We all know goaltenders are quirky, but Robin Lehner’s particular idiosyncrasy stands out above the rest. Jerome Davis/Icon Sportswire
August 27, 2018
by Ben Arledge, ESPN.com
Once per year.
That’s how often Robin Lehner of the New York Islanders sharpens his True goalie skates, putting a little bit of an edge on the blade as he begins his preseason skating in the summer, then maintaining the blade with a skate tool every couple of weeks throughout the season.
No, you’re not misreading that. Just one trip to the skate sharpener for the 6-foot-4 Swedish goaltender for the entire grinding NHL campaign — and he’s happy.
“I have no edge at all,” says the Isles’ new free-agent acquisition. “You couldn’t cut yourself on them. I’m a pretty big guy, and I use my toes a lot. When I shuffle, I don’t want any resistance. I like to flow. I pretty much use the tip of my skate when I go side to side, and if I go in and out of the crease, I use my heel a lot. I dig down into the ice pretty easy, so I don’t need it to be sharp.”
By comparison, Jake Allen of the St. Louis Blues will put half an inch on his skates an average of twice a week, changing out the blades every two weeks or so. Connor Hellebuyck of the Winnipeg Jets likes his blades pretty sharp, putting a new 3/8-inch edge on every other day. The Vezina Trophy finalist recently changed to a one-piece skate and suggested the lack of rivets makes the skate feel stronger on the ice. Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk gets his blades sharpened before every game.
“I think I’m one of the only guys who does that,” Lehner says of his unusually dull skate blades. “My equipment managers like me because they don’t have to sharpen my skates that much.”
Consistency is key
While Lehner’s routine might sound crazy, it’s not out of the ordinary for an NHL goalie to be particular about his equipment and how he wears it. Of the 62 goalies suiting up every night, no two wear their equipment exactly the same, despite a growing list of regulatory limitations placed on a goalie’s precious gear by the NHL rulebook.
NHL goaltenders have long been obsessive about their equipment. After all, they are wearing nearly $10,000 in gear at any given time, and Blues head equipment manager Joel Farnsworth estimated that the cost of outfitting an NHL goalie for the entirety of the season ranges from $45,000 to $55,000. Protecting against an Alex Ovechkin slap shot while also not hindering a goalie’s ability to be in position to stop it is the main objective when selecting and perfecting equipment. Los Angeles Kings equipment manager Darren Granger even remembers Arturs Irbe making his own changes to his gear, including sewing his stuff, during his time in Vancouver in the late 1990s.
Today’s equipment offers goalies a plethora of options in customization and variation in how they wear it. And while goalies will run through multiple sets, they tend not to make large changes.
Allen will go through six to eight sets of leg pads per season, along with more than a dozen catching gloves, six to eight blockers, double-digit pairs of pants, six dozen sticks, a pair of masks and at least two pairs of skates.
The only piece of equipment that remains in the bag all season for the Blues goalie is his chest protector. He got a new one this past season for the first time in more than three years, preferring the broken-in feel that is contoured to his body.
He and Hellebuyck both sway from the pack in tucking their chest protectors into their pants and tightening them down with a lace. Dubnyk joined that party a few seasons ago as well.
“It pushes my shoulders up a bit, but it definitely narrows the width of my ribs,” explains Allen. “I wear everything tight, tight, tight. I’m not trying to look massive.”
In general, tautness is one of the bigger areas of differentiation, especially in the leg pads.
“I don’t really wear bulky stuff,” Allen says. “My pads are wrapped as tight as they can be around my legs. I’ve tried to wear the really loose pad and use minimal strapping, but I just feel like it’s really sloppy on my leg. I just feel like the pad is doing its own thing and the leg is doing another. I like to feel it all as one.”
Both Allen and Hellebuyck crank down on the leg straps, while Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights wears his CCM leg pads a little looser. Allen associates the tighter equipment with easier movement around the crease, and Hellebuyck points to a better feel of the puck in playing shots.
“I’m a little old style with how I wear them,” Hellebuyck says. “The bottom [strap] is the only one I wear loose. Everything else I tighten snug so I feel the pad on my leg.”
Despite using numerous sets during each season, the 28-year-old Allen has been wearing the same style Vaughn pad since he was 21, in his second pro campaign.
He briefly wore Reebok pads early in his career and tried a new model pad four or five years ago, but he didn’t make the change. J.C. Bergeron, sports marketing director at CCM Hockey, supplier to the likes of Carey Price and Pekka Rinne, explains that many pro goalies modify small parts of their equipment, but they rarely make drastic alterations to their setup, generally sticking to what they know.
“We offer them new technology, but at a small dose,” Bergeron explained via email.
Dubnyk hasn’t made many changes, either. His biggest recent alteration was changing the strapping on his pads, working with Bauer and eventually ditching leather for Velcro two seasons ago. If you’re trying to get an idea of how the 6-foot-6 Wild goalie feels about change, look no further than his skates.
“I’ve kind of settled in now with what I like,” he says. “I wear the old Reebok skates, the same model I started wearing when I was 18. I wear one pair per year. Old white cowling goalie skates, and I just haven’t been able to get away from them. I’ve tried the newer models and I know they’re lighter, but I just can’t get used to them. They’re too stiff for me.”
Lehner used Vaughn pads for most of his career before making a switch to Brian’s last season. He typically plays with one or two sets per season but runs through plenty of gloves. But he also isn’t one for change.
Hellebuyck, likewise, has tried a few companies but has for the most part stuck to the CCM pads to which he’s grown accustomed.
Looking ahead: The impact of latest rule changes
Allen pretty much makes changes now only as a reaction to rule changes. Considering the recent changes that made goalie pants smaller, he says, “I think the pants might’ve changed certain ways guys wore the chest [protector] compared to how they did in the past. I think you have to adapt with the changes of the gear.”
Through that reasoning, you’ll probably see changes in how players wear the chest protector. The NHL has announced that goalies will be restricted by new rules regarding equipment, as outlined by InGoal Magazine. The biggest takeaway is a reduction in padding around the neckline and shoulders, which some say is opening up more potential for injury.
What’s that mean for modifications? As Allen pointed out, tucking the chest protector into the pants tends to push the shoulders up a bit, so you might see more of that. You might also see more goalies using plastic neck protectors to reduce vulnerability. Dubnyk has worn one since he was 21, while Lehner wore one for most of his career before removing it two seasons ago because he felt it was annoying and in the way. But changes in equipment rules might force some hands.
Equipment evolves with every season, and even though many goalies shy away from major change, there are always new regulations. This leaves many with no choice but to make alterations to their gear and, as a result, how they wear it. Time will tell just how much the newest regulations truly impact each goalie’s setup and personal preference in how they wear chest protectors.
Based on what our panel of goalies indicated, however, it would be shocking if anyone made any major changes.