bernier coming to visit you in the new factory during the summer months?
Patrick: “Yeah, each year he’s comes to the factory for the last seven or eight years, from when he was a bantam or midget. Same with [Patrick] Lalime, Thibeault, Giguere, they started with us in bantam AAA, and then junior, and then the NHL. It was not far to come to the factory every summer to talk about the new stuff. Not every one has that connection, but most of them did.”
~ Matt King asks InGoal’s Facebook page: What was it like working with Patrick Roy, or was he involved at all in design process?
Michel: “We had a nice relation is with Patrick Roy. We started with Patrick in Granby [then of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League] and made his first molded mask. And after that, I think I made his first Lefevre pad in 1989. [His goalie coach] Francois Allaire had good ideas and we worked with those ideas and tried to put it in the pads and it worked.”
Patrick: “Around 22 years ago, I worked with Co-Jean Hockey School, which is Allaire’s hockey school, and Francois taught me four or five summers, so I understand good technique and I understood how to build my stuff for good technique after that. It was not too difficult because we always made goal pads very simple, without too much inside. So it works with the butterfly because it was loose inside, the pad turned, and goalies like Patrick Roy and Giguere, these guys were technical and they wanted the pads very technical. You learn a lot. Francois push me to make better pads, challenged me to make pads that work with the technique.
“I still coach and help develop young goalies now. I check out new techniques to make sure my pad follows new techniques with new technology. It’s important to follow all the time. Four or five years ago you had the ‘knee-down’ start, so I checked to make sure the pad is perfect for that, to cover the posts very well, and the 5-hole and the angles. It is always changing.”
~ Gregan Dunn asks on Facebook: What’s the single coolest invention/innovation you’ve come up with during your career?
Patrick (without hesitation): “RBK 1, for sure. This pad changed the market. In 2003-04 Reebok challenged me and Michel to build a new pair of pads, a new system. We had the Koho 580 but we started from scratch. The 590 was the last one with knee rolls and stuffing in both sides. Since then, we started with P1 and we took out the stuffing. RBK put the one-piece five hole, the one-piece vertical roll, the one piece core inside. It was very, very different. It was a big, big evolution.”
Michel: “That started it. It was very different in the pad and also on the production line, a lot of new technology in the P1.”
Patrick: “The second biggest innovation is the 1-piece glove with a true one piece injected plastic and injected EPE foam. And the next one, the third bid evolution, is the mask.”
That’s right, CCM’s return to the crease will include a new mask from Michel Lefebvre, one that still has patents pending.
Like the CCM pads we’ve already teased, InGoal will leave you with just the image below for now. But be sure to keep checking back for more from the Lefebvres about all of it – the pads, the gloves, the mask – and a life in goaltending.