Ask a Pro with Warrior’s Pete Smith
From how it all began, to Warrior’s cutting-edge gear today – to a game-changing product coming next year, Warrior’s Pete Smith answered InGoal reader questions last week.
From Vic to Vaughn, Simmons to his own Smith Hockey, Pete Smith has worked with several companies in his career and along the way been behind many developments in the evolution of the goal pad, always looking to advance technology and help goaltenders enjoy their best performance on the ice. Last year he sold Smith Hockey to Warrior, bringing his vision, designs and experience to work with the larger team there and is now taking his product to a new level with the Warrior Ritual by Smith – reviewed first here at InGoal.
Back when he was one of the game’s best known independent pad designers, Smith was one of the first people interviewed by InGoal Magazine, and you can still get a bit of his history in the game by listening to our original interview.
A likeable, easy-going guy, Smith was happy to take questions from our readers for this week’s Ask A Pro interview. Naturally the talk was all about gear – from how he got started to where Warrior is headed next.
First up was InGoal Facebook fan Rory Gabriel, who asked, “Pete, what inspired you to get into pad making?”
Pete Smith: “As funny as it sounds, the very first thing that made me think that I wanted to make equipment was during a transitional period in the industry when pros started using some colored equipment, but most of what was available at retail was still natural tan. My first thought was just so I could have colored equipment I would love to be able to figure out how to make my own equipment. I think it was as long as possibly two years before I actually started trying to build something but that was sort of the thought process – that I could make things in any color I wanted.”
InGoal Reader Marvin Pinero wrote on our Facebook Page, “What is it that makes the pads you have designed for Warrior unique in the industry?”
Pete Smith: “Well, the construction is clearly different with the bindingless design and that’s been around now for probably three years. It serves several beneficial purposes. In terms of actual performance, the transition going from standing into the butterfly or butterfly slide is so smooth and seamless that it really aids in – especially the weaker you are or the less skilled you are – it just makes it that much easier to get a good slide … ”
InGoal: “Is that why I like them so much, because of my lack of skill?”
Pete Smith: “[laughing] All of my designs come about because of my lack of skill as a goaltender. It makes it that much easier for myself as a goaltender.”
On a related note then, reader Matt Archer asks, “How did you come up with the pad design and did you test it out yourself or study other goalies playing with it?”
Pete Smith: “At least since 1999 – well let me just give a brief history. I played goal all through childhood until I was 18 or 19 years old and then I stopped playing and didn’t play again until I was 30, and I was 30 in 1999 and everything I have designed since then, including the Velocity, I played a major part in testing it myself.”
“Now that I’m with Warrior I’m utilizing all the different people that are available to me much more and it’s great because everybody’s feedback is so different and what can be a problem for one person with a particular piece of equipment is not a problem at all for somebody else, so it really forces you to analyze things to a point where you are searching for that middle ground where a certain feature can work for just about everybody.”
InGoal: “So that brings up Warrior and several readers sent in questions about working for a company again and what that means for you.”
Pete Smith: “I absolutely love working for Warrior. I don’t have a single regret selling my company and coming here. The people are great, the resources open up so many possibilities and some of those possibilities you’ll see in 2013 products. Having designers to work with, having skilled people in all aspects of the business to work with and to bounce ideas off and get feedback from, it’s amazing. I think I didn’t even realize just how isolated I was at Smith Hockey so it’s really been wonderful.”
“Everything about the move has been great. I love living in Canada. I love living in Montreal. As I said, I love working with the people I work with. I get to travel a lot now – go to China which has just opened my eyes to all sorts of things on both a personal level and a work level. For me it’s just been an unbelievable experience.”
InGoal. You mention China and that’s something lots of readers ask us about. J.R. Cruz wrote and asked, “First time you are behind an ‘Offshore’ product eg. anything other than custom. Can you speak about the build materials and durability of these products? I am a currently a Smith user. Would like to go custom Warrior but have a beer league budget.”
Pete Smith: “Well, strangely enough my career started out dealing with, well, Taiwan in that case. When I first started out and I was providing designs to Vic who were leaders in the move to build equipment in Asia, so I picked up a little experience then. That would have been around 1986-90. Currently the goal in China for Warrior is to build products that are 100 per cent on par with products that are built here, at different price points.
“I’ll start with the pro pad. That pad – the intent is really to duplicate what is built here in Montreal. The materials are the same and the intent is for the workmanship to be the same and of course the design is the same.
“Then moving down from pro to senior the whole idea of that is to have all the features – not just senior but in all products because if they work well for an adult they’ll certainly work well for a kid as well, but from a business standpoint we’re trying to provide different price points. So with the senior – the labor cost is essentially the same as the [Asian made] pro so the materials have to change to a degree to accommodate the lower price point – the attempt with all designs is really to have it be the best it can in every way but one of the things with durability is – it’s not entirely related to the materials. It’s also related to the design of the product.
“That beings me back to the bindingless boot design – that’s also an attempt to increase durability – even with a lesser material. If the design is such that the material is not being stressed as much as it would with a more typical design you can get very good results durability-wise even with a lesser material. If the foam is configured in such a way and laced into the pad in a certain way it can have a very long life even if it is a cheaper foam – so by trying to really look at those elements when designing a product you really can maximize what can be had with lesser materials.
“But also I’m really pleased that we did offer this pro model from Asia as well because for a customer that doesn’t need real specific sizing where they can fit into the stock sizing and aren’t overly particular about colors it’s such a great option. You really save a significant amount of money.
“Moving forward we are going to try to implement more of an ability to customize in Asia – I couldn’t really say exactly what that will mean perhaps a little bit of custom coloring will be introduced and then a little bit of custom sizing and then we’ll just keep growing that. As you do get into more custom in Asia what you would normally save in the labor expense in Asia – you start to lose some of that – it throws a wrench into things there and the shipping back to North America tends to be higher and so you lose some of the savings you get.”
InGoal: Can you clarify the process in Asia? You’re actually travelling there and getting involved in the process?
Pete Smith: “It comes down to the company and their ability to oversee things there. With Warrior we’re really lucky in the sense that we do have the resources. We have full-time people on the ground there who are able to visit the factories. And now that I’m on board with Warrior I’m taking the time to go there several times a year and really pass along as much knowledge as I can so that the products that they are building really are every bit as good as what are built here. It really comes down to the management of it. A sewer in Asia is no different than a sewer here. A guy stuffing pads or lacing gloves in China is no different than the guy doing it here so it all comes down to how it is managed and that’s a major goal of mine is to make sure it’s being managed properly and that they have the knowledge to manage it properly.
“A very pleasant surprise for me though upon travelling to Asia – it’s not quite like I pictured it. The conditions, at least at the factories I was in, I was in three different factories while I was over there – the conditions were thankfully not bad at all and the hours that people work are not bad. Warrior is owned by New Balance and New Balance is as far as I know a very progressive thinking company and they have very very stringent self-imposed rules on who we will deal with in Asia and so I’m thankful we are dealing with companies that treat people fairly and all I can say is in my adult life I have worked a lot more hours in a week than the people at our factories in China work!
“And visiting there humanizes the whole thing. Everyone has a certain image of China and what it means to get products there but when you go there in a lot of ways it’s no different than here. You have people that have families that are just going to work every day trying to make a living. It’s unfortunate that the world is the way it is that things can be so much more comfortable in some countries than others but I walked away from it not feeling bad about where we’re working in China.”
InGoal: “Getting back to having the team at Warrior behind you – we’ve spoken in the past about working with pros like Tim Thomas and how hard that was for you as an independent guy. InGoal Reader Colin McMurray asked, “I’ve heard your opinions on Tim Thomas. How does it feel to have him back in the business?” Can you comment on how working with Warrior has helped working with Tim again and give us a little bit about how that process evolved to get him in Ritual?”
Pete Smith: “Even with the manufacturing setup we have here and all these resources available to me, it still is a challenge to work with Pros – the amount of time and effort it takes. In terms of Tim specifically, he contacted us. We really weren’t going out of our way to get him. He was interested in trying some gear and the thing is, Tim and I always enjoyed working with each other for the most part [when he wore Smith pads] even though it got a little trying at times. We always were friends. He’s really into equipment and he’s got a creative mind for it, so I think he wants to get more and more into equipment design and I think he saw me as being a good person to sort of start working with again. So he contacted us and I went to see him and he of course had a few changes he wanted made from our stock pad which I had with me to show him.
“So I implemented the few changes he wanted and shipped him a sample and he liked it and then we built another set that was more locked in with the colors and everything and by the time he got them it was late in the season and there was really no reason to believe that he would get into them before the season was over and in fact he made it pretty clear that the way their schedule was and he wasn’t practicing much because there were games every other day so he made it clear with just a couple of games left he would not be able to switch into them but he appreciated the effort and everything. And then without any warning he switched into them in the final game of the season, which was a huge surprise to all of us in the company, and he told me that they are the best pad that he has ever worn and he loves them. So hopefully he’ll continue with us. Nothing is ever written in stone with pros, but I’m hoping he’ll be in the equipment next year. He hasn’t even tried any gloves yet but hopefully we’ll have him in full gear next year but I have no idea if that is actually going to happen or not.”
Editor’s Note: We asked about those changes Thomas requested but Pete said Tim doesn’t want the specs talked about.
InGoal Reader Shaun Tweek Adams asked Pete, “In your opinion, out of all the advancements, big or small, in goalie pads, (legs, gloves, and blocker) which has been your greatest contribution?”
Pete Smith: “I guess the modern day knee lift. The knee lift for me started on the Barrasso Pad way back when … it was the first pad to have an actual block of foam that your knee landed on and then to some extent I got away from it a little bit. It sort of just had different iterations for the next eight years after the Barasso pad and then when I did the Velocity I brought it back in sort of full-fledged mode again. I think that had the biggest impact on butterflying – making it easier for everybody to butterfly.
InGoal reader Sean Larkin asked Pete, “Have you seen any of your innovations show up on gear made for other sports?” and we added – “or have you been influenced by any other sport technology?”
Pete Smith: “I haven’t seen any designs show up in another sport’s equipment. I wish I had. I would love to have had that kind of impact, but unfortunately nothing I know of. I’m sure I have been influenced by other stuff – I can’t think of anything specific but designers are always looking at all products from all industries with a different eye than regular consumers do. So I’m always looking at – it could even be the graphic artwork on food packaging. It could be anything where I see some cool idea that might spark an idea in me. So I’m always looking at all consumer products with somewhat of a critical eye looking for some sort of inspiration.
InGoal: “Where did bindingless design come from then?”
Pete Smith: I had done a completely bindingless design for Simmons probably around 1995. The motivation behind it was – Simmons would tell me how much they were willing to pay for the pad and so I took it upon myself to make the pad as simple as possible so that I would have a chance at making some money because the price that they would tell me was so unbelievably low. So I didn’t have a lot of machinery, I really just had your basic flatbed machine so I was trying to come up with ways of building the pad almost entirely on this machine. So I came up with this bindingless pad and I built a few prototypes of it and brought it in and showed them and I think they were intrigued with the basic construction – that I was able to pull it off – but from the standpoint of having a product they felt comfortable selling they hated it! So they insisted I change it to have bindings on top and bottom and that pad, it came out but it was a bit different by the time it came out but it still had the sides of it all bindingless. I think the model was LP-17. So it was basically a bindingless pad with bindings stitched over top to make it look a little more conventional. I still have pictures – there was nothing conventional about it.
InGoal: “So what’s coming in 2013? Reader James Weise asked ‘When can we expect Warrior By Pete Smith gloves?’ Will there be new gloves next year?”
Pete Smith: “The gloves are being developed but they are a 2014 product just due to the fact that everything is on a two year cycle.”
InGoal : “Does that mean there will be new pads in 2014 as well?”
Pete Smith: “Yes. they will be a tweaked update to what we have now.
So we’re extremely excited about both years since we have a development underway for both. For 2013 we have a chest and arm pad and we’ve tried not to really comment too much publically about it but I’ll make some comments. The chest and arm pad generally speaking over the last 25 years really hasn’t changed too much. It has just been sort of adding more and more little flaps on to the basic concept. The construction is really extremely similar to what John Brown first did back in – I don’t know what year – 1980-81-82, whatever year it was he really revolutionized the chest and arm pad.
“This chest and arm pad we are coming out with really is the next major breakthrough. It’s really the first major breakthrough in the last 25 years. Basically we’ve made the arms on this offer a level of protection that is so far superior to anything that’s out there while at the same time the flexibility is greater than anything that’s out there and it’s a whole new way of building an arm pad.
“This thing is unbelievable. It’s been one of the most mentally demanding and challenging designs I’ve ever worked on and if I didn’t have the help of other designers then I would not have been bale to pull it off.
“It’s been unbelievably gratifying because this is the first full-on product that my designers and I have worked on together and it’s been a great experience. We all contributed in very significant ways and what we’ve come up with I just think it’s unbelievable. It’s so far advanced compared to any other arm pad that’s out there and needless to say it’ll have a patent on it. I really think we’re going to have a huge impact on the market with this thing.
“It’s a really cool design.”