While team sports like hockey can be fun, all sports carry some risk of injury. If you or your child joined a hockey team, you might be wondering how to stay safe on the ice. Properly fitted and maintained hockey safety equipment is essential for avoiding hockey injuries.
Read on to learn what you need to know about protective equipment in hockey.
Is Hockey Safe?
Hockey is generally a safe sport — with an injury rate lower than that of other common sports like basketball, softball, and football. However, it's still a collision sport — where players come into physical contact with each other frequently.
Like boxing, football, and other collision sports, hockey has a higher risk of head injuries than sports with less physical contact. In a 2010 study, over 25% of players had at least one concussion in a single season.
Common hockey injuries include:
- Shoulder joint separation
- Pulled muscles
- MCL tear or sprain
- ACL tear or sprain
- Broken collarbone
- Cuts — usually minor
What Protective Equipment Do I Need for Hockey?
Every player needs protective hockey equipment to reduce the risk of injury. Proper fit is essential for hockey equipment. Buying safety equipment that’s too large to “grow into” will increase the risk of injury. A typical hockey equipment list includes:
Helmet. A hockey helmet is the most important safety gear for a hockey player — it'll protect a player from head and face injuries. An ideal hockey helmet will have a full face mask, a chin strap, and a chin cup. It'll fit snugly around the head with the help of the chin cup so that it can’t move. Make sure to buy only helmets approved by the Hockey Equipment Certification Council — or the HECC.
Skates. Hockey skates should fit snugly, but not tight, with socks on. If they are too tight, they'll lead to poor circulation and increase frostbite risk. You should consider buying skates with built-in ankle support to reduce ankle injury and fall risks.
Safety pads. For hockey, you'll need several kinds of safety pads like shoulder pads, elbow pads, shin pads, padded gloves, and neck guards, all to protect from fall injuries and contact injuries from other players, hockey sticks, or pucks. All pads should be made specifically for hockey. Safety pads made for soccer, rollerskating, or other sports, for example, don’t provide the level of protection you'll need for hockey.
Hockey gloves. These should have padding, but they also should be flexible enough for you to move your fingers.
Mouthguard. While hockey helmets provide some facial protection, mouthguards can protect you from injury to your mouth and teeth. Choose a mouthguard that’s comfortable but has a snug fit — many dentists even make custom-fitted mouthguards. You can also purchase a mouth-adapted guard — also called a boil and bite guard. This mouth-adapted guard can be made to custom fit around your teeth and gums at home by submerging the guard in hot water to soften the interior plastic and then biting down on the mouthguard.
Other essential equipment. Some other protective equipment needed to make sure you can safely play hockey includes a neck guard, an athletic supporter and cup, and a pair of hockey pants — also called breezers.
What Safety Equipment Do Goalies Need for Hockey?
Hockey goalies need extra-protective gear, made with thicker padding and impact-resistant materials, to protect them from hockey pucks toward them at a high speed. Goalie safety equipment lets the goalie use their bodies to block pucks while minimizing their risk of injury. A goalie equipment list should therefore include the following items:
- Goalie helmet. Also called a goalie mask, this helmet is designed to deflect hockey pucks and provide additional face and neck protection. These masks are made of high-end, durable materials like Kevlar or fiberglass, which can resist direct blows from the puck. Goalie helmets must provide complete protection around the entire head, so make sure your goalie helmet fits snugly all the way around your head, with a flush fit against your cheeks and forehead. Like regular helmets, goalie masks should also be approved by the HECC.
- Chest protector. Chest protectors — wrapped around the sides and extending to the beltline — give complete frontal protection to a goalie's torso. Proper fit is essential here — a chest protector that’s too big or too small can increase your risk of injury and restrict movement.
- Goalie jock or jill. Goalie jocks or jills have foam padding in addition to the plastic protection of a typical athletic cup. Using them can help you prevent groin injuries.
- Hand protection. Goalies also wear padded hand protection — called goalie blockers and gloves — to allow them to catch and block pucks with their hands safely.
- Goalie leg and arm pads. These pads have much thicker padding than regular hockey safety pads, and they need to be fitted properly to make sure that you're never at risk of being hit directly by a hockey puck. You can have goalie pads professionally fitted at hockey and sports equipment stores to ensure they work correctly.
How Do I Maintain Hockey Equipment?
To provide the best protection, you must adequately maintain your hockey safety gear. You should inspect equipment before every practice and game to make sure that nothing is cracked, no screws are loose, and all clasps, velcro, and laces work perfectly.
Hockey helmets in good condition should be replaced every 6.5 years. If your helmet has any damage or takes a severe blow, it should be replaced immediately.
Make sure all clothing and equipment fit properly — snugly if needed — before each use. Children usually outgrow hockey equipment before it wears out, so replace it when it stops fitting correctly.
All hockey clothing and equipment should be completely dry before use — wet gear can increase the risk of frostbite.
Skate blades should be examined for nicks and to make sure the edges are level. Plan to sharpen skate blades regularly — after every 20 hours on the ice is a good rule of thumb. Blade guards can help protect your blades from damage when off the ice and save you from accidental cuts.
You should wash hockey clothing regularly to prevent mold or bacteria that can cause infections from growing. The inside of helmets or other sweaty surfaces that aren’t washable should be wiped down with disinfectant wipes.