InGoal Magazine has never hidden its fondness for innovation and the use of new technology in the development of goaltending equipment, so it should come as no surprise that we’ve been eagerly awaiting the debut of the CCM AXIS goalie mask with Fluid Inside pods in the liner.

We’ve had to bite our lip for a while on this exciting development, first after spotting it inside the masks of Adin Hill and a handful of other NHL goalies during the 2018-19 season — that’s correct, last season, not this currently paused season — and again after CCM shared it’s plans with InGoal during meetings in Montreal in the summer of 2019.

Now that it’s finally public, let’s take a closer look at the technology and science behind those Fluid Inside pods, and more importantly, what it should mean for goaltenders.

Seen in the InGoal test model, The AXIS mask features both D3O and Fluid Inside Pods to offer state of the art protection

Fluid Inside was originally developed through a collaboration between Oblique Technology at the University of Ottawa, and tested by the Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory (NISL) there, the Fluid Inside pods are designed to not only help reduce the effect of linear impacts in sports — like a puck shot directly off the forehead — but they are also engineered to simultaneously reduce rotational impact, which are also created by those direct puck impacts, but in the case of a goaltender occurs most commonly in a collision with a player making contact with our head or mask from the side, and often a blind side.

In other words, they should better protect goalies from side and direct impact.

How, you may ask?

Montreal’s Carey Price wore the new Axis mask for the first time during his memorable performance in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Before we try to dig into some of the science behind Fluid Inside, let’s first make it clear their addition is not the only improvement CCM has made to the new AXIS helmet. We’ll look closer at the specifics below, but CCM has also increased their use of D3O, an impact-absorbing smart foam, including in the chin cup for the first time ever, and significantly improved the feel and comfort of the liner by adding i.Q.SHION Gel, a smooth-surfaced memory foam.

There are other improvements, including a Sigmatex carbon shell, that we’ll delve into more below, but first let’s take a closer look at the first thing that jumps out to any goalie who grabs one of these new CCM AXIS masks off the rack at retail: Those unique Fluid Inside pods.

How Fluid Inside Works

Fluid Inside pods were engineered to mimic the way our body protects our brain with the use of Cerebral Spinal Fluid, the layer of liquid between our brain and our skull. Six of these pods are arranged inside the new CCM AXIS mask in a matrix designed specifically to create a decoupling effect between the mask and head at impact, allowing for both compression to reduce straight-line force and creating a shear plane that lets the mask shift to reduce rotational force.

Basically, it is designed to float the helmet slightly, allowing the pods to act the same way that Cerebal Spinal Fluid does to protect your brain naturally. But after testing, we can confidently say it’s not in a way that the mask feels loose or shifts around your head while moving in the crease, of snapping your neck back and forth to find a puck behind the net, for example.

While we didn’t get any specific numbers for hockey — and CCM is using the same technology in its high-end Tacks 910 player helmet — testing of Fluid Inside technology in bike and ski helmets showed a decrease in linear impact energy transfer between 18 to 22 percent, and a reduction of rotation acceleration between 37 to 39 percent compared to conventional foams.

Sadly, InGoal hasn’t reached a stage yet where we can set up the type of scientific experiments required to measure improvements in impact transfer, and we’re certainly not going to make any bold statements about eliminating concussions in goaltending. You can check out the Fluid Inside website to see some of the studies they’ve done on bike a ski helmets and some of the specific numbers and improvements associated with adding the pods. Regardless, it’s probably fair to say more protection is a positive, just as we’ve praised CCM for adding impact-absorbing D3O foams to the previous GFL Pro mask, and Bauer for using variations of similar Poron-based technology to their masks. What we can say specifically about our testing of the new CCM AXIS mask is it didn’t feel any different on tester heads then it’s predecessors. Even if the pods as primary contact point can leave little red marks at the end of a long skate, you don’t notice them on the ice. One InGoal tester noticed the pods the first time they put the mask on, but only on the temple and not in any of the other four locations above the hair line.

“But you quickly forget they are there,” he said.

Upgrades Go Well Beyond Fluid Pods

The new AXIS upgrades go well beyond adding fluid pods. In addition to continued use of impact-absorbing D3O in the forehead, and expanded use of the “smart foam” material the chin cup for the first time, the other big improvement in the new CCM AXIS mask is the addition of a soft-edged i.Q.SHION Gel comfort pad liner inside the mask and back plate.

Used in combination with traditional black VN foam, this new molded layer adds a rich look and softer feel but it’s sealed so it won’t soak up or retain sweat.

To say it’s a significant upgrade in look and feel would be an understatement.

Not a lot has changed with the carbon fiber shell itself, which continues to integrate CCM’s Sigmatex material (evident visually in the weave inside the shell), to create a consistently strong and very stiff (and safe if someone lands on your head in the crease) shell while also adding durability and reducing weight. The fit continues in the tradition of putting goalies deeper into the shell, closer the bars (which remain rectangular on the certified cage for better sightlines and protection but in the interest of full disclosure we tested in a cat eye) for downward vision that has been praised right up to the NHL ever since the CCM mask line debuted.

Even with the new liner and Fluid Inside pods, a good fit is always paramount to proper mask function and safety, and CCM offers four sizes in the new AXIS mask (small, medium, large and extra large) to try an ensure goalies of every shape and head size can find a fit that works.

The new AXIS mask comes with a mask bag and two sweatbands: one traditional terry cloth and a second, more breathable mesh construction befitting the upgraded look and feel inside. CCM also added rubber dampeners on the forehead of the cage, but that’s all about preventing paint chips when you take a hard shot off the cage and it gets pushed back into the mask shell.

As for what happens to the rest of the energy from a shot like that, the new AXIS mask has you well covered, and from multiple angles with their combination of Fluid Inside pods and D3O foams. As one observer noted, it’s like a car: hard shell on the outside, airbags on the inside.

Like we said at the top, InGoal has never shied away from celebrating new technology in goalie equipment, and that goes double for something designed to protect our brains.