My husband played hockey his entire life, and he’s kind of old school. So, to discuss how the game changed now that our kids play is an invitation for a rant about the good old days and the evolution of hockey equipment.
Each time my son asks for a new piece of equipment he gets lectured about how you can’t find good equipment like the wooden Koho Revolution with the Robitaille curve and hand stitched boots made in Canada anymore. My husband still wears his old school Jofa helmet–you know the one with the netting inside.
In fact, he shopped eBay for years looking for Pump Tacks, and just this year he got them. We joke that if he could carve his stick out of a tree branch and put on a leather helmet, he would.
And, since I am a hockey mom, and I love to argue, I had to school myself in just how much hockey equipment has evolved over the years. I have to say I was surprised at some of the breakthroughs that science has brought to the game.
Some Background in the Evolution of Hockey Equipment…
In hockey’s early days, players had nowhere near the same level of padding and equipment at their disposal. Even the most essential tools, the player’s skates, and hockey stick were often homemade and constructed with whatever materials were on hand.
Incredible, cutting-edge technology pours into the top-of-the-line hockey equipment today. Taking the time to look back at how hockey equipment has evolved over the year is an interesting exercise in seeing how far our great sport has grown. The best part? It gives insight into where it is headed next.
Evolution of Hockey Equipment: When It All Began…
Hockey’s earliest roots are in Canada, in the early 1800’s. The sport grew out of similar games that were played in Europe at the time. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th century when rules were brought to the game, thanks to two students at Montreal’s McGill University.
McGill University also had the first recognized hockey club. Hockey, originating from an archaic French word hocquet, meaning stick, quickly took off in Canada and in just a few short years became the national sport.
Shortly after in 1892, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association won the first Stanley Cup and the yearly chase for the cup was born.
Evolution of Hockey Equipment: Helmets and Facemasks
Considering how rugged and tough hockey players are, it probably doesn’t surprise you to learn that it would take the game until the 1930’s to begin thinking about protecting players’ heads. The first, leather-covered, felt-pad helmets were made from split-grain cowhide, with a softer “Airfoam” rubber interior. I guess my husband’s Jofa is proof of evolution!
These early helmets were adjustable with a number of different straps. Despite the one-size-fits-all design, very few players chose to wear the helmets because they felt it conflicted with their manliness.
That changed after the Ace Bailey and Eddie Shore incident in 1933, where both players suffered severe head injuries at different points of the game. Bailey’s injury kept him out of the game of hockey for the remainder of his life.
Helmet use saw another significant spike in the 70’s after Bill Masterton died of a brain injury suffered during a game. By the end of the 70’s, 70% of NHL players were wearing helmets.
Today’s helmets have gravitated away from the soft leather design of the 30’s and use protective, ABS plastic shells. Visors, shields and other masks have also come into popularity and are even mandated by many leagues, as a result of a number of serious eye injuries.
Evolution of Hockey Equipment: Padding
Shin and leg pads were the first type of padding to be utilized by hockey players. Goaltenders first began using cricket pads to protect their legs. Other players quickly adopted shorter shin– particularly defenders.
Next came the padded Hockey Gauntlets at the turn of the 20th century, and they were followed shortly by padded, leather knee pads.
Around this time, there was a trend of short pants with long stockings. The short pants, also known as “Hockey Knickers,” were slightly padded and provided some protection to the thighs and groin area. A number of different padding styles were invented with this type of uniform in mind.
In 1940, the first shoulder pads hit the hockey world, with body pads following suit. For a while, these types of pads were only used by defensive players. Attacking, offensive players neglected to wear body pads because many felt they were too bulky and impeded their ability to move on the ice. However, they slowly made the switch over time.
Evolution of Hockey Equipment: Hockey Sticks
By 1860, these sticks were mostly replaced with the “MicMac,” so called because it was made by Mi’kmaq wood carvers. These sticks had longer handles than the hurleys and were made primarily from hornbeam and birch trees.
It wouldn’t be until the turn of the 20th century when goaltenders began using wider sticks. Shortly after, ash wood replaced birch and hornbeam as the preferred material. Ash was more durable so that sticks wouldn’t break as often. However, this material was much more substantial, especially compared to the fiberglass and aluminum hockey sticks we have today.
Up until this point, the blades of hockey sticks were straight, but in 1927, Cy Denneny (Ottawa Senators) pioneered the “banana blade,” which featured the curved blade that is popular today. Surprisingly, his style didn’t catch on for over three decades.
Fiberglass hockey sticks would break onto the scene in the 50’s. The market immediately changed, as fiberglass sticks were cheaper, lighter and even more durable than prior models. Sher-Wood and Canadien, two hockey manufacturers, really took fiberglass designs to the point they are now.
In 1981, the NHL legalized the use of aluminum sticks. This was yet another revolution in the history of hockey sticks. Aluminum was even lighter and more durable than fiberglass. The design also allowed for the blade of the stick to be separate from the shaft, which made it easier to replace and thereby cut costs of manufacturers.
Shortly after, carbon fiber became the hit material for hockey sticks. This design made it possible for players to adjust their blade for a truly customized experience. However, they were expensive and quickly outshined by the composite blade created in 1995.
Composite hockey sticks are the dominant choice in all levels of the game today. A number of different materials allow composite sticks to be lighter and more flexible than other sticks. The caveat is that they are not as durable, which means hockey players always need at least one replacement on standby.
As hockey stick manufacturers continue to develop new technologies for their products, it is likely that the hockey world will soon see a composite stick that is more durable, while remaining lightweight and flexible.
Evolution of Hockey Equipment: Skates
Fast forward to about 200 A.D., and we have the first metal-bladed skate used in Scandinavia. The first “hockey” skates were iron-blade Stock skates. Created in Scotland in the 1700’s, they became the skate of choice by anyone stepping onto the ice, hockey players or otherwise.
Skating (and hockey) became a favorite activity in Canada, particularly Nova Scotia. So, it didn’t take long (about 1860) for the province to factory-make their skates, the Starr Stock Skates. These skates evolved into the Starr ‘Acme Club’ self-fastening “spring skates,” which clipped onto the user’s boots and were easier to take off.
Starr Hockey Skates
Crawl another few short years, and Starr Manufacturing Company was at it again. This time their 1866 release of the Starr Hockey Skates became the first skate specifically designed for ice hockey. By the end of the century, skates received a small improvement in ankle support straps. Not only did this make skates more comfortable to wear, but they helped the skater’s balance on the ice.
Starr Manufacturing Company would make another skate breakthrough when they developed the first goalie-specific skates. The blade of these skates had a thicker, straighter front end, which helped stop and control the puck in front of the net.
From there, skates evolved by incorporating better materials, more precisely engineered blades and strap systems that held up longer than traditional models. While these are small and notable changes to the skates, the overall design has remained mostly untampered with, but that could be changing…
Marsblade Ice Holder and the Next Evolution of Hockey Equipment
Their new focus is on revolutionizing the hockey skate. They’ve developed a Flow Motion Technology in their hockey holders that changes how the skate blades move and react to the player’s motions. This subtle change improves the skater’s performance and has a number of key benefits to improve their play. Whereas traditional skate holders have a single pivot point and fixed blades, the Marsblade Ice Holder has an additional pivot point that actually moves as you move.
What is Flow Motion Technology
What makes the Marsblade design so compelling is its ability to eliminate carving down into the ice. These holders transfer weight more naturally, so the skate isn’t digging into the ice when you’re pushing off to gain momentum.
As a result of this, the skates (and skater) don’t lose any momentum or energy as they transfer their weight, change directions, turn, etc. This is because there is far less friction between the ice and the blades, particularly the sides of the blades that would traditionally sink into the ice as the player carves.
Professional players and skating coaches that have tested the Marsblade Ice Holder have all remarked about how effortless it feels. This is a direct result of the holder’s ability to keep the blades above the ice, instead of carving down into it. What this means for hockey players is not only sharper turns and more power out of the gate, but also less energy exertion, which is critical for those overtime games when you have to dig into the reserves to keep playing.
While the Marsblade Ice Holder has yet to hit the open market, the initial buzz is promising and points towards a faster, less restricted future for hockey skaters.
Hockey history, even just the history of the equipment the players wear, is fascinating. It oozes with little details and snapshots into some of the players (on and off the ice) that helped bring the game to the place it is today. It is compelling where the game is headed next. It’s uncertain what the future holds. But, we can at least rest easy. Ther are companies like Marsblade and others are still diligently working towards improving our great game. And, the equipment that players of all levels rely upon to get the job done is in good hands.
Is today’s equipment better? Or, is the old school stuff better? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to learn more, so I can contribute to the dinner table discussions.
And, don’t forget to join us for hockey mom talk in my Facebook Group, Hockey Mom Hacks. We’d love to have you talk hockey with us.