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Ask The MHH Expert: Goalie Equipment Edition

Look at the size of it!! (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Look at the size of it!! (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty Images

We've gotten some good questions from you guys in our efforts to generate ideas for content interact with members more. One of the more recent ones via Twitter asked:

Mike, you're a size queen, are there any restrictions on how big goalies could be?

Why this person wanted to make such a personal attack on me, I'll never know. Since I'm such a nice, sandwich-loving guy I'll answer the question anyway.


But the question did get us thinking about goalies and more specifically goalie equipment size (and by "us" I mean the other 3,987 staff writers besides me because I think about goalies ALL the time). We figured that some of you might not know about some of this stuff so I thought we'd have a quick primer on netminding equipment regulations.

For a long time the NHL didn't place limits on goalie equipment because it didn't change all that much for a long time. Sure, there were innovations like the mask, synthetic materials for leg pads, composite sticks, etc. but the shape and use of goalie equipment was still largely geared toward protection. In fact, the official rules state that:

With the exception of skates and stick, all the equipment worn by the goalkeeper must be constructed solely for the purpose of protecting the head or body, and he must not wear any garment or use any contrivance which would give him undue assistance in keeping goal.

Not sure how a catch glove fits under that definition, but whatever...

The first goalie leg pads that would be recognizable as specific to hockey are credited to Pop Kenesky. They were essentially modified cricket leg pads. Initially pads were limited to 12 inches wide, then restricted to 10 and then the league relaxed the rule to 12 inches in 1989. The change in materials from leather and deer hair to synthetics and foam in the 80's didn't really stretch the boundaries of the regulations on size but it dramatically reduced the pad weight as the new materials didn't soak up water and gain 30 pounds by the end of the game.

The most drastic changes (from an equipment regulation standpoint anyway) all started to come about around the time of the lockout as scoring was down league-wide and outsized goaltending equipment was considered one of the main culprits. Here's a timeline of some of the more important changes:

  • Prior to the 2003-2004 season a max pad length of 38 inches was imposed. The pad rule was an effort to eliminate the pads that had a "thighrise" that reached to the navel of goalies like Garth Snow and allowed them to effectively cover the five hole with equipment rather than closing their legs when down on the ice in a butterfly position.

With a season off due to the labor stoppage in 2004-2005 the league took the opportunity to tighten the screws further on goaltending equipment. Coming out of the lockout the league instituted a bevy of new rules as part of the New NHL.

  • The leg pad width was reduced to 11 inches maximum.
  • One inch were shaved off of the blocker's length (15 inch max). The sidewall padding (that covers the inside edge of the pad at the finger/thumb intersection) was also limited and required to conform the the shape of the hand and not provide a puck foil.
  • The maximum perimeter of the catching glove was reduced to 45 inches (down from 48 inches). A mandatory 4 inch width was imposed on the catcher's cuff while the allowable cuff length was reduced by half an inch to 8 inches.
  • The maximum width of the thighs on pants was reduced from 11 inches to 10 inches and must follow the contour of the leg (no flat-front pants).
  • The chest/arm protectors were required to be contoured to the shoulders even in a crouched position (so guys like our own Giguere couldn't crouch low and have the chest/arm unit ride up around their ears taking away shooting area). Several other regulations relating to elbow and shoulder pad size were implemented as well in an effort to keep padding for "protection" from getting so big that it disproportionately increased the netminder's profile in net.
  • Goalie jerseys had to fit to the body and couldn't have "bat-wings" or other similar contrivances to stop pucks (largely credited to our own Patty Roy).

The net effect of the rules instituted immediately after the lockout was an 11% reduction in goaltender equipment size. In other words, just over 10% more net to shoot at (supposedly).

For the 2008-2009 season the league instituted a handful of more "subtle" rules on the knee and leg area to prevent goalies from using those features of the leg pad to close the five hole quicker. In addition they tightened up wording on some of the areas of the chest/arm protector to drive the units toward an even more fitted, contoured construction without extraneous padding creating a larger profile in net. They also began the move toward giving the league full discretion on whether the chest/arm unit rode up or "floated" when in a crouched position.

Then, prior to the 2010-2011 season, the league took a complicated step forward by instituting equipment rules that were tailored to each goalie. Gone were the maximum lengths on leg pads. Instead a Limiting Distance formula was introduced to essentially force goalies to wear equipment that was proportional to their body. I personally understand both sides of the argument that arose regarding this issue: The equipment should be for protection only and therefore should be proportional to the goalie's body vs. Smaller goalies are getting screwed. There have been many, many opinions shared regarding this change including one from a former AHL/NHL goaltender.

So, in summary the history of NHL goaltending equipment regulations has largely been of the recent variety. As goalies got better (and better coached) they of course took advantage of every loophole and grey area in the rulebook when it came to equipment. The league has been on a 7 or 8-year progression to try and mandate proportional goaltending equipment oftentimes under the cloak of increasing goal scoring (or vice-versa if you're a goalie). Currently the limit on leg pads is what the magic formula dictates is right for a goalie's body size (other than width and a couple of maximums on certain components). Gloves and blockesr were reduced after the lockout and pants and chest/arm protectors have had subtle tweeks and reductions geared at ensuring protection but making goalies look more like their predecessors in the 50's and 60's.