For the majority of hockey’s history, there was no formal equipment beyond a stick, a puck and some sort of skates. Many old-timers recount how they began playing hockey during the Depression era on frozen ponds with newspapers strapped to boots to serve as skates. Fortunately, hockey equipment has come a long way. Modern hockey equipment is not only more comfortable and functional, but offers much more in the way of protection and enhanced performance.
Early hockey helmets were leather, as this was one of the hardest materials that could be reasonably manipulated into a well-fitting helmet. The leather helmet trend was started by George Owen in the 1920s. Owen was a former football player who simply wore his football helmet on the ice. Various types of foam, cork and other cushioning material was used until helmets became mandatory in the early 1980s when more advanced materials were available.
Although hockey did not require safety equipment for many years, players have always sought ways to improve their games through equipment. Changes in gloves, pads and sticks have improved player safety, and enabled players to improve their performances. Gloves that used to be bulky and clumsy now allow for maximum contact with the stick as well as protection for hands. As technology improves, padding material becomes lighter, thinner and easier to move in, allowing for more freedom, faster skating and more accurate stick handling.
The most dramatic changes took place in the 1980s, when more synthetic materials hit the market and were incorporated into hockey clothing, pads and skates. Skate uppers are primarily synthetic, which is lighter and more comfortable than leather. These manmade materials also provide more form-fitting foot support and a more accurate fit that eliminates fatigue. Improvements to skate blades have also resulted in skates that allow for faster, sharper strokes, better acceleration and more overall control on the ice.