From the outside, the differences in the CCM AXIS XF mask appear subtle.
On the inside, nothing could be further from the truth.
While there are also changes in the shape and look, as well as significant improvements to the shell materials, cage design, backplate and even the strapping, the thing that makes this new CCM AXIS XF mask a game changer is the new 3D printed NEST TECH liner and the role it plays in improving fit, feel, protection, and air flow as part of the AER-TEC ventilation system.
Describing the NEST TECH liner is a challenge. CCM uses the term “lattice,” which is technically correct, but it looks more like a three-dimensional spider web to us. While the patterns of this web or lattice may look almost random, the structure is computer generated and optimized to reduce weight, improve breathability, and maximize energy absorption and dispersion specific to the needs of a goalie mask by aligning the internal dampening struts — and there are over 170,000 in each liner — against the directions of impact common to the position.
So, what does it feel like and what does it all mean for goalies?
The first thing you notice is the coolness of the new liner.
It felt good enough that we watched several junior goalies who swore loyalty to other brands they’d always worn and originally expressed no interest in a switch prior to trying it on, to ask the CCM rep if they could get a sample to try after they did put the AXIS XF mask on.
That speaks to the comfort, which includes the material somehow feeling cooler against your skin than traditional foam liners. The breathability is evident as soon as you hit the ice. That lattice, or spider web, allows for a lot more air flow, making it easier for heat to escape during a game, and helping goalies stay cooler for longer, a proven performance enhancer.
“The liner material is able to conform to your head and it fits perfect,” said Annelies Bergmann, who was part of a CCM event that InGoal attended in Montreal and has been wearing the AXIF XF mask ever since returning to Cornell University for her freshman season. “I think the breathability has a huge impact on how it performs throughout practice and games. It never feels like it’s holding the sweat in the helmet and always feels dry and cool.”
CCM has done testing, and you can see the differences below in heat dispersion, but the best anecdotal test we can offer is how much less sweat ends up in the sweatband each period.
As for how much better the high-tech new liner dampens impact and protects the goalie’s head compared to past models and other brands, InGoal doesn’t have access to any testing data yet, so we’ll wait to see how it performs in NHL testing, especially against some of the traditional masks that thickened up their foams specifically for those tests. Anecdotally the feedback has been positive so far, and we hope to get more in the near future from goalies like Jet Greaves of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who was also in Montreal for the CCM event and switched to the new AXIS XF mask, but only got his new mask back from his painter last week.
“Definitely some hard shots on it so far but it has performed great,” Bergmann said of her AXIS XF mask. “Usually, I will get some ringing in my ears but haven’t with this helmet.”
The shape is slightly more rounded and the puck-deflecting ridges less pronounced than the previous AXIS model, while the lines on the chin are a bit more angular, which makes it appear wider. When we took out the tape measure, however, the dimensions were nearly identical in terms of the width through the bottom section and the length from the bottom of the face opening to the end of the chin. Goalies coming from the previous CCM mask haven’t noticed a difference with the new chin section, which doesn’t rise as steeply when looking at the mask from the side, interfering with head movement.
Bergmann, who was previously in another brand, liked the sightlines, which were consistently cited as a positive from wearers of the previous generation of CCM masks.
Annelies Bergmann is currently playing at Cornell University wearing CCM’s AXIS XF mask and gear.
Sizing remains similar to previous masks, with small, medium and large available at retail. Of course, those 3D printed NEST TECH liners have already been used on player helmets for a few years now and can be ordered custom based on a scan of your head shape for a better fit, so it’s natural to wonder if that technology is coming to the goalie mask. But that option is limited to pros for now, and we don’t know how long it will be before custom is in play at retail.
Overall, the new mask isn’t lighter. In fact, our sample weighed slightly more (1/4 pound) than our previous AXIS mask with the fluid pods, though some of that may be the certified straight bar cage on the new mask weighing more than the cat eye on our earlier model. Some of it may also be improvements in the shell on the new AXIS XF mask, courtesy of a new carbon blend called EXOSHELL COMPOSITE that is seemingly slightly stiffer than its predecessor.
While the liner gets the spotlight, there are several other improvements worth noting.
The above-mentioned shell is now offset ever so slightly around the edges of the face opening, creating additional space for a cage that now has the screws set up inside the perimeter of the cage rather than being fastened with clips on the outside like past models. That allowed CCM to create dampening inserts between the cage and shell for further impact absorption that will not only protect your head better, but when combined with rubber inserts on the forehead and chin area should also prevent any hard shots off the cage from potentially chipping the shell.
We’ll start with the straps, which are now anchored at the top of the mask on the inside rather than clipped onto the top of the mask, which reduces the amount of hardware that could potentially need replacing (those plastic clips in particular) and creates a more open canvas for painters and mask wrap artists. Speaking of a more open canvas, the backplate also features a lot more room for art because the straps now run under the backplate. Those straps also criss-cross from the top left to bottom right, and top right to bottom left, which creates a better fit and feel, almost like the back of the mask is being pulled around the back of your head.
The backplate itself is also lined with NEST TECH, improving protection should you get knocked over onto your back and hit your head, an area that wasn’t always as well protected as the rest of the mask in the past. And that backplate/NEST TECH combination is designed to fit into that above-mentioned puzzle inside the mask and does so in a way that won’t lead to the problems we had with previous AXIS masks with the backplate pulling the edge of foam off the shell.
While NEST TECH eliminates the need for D3O in the liner, CCM has maintained the use of their orange colored, impact-absorbing D3O foam in their chin cup on this new mask.
Add it all up, and we won’t be surprised to see a few more new AXIS XF masks popping up in the NHL in the coming weeks, as well as in junior and college hockey as it becomes more widely available. Whether the new NEST TECH liner truly becomes a game changer for goalies remains to be seen, but the potential to do so seems clear, even if we’ve always admitted a bias towards companies that push the technology envelope and by trying new things. In the meantime, InGoal will keep talking to goalies trying the AXIS XF, and share their feedback.
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