- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Greg Mumma still has his two front teeth, thanks to the wonders of protective hockey gear. Mr. Mumma, 32, of Glen Burnie, Md., is the goalie for the Lightning, a team in the Fairfax Hockey League at the Fairfax Ice Arena.

Although he frequently is hit in the face with hockey pucks, Mr. Mumma has never had any serious injuries.

Advancements in the creation of protective gear for hockey have allowed athletes to take to the ice without fear for their safety. Thanks to science and technology, most athletes find the equipment lightweight and comfortable.

Players who participated in ancient forms of hockey didn’t use safety equipment, says Neal Henderson, coach of the Fort Dupont Ice Hockey Club at the Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast.

“In the days of the Egyptians, they didn’t use protective gear at all,” Mr. Henderson says. “They just used a stick and a rock. We’ve come a long way since then. … The Indians played it in a warrior game. The Canadians put it on ice. The Russians refined the game.”

Most of today’s hockey players wear a helmet, face mask, shoulder pads, elbow pads, hockey gloves, hockey pants, shin guards, an athletic supporter, garter belt and hockey socks, says Tim Burt, manager of the Fairfax Ice Arena Pro Shop in Fairfax.

“After you put all this on, you could gain about 20 pounds,” Mr. Burt says. “The gear has gotten a lot lighter weight. The goal is to increase mobility and protection without increasing weight.”

In general, the pads used to be made from foam, leather and plastic, Mr. Burt says. Now they are made from lighter-weight, higher-density foam that provides more protection. The padding also is more ergonomic, fitting the body better, which allows for easier movement.

About seven years ago, material advances such as the availability of Kevlar and carbon fiber, initiated a revolution in better gear, Mr. Burt says. Many of the materials used for protective gear come from the aerospace industry, such as Kevlar.

Texalium, a weave of different materials, is a product that has allowed for lightweight gear, says Corry Kelahear, products manager of protective equipment at the Hockey Co. in Montreal.

The Vector Hockey Glove is among the company’s products that contain Texalium. The glove also uses Armfoam, a special type of expanded polypropylene foam that also allows the product to remain lightweight, Mr. Kelahear says.

“Inside the foam, there are a lot of cellular matrices,” he says. “When you get slashed, the impact is dispersed from bead to bead. By the time it gets to where your hand is, there is no more impact energy left.”

Dispersing the impact of a blow has been an important design aspect of protective gear, Mr. Kelahear says. Certain areas of pads are reinforced, which takes the energy away from the joints and moves it toward the muscles, he says. The muscles are better equipped to handle heavy impacts.

Lately, the Hockey Co. has worked in conjunction with the National Hockey League to develop a new elbow pad, Mr. Kelahear says. Soft, thermal-molded foams cover the elbow pad. The idea is to make the protection safer for the person who is wearing it, but also for the opposing player.

“They are trying to protect the players from blows to the head,” he says. “The old pads would hurt the guy getting hit. With the new pads, it still hurts, but not as much.”

Putting space between impact and a player’s body is the goal of any protective gear, says Dave Bankoske, global business manager of hockey protective at Easton Sports in Van Nuys, Calif.

The company lately has been using the Generation IV Air Bladder in its products to cushion blows. The device is a pressurized air bladder, similar to a balloon. The gel inside offers lateral dispersion of impact.

“Picture rippling waves, when you drop a pebble in the water,” Mr. Bankoske says. “Anytime the waves get farther and farther away from a shoulder or knee joint, it helps add protection value.”

Equipment that fits the body well is another benefit of newer protective gear, says Brad James, product manager for protective gear at Bauer Nike Hockey in Greenland, N.H.

Dri-Fit, a proprietary material of the company, is a lining that wicks moisture away from the body. It keeps the player cooler throughout practices and games, Mr. James says. It is used inside gloves, pants, shin pads, shoulder pads and elbow pads.

If protection rests closer to the body, it will fit better, Mr. James says. Better fit equals better protection and movement.

“Nowadays with professional athletes, the standards keep getting raised,” Mr. James says. “Fans in general have higher expectations of player output. Players depend on us to give them the most mobility they can have on ice.”

Because head impacts can be the most devastating, helmet designs are especially important to players, says Craig Desjardins, product manager for sticks and helmets at Bauer Nike Hockey.

The Bauer 8000, one of the company’s products, is a triple-density protection helmet with three different layers of material working together to absorb the energy from impacts, he says. A polyethylene molded shell is the outside layer, while an expanded polypropylene layer is in the middle, and two layers of comfort padding or spongy foam are on the inside.

Two pieces of the outer shell move forward and backward to adjust to head size. Slide tabs offer side adjustment over the ears and the back of the head. When the tabs move, the foam on the inside moves closer to the head, offering a better fit.

“A helmet won’t protect you if it doesn’t stay on your head,” Mr. Desjardins says. “Everyone has different head shapes and sizes. You need to personalize the head shapes for each individual player.”

Thermal regulation also occurs in the helmet by ventilation holes, which ensure a consistent flow of air across the head. This keeps the player’s body temperature lower, which lessens fatigue while skating.

“When it comes to innovation, sometimes sports are very slow to evolve, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be trying to push the envelope in terms of technology, especially as it relates to better safety or protection for athletes,” Mr. Desjardins says.

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