Battling the Pads

Zane gets his gear at Gunns.

Zane gets his gear at Gunns.

There are certain mysteries to the Universe that may never be proven. There is the Yang-Mills prompt which has something to do with Mass Gap and particle physics and for which there exists a $1 million prize for anyone who solves it.  There is the question of what came before the Big Bang?  What happened to the dinosaurs? Where do winter gloves go?  But perhaps the most vexing conundrum to ever face a parent…how the heck do you put on goalie pads?

There is a reason soccer is the most popular game on the planet and is rightly called football everywhere but here.  All you need to play the game are feet and a ball or something that roughly resembles a ball like some taped up paper or the head of a vanquished foe.  Basketball isn’t far behind in global participation and again, all one really needs are feet, hands and a hoop.

And then there’s hockey which requires skates, sticks, pucks, pads, helmets, boards, nets, pipes, doors, tape, grills, bags and ice.  Ice is pretty key to the whole ice hockey sport.  Without ice you either get a bunch of kids swimming around a pond or field hockey or Hurley the two sports that eventually became ice hockey when a bunch of crazy Canadians started strapping on those skate things that have so many parents on their knees trying to get them tight enough.

But mite skates are merely training for the ultimate battle between mom or dad and equipment.  The final exam occurs when a child looks up from his bowl of chocolate cripsies and says, “I want to play goalie this week.”

There are advantages to your child playing goalie.  He or she will be the most padded kid on the ice.  The chest, elbow and forearm protections are all sewn into one massive force field of foam and polyester and so there are fewer items to leave in that other kid’s bag.  There are no shin-guards and the gloves are easily distinguishable from everyone else’s.  A regular helmet can be modified with a neck-shield and the kid’s skates will serve on a trial basis.

But then there are the banes of rookie-goalie parent’s existence.  A puzzle so complex it seems only a world-renowned physicist might unravel its mysteries.  Even Einstein was heard to say when confronted with them during a pick-up game in Oslo, “Oh, boy.”

Meet the leg pads!

Hockey goalie leg pads are a maze of strings, straps, buckles and fasteners all of which must be made fast to a squirming child’s legs lest they come loose and wreck havoc.  Sailors in the glory days of clipper ships and triple-deckers had it easy compared to first time leg-padders.  When Alexander the Great was confronted with the un-untiable Gordian Knot he paused but a moment, drew his sword and slashed it in half.  Many parents will feel the same way about these pads.

After four years of wrestling with these things I can offer a wee bit of advice.  First, like the snowflakes that fall on lovely winter nights, no two sets seem to be alike.  So all of the advice to follow is a best guess scenario.

Second, there’s nothing more deflating than having succeeded in strapping the things on, feeling the warm glow of triumph and then having your kid say, “I think I need a cup.”  So make sure the cup, hip pads and skates go on first.

Then there’s the BIG DESCION…which pad goes on which leg?  Usually, there are ridges on one side of the front of the pads, these go on the outside. Now that you’ve got ‘em lined up, confront the toe string, usually an old hockey lace.  This should be constricted through the front loop of the skate above the blade and then wrapped over the boot.  Newer pads have a nice elastic strap with a clip or Velcro but the old lace works fine too.

Part two – your little Ben Bishop lays on top of the pads and takes a relaxing little nap while you pull, tug, weep and cry out to the heavens.

There will probably be another skate strap or two.  This should loop from the pads, under the back part of the skate and then back up.  It should NOT go under the blade.  Try to stay calm at this point.  Breathe and tuck.  These straps, if too loose, get under the blades while your player is skating and makes them fall…often.  Next are the straps or Velcro fasteners around the calf.  These should be pretty tight too as they provide the majority of the security of the pads to the legs.  The upper straps should be looser as they allow for movement though there is often a beastly little thigh strap that contradicts this.

Hopefully, everything has gone well at this point and your young puck-stopper can sit back up and wrestle a jersey on over the chest protector.  If you find you’re loosing this struggle and your kids arms are stuck in a scare-crow like position look for a bigger shirt.

There are other youth-sports that involve a great deal of gear.  My sister used to ride horses and that certainly involved a good deal of stuff because, you know, there was a horse involved.  And American football has it’s own set of fairly involved equipment but nothing has confused me so much as those leg pads.  But now that I got the hang of them I can start work on that Mass Gap thing and win my $1 million.

Travis Baker

About Travis Baker

Travis Baker grew up playing baseball, basketball, football and soccer. There was a brief stint with karate and a briefer one with fencing but he would not return to the glory days of youth sport until he moved to Maine and had a couple of boys, Zane (11) and August (7), of his own. Inspired by his lads, he learned to play hockey at the age of 35 and now plays every Monday night in Brewer. Thanks to a number of former students, he’s learned a wee bit about lacrosse, field hockey and track and field. When not helping out in his kid’s activities, is the award-winning playwright of One Blue Tarp and Hair Frenzy, both of which premiered at the Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor. Travis is the author of Night and the Texas Sky, and numerous short stories and essays. He is married to the founder of Maine Yoga Adventures, Holly Twining. Currently, he coaches hockey, baseball and serves on the board of the Maine Junior Black Bears as the PR Director.