How Has Hockey Equipment Changed Over the Years?
When most people think about hockey, they likely picture players decked out head-to-toe in gear. Hockey is an intense contact sport, so players need significant padding and equipment to help prevent serious injuries. There’s also hockey equipment that doesn’t exist solely to protect players, but are essential parts of the game. However, while today’s players have only the best equipment to keep them safe on the ice, hockey equipment of the past wasn’t always as advanced as it is today. Hockey has a long history, and throughout the years, there have been many changes to hockey equipment as better designs and materials have been created.
So, how has hockey equipment evolved? Learn more about what’s changed over the years!
Of course, you can’t play hockey without a pair of skates. Today, skates are expertly designed and even the simplest pair can cost a decent amount. You might think that this was always the case, but early skates were far different from the ones you can buy today. Instead of the skates we know today, earlier hockey players wore regular leather boots with a blade that could be attached and later removed with straps. As hockey grew in popularity, leather hockey boots with a blade permanently attached were introduced. Today, hockey skates made from synthetic materials that protect the foot and allow for peak performance are standard.
Padding and Guards
Getting hit with a puck, falling on the ice, colliding with other players, and slamming into the boards can all result in painful and even life-changing injuries. Some of the earliest forms of padding and guards for hockey players are shin guards from the 1880s. Shin guards during this time were nothing like what they are now and were originally made from materials like leather and wood. Of course, the materials used for padding and guards have developed significantly since then. Players today are virtually covered in padding, as serious injuries can occur anywhere on the body.
While more materials for padding and guards were developed, there were some challenges to get it exactly right. Plastic and fiberglass became popular following WWII, but while this kept the player wearing the equipment safe, it was a danger to others around them. Slamming into these hard materials could injure others, making soft outer padding necessary.
Today, you probably wouldn’t think that any hockey player would play without a helmet. However, helmets are a shockingly recent addition to a player’s necessary equipment. Initially, you would never see hockey players wearing helmets. While a few players chose to wear helmets, this was far from the standard. Helmets in the NHL were not mandatory until 1979, and this was only for players who signed contracts after this time. The last NHL player to play without a helmet was Craig MacTavish, who retired in 1997.
Early hockey players frequently wore gloves. However, gloves were primarily used just to keep players’ hands warm on the ice. Starting in the 1900s, players started adding padding to their gloves to provide extra protection to their hands. After Montreal Maroons’ Babe Siebert broke his thumb in the 1930s, gloves with reinforced thumbs were created.
Goalies wear far more protection than anyone else on the ice to protect them from incoming pucks. One important piece of their equipment that wasn’t always around is the goalie mask. The first known goalie to wear a mask was university player Elizabeth Graham in 1927. While a few goalies occasionally wore masks, a goalie in the NHL did not regularly wear a mask until 1959 when Jacques Plante of the Montreal Canadiens was struck in the face with a puck and would not return to the ice unless he was permitted to wear a mask. Original goalie masks were made from molded fiberglass, but metal cages surrounding the face are standard today.
Hockey sticks were originally made from one piece of wood. In the 1940s, sticks made from multiple layers of wood were introduced. These were lighter and more flexible than sticks made from a single piece of wood. Starting in the 1950s, fiberglass was wrapped around wooden hockey sticks to help reinforce it. Hockey sticks also started being made with curved blades in the 1960s, at the time known as banana blades. However, too much curve in the blade made shots unpredictable and dangerous, especially for goalies, so the NHL began limiting how much curve a blade could have. Today, sticks made from a single piece of composite are standard.
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