Q: I'm equipment shopping for my 12U player. Do you have any advice on what to look for when it comes to skates and sticks?
A: This is a great question and it’s something that isn’t discussed enough when it comes to youth players. While many shops will try to sell parents top-of-the-line product for their child, it isn’t always best for them.
Top-of-the-line skates are meant for elite-level adults. These are the types of skates you would see professionals and college players wearing. They are typically very stiff skates, made for heavier players with tremendous ankle strength. Youth players benefit from a more flexible skate, because children don’t have the same weight, leg strength and ankle flexion that an older player has. Flexible skates are not only more comfortable for children, they also allow for greater flexing of the ankle, which leads to a deeper knee bend and better skating mechanics.
If we put youngsters in skates that are too stiff, their feet may hurt and it could be detrimental to their foot development, not to mention their skating stride. We don’t want kids in pain; we want them to enjoy skating and playing hockey!
When it comes to sticks for youth players, the most overlooked aspect is stick flex. I see many youth players playing with the same sticks as their favorite NHL players, but like skates, these sticks must be age-appropriate to allow children greater success when passing, shooting and stickhandling.
A good rule of thumb for any player is that the flex of his or her stick should be less than half of their body weight. For example, Patrick Kane weighs 180 pounds and uses an 87 flex stick. Therefore his flex rating is 48 percent of his body weight. Dustin Byfuglien weighs 265 pounds and uses a 110 flex. His flex rating is 42 percent of his body weight. If a 12U player weighs 120 pounds and is using an 87 flex stick (like Patrick Kane), then their flex rating is 73% of their body weight. This doesn’t even take into consideration that when sticks are cut down (to shorter lengths), the flex rating increases. So what you end up seeing is a 120-pound player using a cut-down 87 flex stick that performs more like a 100 flex stick. In reality, their flex rating is now approximately 83 percent of their body weight, which is way too high and will inhibit their performance.
Parents and coaches need to look at equipment the same way we look at training players. To produce the best results, we need to be age-appropriate and age-specific in everything we do. A 12-year-old shouldn’t practice the same way an NHL player does, shouldn’t play 82 games like an NHL player and certainly shouldn’t use the exact same equipment that their favorite NHL player is using. After all, we need to remember that they are children, not miniature adults.
The author, Kenny Rausch, began his coaching career in 1996 with Boston University, his alma mater. As a player, he earned Beanpot Tournament MVP honors and was named a Hockey East Distinguished Scholar.