Whether you're buying it new or used, the helmet has to have a CSA certification sticker on it. This tells you how old the helmet is; most are good for five years. The helmet should fit snug around your entire head and rest just above your eyebrows. When you fasten the chinstrap, you should still be able to fit a finger between it and your chin. You'll also want protective facewear, and you have three choices: a wire case, a clear visor or a combination visor and mesh netting.
Most organized leagues require players to wear a mouth guard, not only to shield their teeth but also to protect against concussions. The most common are the "boil and bite" variety, which come in youth and adult sizes. First trim the mouth guard if it's too long at the back; place it in a glass or bowl of boiling water for a few seconds, then insert it in your mouth and mold it around your teeth. (Your dentist can also custom-make one for you.) To wash, try rinsing with soap and warm water, soaking it in mouthwash or a denture-cleaning solution, or taking toothpaste and a toothbrush to it.
You can get either a simple collar guard or a bib-style one. "We recommend the bib because it can go under the shoulder pads and can help keep everything down and flush to the neck," says Greg Vermette, owner of Play It Again Sports in Winnipeg. Both versions have Velcro straps, which allow you to adjust the fit should the neck guard loosen with wear.
These protect not only your shoulders but also your collarbone, upper chest, upper arms and back. Lengthwise the pads should meet up with your pants, while the arm protection should meet up with the elbow pads, says Brad Whiddington, manager of The Hockey Shop in Surrey, B.C. "If everything fits properly, there should be very few voids where you can take an impact," he says.
These pick up where the shoulder pad leaves off. You want the point of your elbow in the centre of the pad. Ideally, you want a snug fit but no so tight that they restrict your motion.
Page 1 of 3 – Find out how to pick the perfect pair of ice hockey skates on page 2.
The traditional support is the garter-belt system: a removable protective cup held in place with a jock strap or athletic supporter. Most players now wear suspension shorts, with the cup built right in. The one-piece model is easier to wear (like slipping on a pair of swim trunks over your underwear) and has Velcro tabs sewn on the front and back to hold up your hockey socks.
Your fingers should come close to the ends of the glove without pressing up against them.
"What I do is throw a hockey stick on the floor," says Tanis Derouin, owner of Play It Again Sports in Calgary. "The player should be able to pick the stick up off floor if the glove fits properly. If it's too big, they won't be able to be able to scoop under the stick to pick it up."
Tip: If buying a used pair, take them to a sports-equipment-cleaning store – for less than $10, they'll have the gloves smelling like new.
When you're in a skating, or slightly crouched, stance, the pants should come to your knees. This proper fit protects your hips, thighs, kidneys, spine and tailbone. Some brands offer Plus 2 or Minus 2 sizing, meaning an extra two inches has been added to or taken off the length. You can also wear suspenders to adjust the length.
These should sit right over your knees (there's a small donut in the padding for them to rest). You can wear them either under or over the tongue of your skates, but Vermette, recommends the latter. "It provides more mobility and gives a lot more protection."
Tip: Tape the top of the pads to hold them in place.
Your skates, which will be one to one-and-a-half sizes smaller than your shoes, should feel snug around your foot but not at the toe. "When standing with your knees bent, you can just feather the toe cap," says Whiddington. If you push your foot to the front of the skate, you should be able to fit no more than one finger behind your heel. And always try on skates with the type of sock you'll be wearing when you hit the ice.
You can get a pair of used skates for about half the price of a new pair. The bonus? They're already broken in so you get a better sense of how they feel on your feet. Just be aware of how much steel is on the blade, says Derouin. "If the steel is too low to the tuck [the plastic part on the bottom of the skate], the skate can't be sharpened anymore," she says.
Tip: Sharpen your skates after every five to seven hours on the ice, says Derouin.
Page 2 of 3 – Find out which hockey bag is best for carting your equipment to games and practice on page 3.
When you're wearing your skates (or standing tippy-toes in your shoes), the stick should come to between your nose and chin. For those starting out, a wood stick is a better choice than a composite stick. "You have better feel for the puck and how you handle it," says John Jobin, vice-president of merchandising, fixing and playing for Canadian Tire.
You're going to need something to haul all that equipment in. Some bags come with skate pockets and zippered compartments to separate your gear (or give you a place to store a change of clothes). If you buy a bag without these extra spaces, consider investing in skate guards for your blades. You can also choose between carry bags and ones with wheels. The latter are great for kids lugging their own gear.
While your team will often supply your game jersey, you will want to have two practice jerseys (one light, one dark) as well. Buy them about a size bigger than your everyday clothes to compensate for your protective padding. Even better, try it on while wearing your shoulder and elbow pads. To clean, simply throw in the washing machine, wash in cold water and hang to dry.
These look like legwarmers and come in a rainbow of colour combinations. You want them to reach comfortably from the bottom of your shin pads to the bottom of your compression shorts that hold up your jock or jill (about halfway up your thigh). "Try them on with shin pads to see how snug they're going to be," says Whiddington. "Error on the tighter side to help hold the shin pads in place."
What you wear under your skates is up to you. A good cotton athletic sock is the simplest option. You could also opt for lighter, moisture-wicking socks, which help keep your feet dry and cool. Whatever type you choose, it should be long enough to go above the top of your skates to prevent irritation. You may also elect to skate with no socks, although this may not be the best option. According to the equipment guide from Play It Again Sports, it promotes bacteria and the breakdown of the skate.
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