Image: The Associated Press

Image: The Associated Press

I’m no goalie expert, so when I heard that the tender being called up to start for the Calgary Flames – Danny Taylor – wears his gear differently from others, I was intrigued and reached out for an explanation.

Justin Goldman is the Director of Goalie Scouting for McKeen’s Hockey, a weekly contributor for NHL.com, and the founder of The Goalie Guild. You can follow him on Twitter @TheGoalieGuild.

- Bourne

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-by Justin Goldman

To say that NHL goaltenders are particular about their equipment would be a major understatement.

Try more like obsessive-compulsive.

If you were asked to stop slappers from Shea Weber and Zdeno Chara, you’d be a bit neurotic about your gear, too. And like all pro hockey players, as goalies get older, they gain an intimate comfort level in certain brands and modifications that allow them to use their tools of the trade with full confidence.

“Look good, feel good, play good,” is easily one of the most popular mottos spoken by goalies across the globe; these days, style and swagger seem like they might be as important as protection.

For Calgary Flames goalie Danny Taylor, not only is his style unique, but so is the way he wears his gear.

All season long, Taylor has been rocking the ultra-popular Brian’s G-Netik pads. Brian’s is known for having the most detailed and advanced customizations available for goalie gear. Whatever you want (especially if you’re a pro), they’ll do it for you. Want $100 bills as a graphic? Done. What about beer cans for your beer league team? Yep, they’ll do that, too. Want your pads to be invisible? Brian’s would be the first to patent a goalie pad cloaking device.

But for Taylor, when it comes to his personal modifications, there’s a method to his madness.

“Danny’s take on goal equipment is to maximize size and keep everything minimalistic,” said Brian’s pro rep Chris Joswiak. “Like many goalies, he’s superstitious, so when something works, he keeps it going. After experimenting with many different mods and options Brian’s offers, he stuck with what works — a minimalistic, all-white, no-graphic set of G-Netiks, gutted with no calf wrap protection or a boot strap.”

Image from Matthew Abraham (@PadsTracker)

Image from Matthew Abraham (@PadsTracker)

The all-white pads are obviously nothing new in today’s NHL, but depending on how much belief you put in the science of pad color and visual optics, it does help him look a little bigger. It also may cause players to have a bit more trouble finding open space when they look up and fire a shot on goal.

Not only are all-black or mostly colored pads easier for shooters to visually recognize, but white pads also make it easier for a goalie to locate loose pucks that they may have fumbled or lost in their gear. Goalies that wear all-black, however, are more likely to have trouble finding those annoying loose pucks.

(I wear all-black pads, and I can tell you I lose at least 2-3 pucks in my gear every time I skate. It’s way annoying, but again, style plays a major role in having fun out there, so I’m willing to deal with it.)

After color comes construction, and the first thing you’ll notice is that Taylor’s pads have just four straps on each pad. One strap goes around the lower calf, one goes around the mid-calf area, and then the last two are just below the knee. Most goalies have three-to-five straps, but their exact locations will vary.

What makes Taylor’s strap setup so unique is that he’s missing what some goalies consider to be the most essential strap of all – the one that goes under the boot of the skate.

Aside from Henrik Lundqvist, almost every other goalie on the planet wears a strap under the boot because it secures the pad to the foot. Most goalies want their pad to move cleanly with their foot, so it gets really annoying for some if it’s shifting or turning all over the place when moving around the crease.

But Taylor is different. He had Brian’s remove that strap altogether.

Without that strap, Taylor’s pads rotate with more ease. When he drops to make a save, the pad will rotate and lay on its side so the face of the pad stays square to the puck. But some goalies that wear their pads too tightly won’t seal the ice as quickly, or they will feel a bit of strain or stress on the ankle and foot, too. This is why most goalies these days wear their pads looser than ever before…it allows the pad to do its job just a little quicker.

More importantly, as a smaller goalie at the pro ranks, Taylor does whatever he can to make himself look bigger. Without a boot strap pulling his leg pads down, the pads sit just a bit higher on his legs. Combine that with squared-off thigh rises, really stiff boots of the pads, and a custom Brian’s SubZero chest protector, he squeezes out every inch possible to maximize his net coverage.

“His pads are only 36.5 inches tall, but they look like a 38-inch pad,” Joswiak added.

Next is Taylor’s lack of an outer calf wrap. Goalie pads are traditionally made with wraps on the inside and outside sections of the leg for added protection. But Taylor joins a growing list of NHL goalies (Anderson, Roloson, Brodeur, to name a few) to have a pair of pads constructed without the wrap on the outside of the pads.

He does this for one simple reason; to make the pads lighter. G-Netik pads are already extremely light to begin with, so Taylor’s pads just might be the lightest to ever be worn in an NHL game.

The most controversial part of Taylor’s pad setup is his skates. In the AHL, Taylor was wearing steel blades that were taller than anything else out there. The Step Steel Xtreme blades are about a quarter-inch taller than the steel worn by all other NHL goaltenders, which was giving him a legit advantage.

The advantage of wearing Step Steel Xtreme blades was simple, yet fairly significant. The taller steel raised the cowling (the plastic or Kevlar carrier that protects the inside of the skate from hard shots) higher from the ice, which allowed Taylor to set his legs lower and wider on his inside edges before that plastic cowling made contact with the ice.

With regular-sized steel, a goalie could only set his feet so far apart before the cowling caused the steel to lose contact with the ice. But with the taller steel, a goalie can maintain contact between his edges and the ice for a split second longer, which allows him to be more patient and reactive in the butterfly.

Taller steel also improves what is called the “attack angle” of a skate. When a goalie is already in the down position and give up a rebound, they lift one leg and push off laterally using the inside edge of their skate to stay in position. The taller the steel, the quicker a goalie can catch that inside edge and push off, and the stronger their pushes will be in whatever direction they need to go.

As you can see from this in-depth article on InGoal Magazine, the Step Steel Xtreme blades provide goalies with about a nine-degree improvement in the attack angle.

That seems like a significant advantage for us commoners, but when you’re a top-flight AHL goalie amidst such elite goaltending talent, it’s nearly a wash. Even before Taylor added the taller steel to his skates, he was already playing really well for Abbotsford.

Through 27 games this season, Taylor was leading the AHL in goals-against average (1.82) and was third in save percentage (.929). Last season, he had a 2.21 GAA and .927 SV% in 33 games for Abbotsford.

InGoal went into great detail regarding what the NHL might regulate for a goalie’s skate blades moving forward, but I knew right away these wouldn’t be allowed. We’re already seen as bloated marshmallow-like amoebas, so anything that makes us taller or bigger is going to be restricted as quickly as possible.

For now, the Step Steel Xtreme blades aren’t allowed because the company that makes them didn’t submit them to the league at the beginning of the season, so they weren’t approved by Kay Whitmore. But that’s another story for another time.

The bigger picture here is that the “controversy” regarding the height of steel makes me chuckle because it’s merely the continuation of a vicious cycle.

Goalie pad sizes get reduced, and then the genius goalie union finds a way to fight back. Taller steel, beefier knee pads, taller chest protectors…whatever we can do to look bigger, we’re gonna do it. There’s no limit to the tricks we can come up with as time goes on, so you can stuff us in trapezoids and taper our knee lifts and thigh rises, but you’ll never be able to crush our creative spirits.

Everything aside, as a goalie scout, Taylor’s unique pad construction and modifications didn’t really concern me too much. Every goalie has their unique pad setups, so the only question I had was this:

Would Taylor’s game suffer as a result from having to revert back to normal-sized steel on his skates?

It didn’t.

Despite giving up four goals on 37 shots in the 4-0 loss to Phoenix, I though Taylor moved well in his first NHL start. A few goals were certainly of the weak variety (Boedker and Torres tallies in the third), but he was victimized by an early defensive breakdown in the first minute of the game, and had no run support.

In regards to Taylor’s footwork, I didn’t see any glaring issues stemming from the skates he was wearing. That being said, it’s basically impossible to know just from watching on TV just how much of his struggles were tied to nerves and timing issues, or how much was possibly equipment related. I don’t think many goalies are ever truly comfortable making their first NHL start, so all things considered, I thought he made a number of good saves last night, and has so far shown that he could be a decent NHL goalie.