The 40-Year-Old Goalie Virgin, Part 5: Cindertendy
When we last saw our intrepid puck-foil, she was venting about the aggravations of suiting up while not-male. Have things changed? Are catwalks being shuffled down in Milan or Saskatoon? Let’s find out!
Meh. Still no catwalks, although goalie style shows should be a Thing. Thatcher Demko Invitational, anyone? It’d be amazing!
But, I digress.
It takes a kind of magic to outfit a goalie, especially a neophyte adult one. I must admit up front that I had an extraordinary amount of help here: without the kindness and extreme generosity of a whole conclave of wizards, the sheer expense of this part probably would have proven an insurmountable barrier. The catch-22 is a vicious one: cheap, low-quality equipment jeopardizes a goaltender’s life; while the expense of good equipment (and everything else) jeopardizes the life of the game. This issue isn’t news to anyone, and it is somewhat beyond the scope of what I’m doing here. But as a member of several of the demographics that are too often shut out of hockey and goaltending because of it, I feel it important to both openly acknowledge my immense privilege, and thank everyone who contributed to it.
Now, on to the toys.
Catcher, Blocker, Pads: Vaughn Velocity 4
About a month after this assignment materialized, Robbie brought me to tears when he gifted me with the entirety of this setup. It was in such immaculate condition that when I took it to Vaughn for a spa day, the incredulous product manager told me it was the only one he’d seen in over 30 years that didn’t smell. He was also able to tell me exactly when the set was made, and by which staff member there, just by looking at it!
The blocker and catcher are fairly straightforward. I wear a pair of UA Heat Gear receivers’ gloves inside of both of them. Yes, I was warned that this is a terrible idea, especially on the blocker side; no, getting the UAs in there wasn’t easy. However, they’ve proven to be the only way I can get the dainty fingers I was unaware I had into the right stalls. The UAs do keep my hands pretty cool, and if nothing else, I’ll never have to worry about my catcher slipping. Regarding the catcher, something I hadn’t spent much time thinking about is relative hand strength. It determines the ease or difficulty one will have in closing a given catcher, opening it, and then holding it open. Fortunately, Robbie saved me from myself in having softened this one up; but I see why catchers are things better bought in-person than ordered from afar.
Goalie pads are the hockey equivalent of assembling IKEA furniture: so many straps, so few clues what to do with them. These even had a little bonus customization action going on wherein the arrangements on the two pads weren’t the same. Five months passed before I found out that the boot strap had a name, much less how to properly attach it and the toe ties to my skates. This part of dressing became a war of attrition that I ultimately lost, so the leather straps were subbed out for Monster Hockey’s HALO system, and the toe ties for FlexToes. I appreciate the weight difference as much as the efficiency; but I left everything intact, just in case I need to return to the originals for some reason.
These three are my most cherished pieces of equipment. Every time I put them on, I feel a deep sense of obligation to honor both them and the fellow who passed them to me by doing my damndest out there, even if it isn’t all that impressive yet. There’s a kind of calming effect, too: I feel a little less alone somehow. It’s nice.
Chesty: Brian’s B-Star
Even at 150 pounds in high school, I still wasn’t Robbie-level lean; so I had to secure a replacement for the Vaughn chesty that was in with the set. I was given a Brian’s SubZero Pro 3 to try out first. It was like giving a toddler the keys to a monster truck. That SZP3 was a stunner, and I felt super safe in it: on the bench, I could even draw down into it and enjoy my own nice, cozy turtle shell. I could not, however, reach the cage on my own mask in it. I couldn’t handle the weight, either. When you’ve never worn a chest protector before, and you have the endurance of cotton candy, there is such a thing as too much shell. Clap bombs aren’t a threat in initiation-level rec hockey anyway, so there was no reason to continue if a better match for me existed. The B-Star is just right. I still feel protected, but I’m less encumbered and can see around it better. I just need to remember that I can’t reach across my body for anything.
Skates: Bauer Vapor X700
Set out on a seek-and-recover mission for a pair of Nexus N700s; finally found them in Windsor after a four-day dragnet…came home with these guys. Having to buy skates hurt my heart, given that the Supreme S170s I’d just bought two months before weren’t even scuffed anywhere yet. When I went back for the goalie skates, Bauer’s incredibly cool 3D Skate Lab had been installed, and we discovered that even though they felt fantastic, said S170s are really 1.5 sizes too big, and one size too narrow. I am now suspicious of all of my shoes.
Knee Pads: Warrior Ritual 10 Pro
A spirited debate raged for some time over whether or not I needed these, given that my pads have thigh boards. In the end, I learned two things: 1) Even experienced rec-leaguers can be frighteningly lax about protective equipment, thus, “Oh, you don’t need that” really means, “Go check another source”; 2) Knee pads and thigh boards serve two entirely different purposes. Even if there had been some merit to the anti-pad argument, these are great to have for dryland drills, especially if a good Airex-type pad isn’t at your disposal.
Mask: CCM 9000
This is the piece of gear I was the most worried about. I’m not a fan of anything that restricts my breathing, and I didn’t know if I would be bothered by the closeness of a mask. I’m happy to report that neither item is an issue: the airflow is just great, and I don’t feel trapped in there at all. It also feels much lighter than I expected. I’ve already taken my first errant shot to the front of the mask, so it’s shown me that I can trust it. My only beef is with the straight-bar cage; one of the horizontal bars ends up right across my eyes. I think I’d fare better in a cat-eye; but the same people who told me I didn’t need knee pads also emphatically warned me to just learn to ignore the obstruction, because cat-eyes only end in murder, mayhem and missing eyes — much like in A Christmas Story. My eyes aren’t the best, but I am attached to them. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do there yet. Fortunately, it isn’t the most pressing of issues.
Pants: Brown Hockey 2300 Pant
I ultimately had to have my pants custom made. In principle, that’s obnoxious; but man, did Brown ever spin a straw situation into gold! From first contact through delivery, everyone there was as gracious and responsive as can be, and the pants even arrived two days early. This was, hands-down, the single best customer experience I’ve ever had — and the hits didn’t stop when the box arrived, either. The pants are a shade big since they oversized the oversize on them (I wanted to be able to tuck my chesty), but it’s nothing a pair of suspenders didn’t fix. The pants don’t bind anywhere; they move with me instead of me having to move them; and the padding is unreal. The first time I fell in them, I just sat there for a while, marveling that not only didn’t it hurt, but I hadn’t felt a thing. My poor mom is horrified by them and doesn’t get why my face lit up when she told me that they make me look huge; but I’m in love.
The big companies are great; but don’t sleep on the smaller ones, especially if you find that you’re a square peg. Since most smaller companies make things to order, they’re able to accommodate physical quirks that bigger places can’t. Furthermore, you get to actively participate in creating something uniquely yours. The aesthetics snob in me delighted in choosing the colors: I knew I wanted blue; Brown then sent me fabric swaths so that I could pick the exact shade (I didn’t get this much love choosing a college). Granted, custom isn’t cheap, but the return is worth it.
So, there it is, plus or minus a couple bits that either need replacing or acquiring. New adults: if you find that gathering everything seems to take even longer than learning to skate, don’t panic. Remember how in Super Mario Bros., you have to survive 32 levels of cranky turtles, finding rare items and being greeted with “Thank you! But our Princess is in another castle!” before you reach the right castle? That’s equipping for almost everyone in Beer League. Besides, as far as I can tell, falling, fatigue, and missing pucks are the only things that happen rapidly for goalies here; all else is an exercise in patience and faith. More on those two next time.