Hockey Team Gear Sales: Players versus fans

When a pro hockey team has a team gear sale, the impulse chemicals start flowing until I can get my hit.

These sales are usually well attended by fans and players in any city, but they can get ugly. Both in line and online.

Olie Kolzig's Reebok X-Pulse leg pads still at the Tampa Bay Lightning gear sale last season.

Olie Kolzig’s Reebok X-Pulse leg pads still at the Tampa Bay Lightning gear sale last season.

Attending gear sales with the Capitals in the past, even the smallest sales were loaded when held at Capitals Kettler Iceplex, but then became highly organized events when moved to the annual Fan Convention.

The initial one I attended was first-come, first-serve and gradually moved to where season-ticket holders gained early access. Because of the size of the convention, these became almost a timed entry system.

Hockey players–no matter the age–really wait for these things because gear is expensive on top of paying to play hockey. The sales offer huge discounts on sticks that normally cost $300 and skates that go for $600. Some are used, other new and a few items modified.

There are two things that piss hockey players off when it comes to gear sales. The overall concern is that the equipment would never be used. One, is when you go home and see some guy decided to buy a pair of gloves he paid $35 for and decide that because they were worn and used by a fourth-line player, you should pay $150 on eBay or Craigslist.

The other is when they sit around as a collector’s item, no matter how insignificance the history of it is.

Hockey players like to see the gear used, even if someone else got it. The exception is when the gear doesn’t even make it to the sale and players are friends with the equipment guys from the team, who just give or sell the gear to their friends. I’ve known this personally to have happened with at least one set of Lindback pro return goalie equipment in Tampa. One, it cuts any proceeds from going to the charity of choice that these gear sales provide. Two, it cuts out the fair chance of the gear being available to anyone. But the sting is alleviated knowing that it’s getting some use. I’m not just singling out the Lightning for this, it happens at a lot of teams and rinks. It’s OK if the equipment and team guys keep gear for themselves, but peddling it off to friends for money is bad.

The players versus collectors took a bit of a tough turn this week when Capitals fan blog Russian Machine Never Breaks shared an email and photo of a fan who bought Brett Leonhardt’s Vaughn leg pads this past weekend. Leonhardt, the team’s video coach, is better known as the team’s fill-in goalie during Caps practices and even was called into emergency back-up action.

The poor girl posted a photo of her with the pads having them on backward and showed how they’d never be used other than as an expensive decoration in the TV room.

Within probably minutes of the post, a user (not me) on Goalie Gear Sluts United posted the picture of the girl.

I chimed in on the discussion via GGSU linking to the Russian Machine Never Breaks blog to give people context (and give them a traffic boost) and joking this is why we can’t have nice things. It’s a goalie thing, and seeing how the group is mainly teenagers, the discussion went south real quick. Even the comments on RMNB look a little hairy, probably as a spill-over from GGSU.

While they mocked her and wanted to do other things to her, goalies have a fickle feeling about the proper use of gear. This group hates endless posts of all-white pads, questions about stances and countless other things that irritate net minders of all levels. The group includes some AHLers and even has a fan in Ryan Miller.

I feel for these gear sluts because some of them will take the time to see and ask others what size certain pro goalies wear because they want the same pad set up or are trying to find the right size. The pros don’t have 35+2 written on their pads. You have to ask around and find the right gear rep. And if you can get your hands on them, you’re saving at least $1,000, especially if they’re lightly used or new.

Player gear is a little easier to get used to and sample in person. The Brian Pothier Easton Syngergy SE stick I got years ago at the Caps gear sale was probably the best stick I’ve ever used, and wouldn’t doubt if Mike Green used it in an emergency as he ran out of  Easton Stealth sticks after potting 31 goals in 2009. The Sami Salo stick I’m using now was a great buy at $70 for a $300-plus stick. His Bauer Nexus One is perfectly made for someone 5’11” tall despite him being 6’3″.

At that same sale where I nabbed the Salo stick, I witnessed probably all of the downfalls of gear sales: the insistent lady yelling at another woman claiming she cut in front of her and called security over; the guy who bought Kristers Gudlevskis’ Bauer One100 leg pads he used while with Dynamo Riga probably not knowing those pads were hand-me-downs to Kristers before the Lightning gave the Latvian near gear. Or also seeing Anders Lindback’s incredibly beat up Reebok Premier trapper move very quickly. Or the Olie Kolzig Reebok X-Pulse leg pads finally marked down to something sensible, but still hasn’t moved. Or the oddities of suddenly seeing old Revoke Mike Smith trapper  with a beefed-up palm, new in a bag suddenly appear at the sale after not being there at the previous four I attended. Did they find it hiding in some closest after all these years?

The only goalie gear I bought at gear sales have been three goalie cut jerseys (two Caps, one Lightning) and a couple Olie Kolzig Reebok wood sticks. (Love his model–managed to buy his pro sticks at a Play It Again Sports in Maryland for cheap.) Actually, I don’t remember if there was ever goalie gear left before I could get into the Caps sales. I remember seeing Jose Theodore’s Vaughn Velocity’s walk away in the hands of a smiling man.

Anyway, there are fans who always want a collectible of some sort from their favorite team, whether it’s a practice puck, team-signed jersey, or in some cases, people really want the locker room stall nameplates. And stuff like nameplates and jerseys and autographed items are great for collection cases. The skates, gloves, pants and helmets–well, there’s a turf war on those.

Probably the best thing to do is have a lottery first for people at local ice rinks for a first exclusive pass before opening it up to the public and season ticket holders. Have them show you their USA Hockey registration and call it a day. (And stop the equipment guys from over-pilfering the inventory.)

Until then, I hope I see some Evgeni Nabokov gear in good condition at a Lightning sale next season. I know they’re likely to be all white, but I’ll settle for something that fits.

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