Evolution of Sports Equipment

Illustration by Colton Starley

Change is constant, whether athletes like it or not. They are exposed to some of the greatest dangers, especially hockey players. Goalkeepers get high-speed shots fired at them constantly. Manufacturers are cracking down and creating new forms of protection for players every year.

When hockey first started as a sport in the 19th century, most players would just attach long blades to the bottom of their boots. Hockey sticks were made out of single slices of wood. Pucks were made out of wood or from cut rubber balls that had been evened out and flattened to look like the pucks we see now.

Nineteenth century hockey teams consisted of nine players who batted around a wooden puck. Today, hockey is played with six men from each team on the ice, including the goaltenders. A puck made out of vulcanized rubber is used instead of clunky piece of wood.

IceJacks head coach Travis Johanson has been coaching for about 10 years at NAU.

“The gear has not evolved much that I’ve noticed. What has changed is the sticks and helmets. The helmet has gotten better protection for concussions, and the sticks have evolved each year to be lighter for better composite, which gives the players better shots,” Johanson said.

Division II IceJacks senior Kyle Erwin has been playing hockey for 20 years, since he was 4 years old.

“I grew up in Phoenix and played most of my competitive youth career with Mission where I attended nationals three times,” Erwin said. “It is also my fifth year playing for NAU and my third year being captain on the team.”

According to loveyourdrapery.com, goalkeeper masks weren’t introduced into the game until around 1930 and they didn’t offer much protection because they were made of leather. Jacques Plante, a hockey player from the Montreal Canadiens was the first player to consistently wear a facemask. In today’s National Hockey League, a goalie will not walk out on the ice without a facemask.

According to Hooked on Hockey Magazine, helmets became mandatory for any player who signed a contract with the NHL in 1979. The NHL announced a new protocol in 1958 for equipment manufacturers that all equipment had to be accepted and approved by the NHL to ensure the safety of hockey players. From then on, manufacturers focused more on making their products lighter and more convenient for players on the ice.

“The game has changed in several ways since I’ve started playing. It started to get more away from a physical game to more of a speed and skill game,” Erwin said. “Looking at the NHL, there is a significant decrease of fights and a huge increase in scoring. When watching, you don’t see as much ‘big and physical,’ you see more of small but faster skilled players.”

Modern-day hockey players have very light equipment for comfort and more protection during practices and games.

“I think the biggest equipment change I’ve experienced in my career is the helmets that are out now. With all of the talk about concussions and post-concussion symptoms, the manufacturers are doing more testing and adding more protection while trying not to add much bulk,” Erwin said.

The IceJacks call Jay Lively Activity Center home. This 40-year-old establishment took a huge beating after a four-day blizzard in 2010 that caused the roof to collapse. It took a significant amount of fundraising to reconstruct the building from the ground up. Workers installed new boards and glass, after receiving donations from IceJacks alumni.

The damage and reconstruction of the building had detrimental impacts for the hockey team. The IceJacks didn’t have their rink to play or practice, which was a big disadvantage. No home games or events were held in the building until it was safe to enter again.

The facility is a large piece of the team’s identity.

“I’ve played hockey for 3 years now, the arena progresses my knowledge daily on the game,” said employee at Jay Lively Kayla Liv.

Since 1971, the IceJacks have dreamed of having an ice rink on campus. Last year it was announced that the NAU Fieldhouse will be taken over by sheets of slick ice to give the hockey club their own arena on campus. The rink is expected to contain over 2,500 seats for students and community members to spectate the action.

The team expected their new rink to open January 2018, but a broken pipe in the Fieldhouse caused the development and construction to be postponed. The IceJacks are patiently waiting for their rink to be done and to get out on the ice in their new home.

“The program has grown into a national powerhouse each year. This year will be the fourth consecutive season at the national tourney. We’ve made the tourney six of the last eight seasons and we hope to bring a championship back to NAU,” Johanson said.

The IceJacks are making a push for Nationals and are heading in as the No. 1 seed in the west.

Safety, satisfaction and success are huge components of victory and longevity in sports. Hockey will experience continuous improvements in all aspects on the game. The evolution, growth and development of safety standards in hockey has led to a slick sport that slays the game.