We all take our share of injuries playing hockey—you may miss a game or two for some, or you may be sidelined longer. Even a minor injury can interfere with your game, whether it’s a slight sprain or a bad bruise. Preventing an injury requires staying fit and wearing the right protective gear. Most of us who play hockey are accustomed to the standard gloves, helmet, and girdle, shoulder, elbow and shin pads, and even helmet cages and visors, but what about additional protective equipment? What can you add to your kit to help prevent unnecessary injuries and keep you playing at the top of your game? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options in protective gear that goes beyond the standard kit.
Of all the types of shots, only two are named after body parts — one is attached to the wrist (backhand) and the other is the wrist. Needless to say, your wrists are important to most aspects of the game, and while the fit of your hockey gloves shields the wrist at some angles, players at all levels should consider wearing wrist guards. While coming into contact with an opponent’s stick is the more likely cause of a wrist impact injury, the rarer skate blade-to-wrist injury is certainly the more scary one.
Helmet Ear Covers
If you’re buying a new hockey helmet, you’ll notice that most come with ear covers. While they’re easily removable and replaceable, you should really keep them in the helmet. And if your existing helmet has no ear protectors, that’s a good reason to start looking for a new one. A puck, stick, elbow, skate, or anything to the ear can cause serious damage. In fact, according to this study by the National Institutes of Health, ear injuries (4% of head injuries) are almost as likely to occur as nose injuries (7% of head injuries) during practice.
A longtime staple for goalies, the neck protector is becoming more and more common for defenders and forwards. You might think the neck is an obvious area to protect, since so much is going on there biologically, with some of your biggest blood vessels exposed (who hasn’t seen the 2008 Zednik incident). But back when most pads were rigid, adding anything to the neck area felt cumbersome and interfered with play, so a neck guard wasn’t a consideration for most players.
Fortunately, today that’s not the case. New hockey neck guards are more comfortable, more protective, and lower-profile, to make them less noticeable when you’re wearing one. Most are made with a lightweight KEVLAR interior (yes, the stuff they put in ballistic vests), to add a layer that’s hard enough to offer protection when a puck, stick, or skate blade strikes it, but still flexible when you’re pivoting your neck during play. Between the no-brainer protection and improved performance and comfort of today’s neck guards, if you’re not wearing one by now, it’s worth adding to your pads kit.
No matter your level of play, building out your protective gear is not only the smart thing to do for your health, but it’s also becoming a comfortable and easy way to maintain top performance on the ice. Whether you add slash guards to your wrists for more common contact injuries or a neck guard for the rarer but potentially catastrophic injuries, additional hockey pads provide peace of mind and will help you extend your hockey career (and quality of life off the ice) for a long time to come.