1152 for publication March 18, 2016
Just when I thought the NHL was about to settle down and get on with the Canadian-free playoff rounds comes word from their meetings in Boca Raton, that after ten years, the subject of… ta-da… goalie equipment is on the agenda.
Yep, Mr. Bettman, Commissioner of all things NHL, proclaimed as much Tuesday, and the idea appears to be meeting with favour, including goalies.
But allow me some history.
“Obviously our watchdog of all things, the NHL, is takin’ care of business because up until the present, apparently over the past few years no-one of any significance had noticed the sudden upsurge of “Robocop” outfits for goalies.
Are we talking oversize jerseys? No, we’re referring to sweaters that could make Dolly Parton look like Ally McBeal. Are we talking facemasks. Nope. What we have is masks rivaling desk-top computers in sheer girth and bulk. How about catching gloves? The “trapper” has given way to a leather bassinet built for twins.
Let’s not forget chest protectors with those shoulder flaps, Garth “Batman” Snow comes immediately to mind, with a look that seems as if your favourite netminder has jammed his head through a garage door.”
Those remarks in italic were from a column I wrote in 1998, and here we are, 2016, and the present NHL goaltending supervisor feels the timing couldn’t be better. We can only wonder, amongst ourselves, when the light bulb came on?
Look, it wasn’t Kay Whitmore’s fault that it’s taken the NHL this long to connect the dots. With an active career including Hartford, Vancouver, Boston and Calgary, covering 1989 ‘til 2002 when his retirement came calling, was played in hockey equipment that grew at a 2×4 thickness each season.
Since he came on board he began lobbying the dressing rooms for change. Now, we’ve arrived at this momentous announcement by Mr. Bettman. It has everyone who counts lined up and buying in, from owners, to players, and most importantly goalies.
Even the manufacturers of equipment have been put on notice, nicely, that they must have equipment designed and conforming before the start of the season. The hook? Only then will they be able to sell their equipment within the NHL.
That’s a deadline of September training camps, to meet the downsized specs, produce the goods in the variety of colours and markings preferred by pro-goalies at all levels. But not in Europe, or at least not until the IIHF buys in.
We will also have the goaltenders requiring the new equipment to practice with over the summer and become familiar with before they are dodging missiles fired by forwards and D using those composite sticks. The flexy whippers that make even the weeniest of shooters able to launch pucks at lethal velocity.
And while you’re at it, has any thought been given to the skaters and the equipment they do battle with, as it applies to “shot blocking.” You know the smaller shin pads, lighter pants, smaller jocks, and those featherweight gloves most wear, even the guys who don’t stickhandle so much.
Wanna go hard on safety? Why not on the carpet for any player or official not wearing a visor. They shouldn’t be allowed on the ice just because they like taking un-necessary risks. Especially in this era of high-stick deflections and tips, when the speed and weight of an unseen puck can take out one, or both unprotected eyes, possibly cause a fatality.
These are other “mandatory” safety causes for the NHL to take up, out of the bin of neglect. That, and getting a lot tougher with head hits. To date the fines and suspension campaign shows no signs of being taken seriously or slowing down the frequency of incidents. Like every night.
Be careful Mr. Bettman, you’d hate to envision a terrible aftermath if either catastrophe happened on your watch. You’re the guy I, and others, have cited for not looking after “the game,” challenges that weren’t sexy, like “accounts receivable.”
In fact, this latest plan is the result needing more scoring, not dire safety concerns. But for now let’s just say it’s a commendable start.
At leveling the playing field.