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Hockey Helmet Guide
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"Protect the Egg"

When considering which hockey helmet to purchase, the rules of engagement are generally very simple. The more money you are willing to spend, the more protection and comfort you will get. Beyond this simple concept, consideration of the hockey helmet design is important. Hockey helmets have been making slow strides toward increased protection overall, but educating yourself about helmet design can lead to more intelligent purchases and increased safety. Whether you're looking for a youth hockey helmet or a rec league shell, this article is intended to give you a basis for making an informed decision when purchasing a hockey helmet.

Hockey Culture

The unspoken rules and expectations that govern hockey helmet purchases and production have favored using the least amount of protection possible for years and years. The old school hockey heroes of yesterday didn’t even wear helmets. Gretzky’s helmet was a helmet only in an academic sense as it seemed to have more surface area covered in air vents than actual protective material. Today, hockey helmets are definitely standard equipment for hockey players of all levels but concussions are becoming more of an issue for the entire hockey community as the number of high profile concussions in the NHL seems to be rising. Recent concussions are being discussed by television analysts who blame everything from poor rules of play to shoulder pads that are too hard. For someone just wanting to protect themselves or their child on the ice, it seems impossible to know who to listen to and hopefully this article will get you moving in the right direction.

Basic Concepts

If you would like to put something very uncomfortable on your head, buy a cheap hockey helmet. The more expensive helmets are definitely more comfortable and even if the padding isn’t head and shoulders above the padding of cheaper helmets, the superior abilities to adjust the fit of the helmet does provide a bit more protection. Newer helmet designs are, at the very least, more marketed towards concussion protection and do have additional padding inserts that are very successful at making the feel of the helmet significantly more appealing than a helmet with nothing but generic hard padding or styrofoam looking EPP foam.

One of the more commendable introductions into the hockey helmet market in recent years is the Cascade Messier Project helmet. The resiliency of the internal padding and its ability to absorb force puts this helmet in a different category than any helmet that uses EPP or EPS foam. Plastic foam, like the padding in bicycle helmets, is primarily designed to protect against a single blow. I’ve personally seen a bicycle helmet that served its purpose well and while it effectively protected against injury, believe me it was in no shape to attempt the same feat again. The helmet was in shambles. Consequently, whenever I see the same padding in hockey helmets that I see in bicycle helmets, I inevitably question the ability of the helmet to provide consistent protection. Unfortunately, the hockey helmet market only has one option if you're looking for a helmet with anything but styrofoam padding. Later in this article, I will discuss the direction hockey helmets might be going in the future for the benefit of the entire hockey world.

Facemasks

Until your level of play reaches the level of professional, I recommend wearing something over your face as long as you are playing competitively. Why? Your nose can only be surgically repaired so many times before you’re stuck breathing out of your mouth for the rest of your life. If your doctor is smart, he’ll wait until you’re about done playing to fix your broken nose because of this reality. This also means that if you do an excellent job of smashing your nose up early on in your career, you get the joy of decreased airflow while playing and the privilege of snoring like a chainsaw until your competitive days are over.

Professional football players don’t wear as many pads as younger players because they know the risks and have spent years learning technical form which eventually decreases the odds of undesired collisions. Likewise, professional hockey players are so confident in their abilities and aware of their surroundings that they have lost the fear of catching a stick or puck in the face and are completely comfortable with an exposed chin. But until you reach this level of competence and competition, and even if you do, it’s hard to justify the risk of exposure and not protect your face – it’s expensive to fix when it can be fixed. Facemasks are definitely frowned upon within hockey culture, but they do help hold your helmet on your head when used properly. This means that wearing a facemask will reduce the odds of sustaining a concussion due to losing your helmet and then slamming your head against the ice, boards, etc. Also, because impact to a facemask causes the helmet to move before the head itself moves, the force absorbed by the head is reduced which in turn lowers the risk of concussion. Taking a hit directly on the chin feels much worse than taking a hit on your facemask. This is an important feature, especially for younger hockey players.

Lastly, and most importantly, I can’t see any reason for taking unnecessary chances with your eyes. You can’t stitch them up. And when you mess one up, you’re done. Period. If you’ve ever seen an eye get messed up, it will ruin your week. At the very least, a visor should be considered quite beneficial – it’s just so easy to work with. Just yesterday, I watched an NHL player with no visor take a stick to the face and sustain lacerations to his nose and upper cheek. Had the stick hit an inch or two laterally, this player’s career may have been over. If you’re going to dive into hockey culture, you’re going to have to draw your own line between being tough and being stupid.

The Bottom Line - Design Deficiency

As a former college football player, it is my opinion that hockey helmets are light years behind football helmets when it comes to protection. This really doesn’t make any sense to me. Football definitely has much more consistent head contact as players hit each other as hard as they can on every single play, but hockey players move at faster speeds than football players and ice is much harder than grass. If a football player decided to wear a hockey helmet on the football field, it wouldn’t be a question of whether or not he will sustain a concussion, but when it will happen and if his face will need to be reconstructed. The hockey helmet would literally explode into pieces upon contact. You will never find a football helmet that has anything but a one piece shell design. And within the one piece football helmet designs, some football helmets that were introduced within the last 15 years were criticized for cracking due to poor shell design. A helmet that has distinctly separate parts that are designed to move for the sake of adjusting the fit would be an absolute disaster.

Instead of having multiple piece shell designs to accommodate different shaped heads, football helmets have adjustable padding systems. Basically, football helmets use air to provide both cushion and fit. A football player finds the right size shell to start with, and the padding is then inflated while he is wearing it to create the proper fit. The padding is designed to withstand incessant contact from all directions and they really do provide a lot of protection. The biggest cost for this excellent protection is the weight. Football helmets are much heavier than hockey helmets. Whats confuses me is that even though football helmets are significantly heavier than hockey helmets, I’ve never watched a football game where the weight of the helmet seemed to be an issue for any of the players. As a college cornerback, speed and agility were absolutely demanded of me and I never once resented the weight of my helmet. It really isn’t that heavy. Consequently, I look at some the NHL players skating today and wonder why they feel it is so necessary to wear an empty cool whip container on their head. In the NHL, it is not uncommon to hear that a player sustained a concussion and that the player won’t be playing in any games for weeks. If my paycheck depended upon my ability to stay healthy, I would be the first NHL player to wear a football helmet on the ice.

For more insight and discussion, go to HockeyConsumer.com


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