Today we present a guest post by Ragan Wilson, PhD student in Human Factors and Applied Cognitive Psychology at NC State University.
Saying that goalies in professional ice hockey see the puck a lot is an understatement. They are the last line of defense for their team against scoring, putting their bodies in the way of the puck to block shots in ways that sometimes do not seem human. In order to do that, they rely on their skills as well as their protective equipment, including chest protectors. As written by In Goal Magazine’s Kevin Woodley and Greg Balloch, at the professional level this and other equipment is being re-examined by the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League’s Player’s Association (NHLPA).
For the 2018-2019 NHL season, there has been a change in goal-tending equipment rules involving chest protectors according to NHL’s columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika. This rule, Rule 11.3, states that “The chest and arm protector worn by each goalkeeper must be anatomically proportional and size-specific based on the individual physical characteristics of that goalkeeper”. In practical terms, what this rule means is that goaltender chest protection needs to be size-wise in proportion to the goaltender using it so, for instance, a 185-pound goalie would seem more like a 185-pound goalie versus a 200-210 pound goalie. The reasoning for the rule change was to try to make saves by the goalie more based on ability than on extra padding and to potentially increase scoring in the league. Overall, this is a continuation of a mission for both the NHL and NHLPA to make goalie equipment slimmer, which was kick-started by changes in goalie pants and leg pads. The difference between previously approved chest protectors and the approved models are shown below thanks to the website Goalie Coaches who labeled images from Brian’s Custom Sports Instagram page below.
To a non-hockey player, the visual differences between non-NHL approved and the NHL approved pads look minuscule. However, according to In Goal Magazine, implementing these changes have been an interesting challenge for the NHL as well as hockey gear companies such as Brian’s and CCM). Whereas changing the pants rule was more straightforward, the dimensions of chest protectors are more complicated and personal to goalies (NHL). This challenge could be seen earlier in the season with mixed feedback about the new gear change. Some current NHL such as Vegas Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury (In Goal Magazine) and Winnipeg Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck (Sports Illustrated) noted more pain from blocking pucks in the upper body region. On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen and Garrett Sparks have not had problems with these changes (Sports Illustrated).
What always makes me happy as a student of human factors psychology is when final users are made an active part of the discussion for changes. Thankfully, that is what appears to be happening so far with this rule change since the NHL and NHLPA seemed to be actively interested in and considering feedback from current NHL goaltenders about what could make them more comfortable with the new equipment standards at the beginning of the season (In Goal Magazine). Hopefully, that continues into the next season with all the rigorous, real-life testing that a season’s worth of regular and playoff games can provide. Considering there are already some interesting, individualized adjustments to the new equipment rules such as changing companies (Washington Capitals’ Braden Holtby), or adding another layer of protection such as a padded undershirt (Marc-Andre Fleury) (USA Today), it’ll be interesting what the situation is for this equipment come the next off-season, especially in terms of innovation from the companies that produce this gear at a professional level.
Ragan Wilson is a first-year human factors and applied cognitive psychology doctoral student at NC State University. She is mainly interested in the ways that human factors and all areas of sports can be interlinked, from player safety to consumer experiences of live action games.