For parents of young hockey players, particularly those who have been around the game for some time, the annual equipment shopping experience is a fairly uncomplicated one.
But for the many parents that are new to the sport, it can be a daunting process and more often than not parents can find themselves overwhelmed with options, leading to uncertainty and questions.
Lee Greseth, University of Minnesota men’s hockey athletic equipment manager since 2009 and dad to two kids of his own, shared his advice to help parents navigate the back-to-hockey shopping.
Minnesota Hockey: What are the most important things to consider when purchasing equipment for young hockey players?
Lee Greseth: The most important things to consider when purchasing equipment for young hockey players are protection, proper fit and comfort. Obviously, safety is a huge priority as well. Having your equipment fit properly reduces injuries as well as reducing time lost to readjusting ill-fitting equipment.
MH: When it comes to safety, what should parents understand?
LG: There will be bumps, bruises and injuries. There has yet to be a 100 percent effective piece of equipment designed. It’s also perfectly fine to be concerned about safety no matter the level your player is at.
MH: Is it always necessary to buy new gear?
LG: No. I would, however, buy new when selecting a helmet for my child (I did for my own anyway), just for peace of mind in knowing what that helmet has been through.
MH: When it comes to used equipment, how old is too old? How do you know if certain pieces of equipment are “past their prime?”
LG: Some items for young and/or new players are actually better to be purchased used. As long as they are in good shape, a lot of protective equipment is really more beneficial for young players in that it comes already “broken in” and is normally less expensive. In most cases, the “used” equipment was actually new equipment not that long ago and was previously used by another young player that eventually grew out of it. How old is too old is a piece by piece answer. If the equipment is damaged, such as a crack in the plastic or straps are worn out, then it’s time to get a different piece of gear.
MH: Sports parents often get caught up in trying to keep up with the ‘Joneses’. Is buying the most high-end stuff—or things like getting a helmet paint job for a young goalie—critical at this age?
LG: For young players, safety and the experience of playing is far more important than having the newest and nicest equipment. For goalies, a plain helmet is just as useful as a painted one. But for those interested, pricing for paint jobs varies widely based on who is doing it and what the job entails. There are also alternatives like decal kits that are significantly less of a financial burden.
MH: Do you have any advice for parents who know they won’t be able to afford hockey equipment or might need some help?
LG: Most local associations are interested in growing the sport of hockey and will have some equipment available for those in need.
MH: When it comes to technology, what are three advances or trends in equipment that have made today’s products so much better?
LG: One of the biggest trends over the last few years is weight reduction in sticks and skates. Another would be the interchangeable blades on skates. That’s not something that is by any means a necessity for new players, but it is becoming popular throughout the sport.
MH: Where can parents go for more information about equipment?
LG: If you are new to hockey, don’t be afraid to ask other parents or people in your association or on your team for advice. Everyone was a rookie at this at one point and should be understanding of the situation. And, if you find a sporting goods store that you like and trust, they are more than likely going to give you good advice. It’s in their best interest to stay in your good graces as you’ll more than likely be a repeat customer as your player continues to grow.
Greseth suggests the following when shopping for equipment:
Helmet & Face Mask – This is the most important piece of equipment. Most youth helmets are easily adjustable now but make sure the helmet fits snugly so it doesn’t move on impact.
Mouth guards – Get a new one every year. Your player’s mouth is changing just like the rest of their body.
Shoulder Pads – Try these on to determine comfort and mobility. In most cases, the bottom of the chest protector should come to the bottom of the ribs or just above the belly button.
Elbow pads – Your kid will fall a lot starting out, so make sure having good elbow pads with quality straps is a priority.
Gloves – Protects the hands, fingers and wrists. Find a pair that are comfortable and offer good finger and hand mobility.
Breezers – Length of these should come to the top of the shin pad or just above the knee.
Shin Guards – Should cover the knee and shin completely.
Skates – Make sure the ankle area is relatively stiff for support. Skate sizes usually run about 1-2 sizes smaller than shoe size. While leaving some room for kids to grow is smart shopping for young players, having too much room in the boot can make skating difficult. Many stores check the size by having the skater push their toes to the front of the skate and seeing how many fingers fit between the players heel and the back of the skate, with 1-2 fingers signaling a good fit. If you can fit more than two fingers or can’t fit any, you probably need a new size. Also, don’t forget to get them sharpened!
Stick – A straight wood stick is the best bet for beginners. Beyond that, there are a ton of options and a number of things to consider. Check out our article on picking the right stick for more details.
Hockey bag – Only one tip: Don’t leave wet gear in your bag!
For things like cup/supporter, socks, moisture wicking undergarments, make sure it fits properly and you should be ready to hit the ice!