(UPDATE 4/26/2016: Many of the additional differences between Pro Stock and Retail Hockey Equipment are covered along in the Reboot Hockey Off-Ice Training Manual. The Manual is available for purchase at this link. Thanks.)
By Jack, Reboot Hockey
If you’ve participated in Hockey for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the term “Pro Stock” bandied about by fellow players. Pro Stock equipment is made for professional players, and often times excess or unused equipment finds it’s way into the hands of amateur or adult-league players.
Pro Stock equipment is generally made for one specific player or team. While the quality of Pro Stock gear is usually outstanding compared to most Retail products – meaning those you can purchase online or at your Local Hockey Shop – it can be extremely different from most products available commercially.
Here is an overview of some of the differences between Pro Stock and Retail hockey equipment, as well as Reboot Hockey’s overview on which way you may want to consider purchasing:
Let me first get this out of the way: if you are going to pick one place to bite the bullet and overpay for a piece of Hockey equipment, do yourself a favor and buy your skates at a quality Local Hockey Shop. Invest the additional dollars you might save purchasing online or aftermarket in the shop itself, knowing that you are getting an educated perspective, a personalized fitting, and likely continuous adjustments if you have problems with your skates.
After all, no piece of Hockey equipment is more personalized than skates. This makes buying Pro Stock skates a tricky proposition, to say the least. I’ll use my personal situation as a token example:
One of my favorite skates is the CCM U+Pro. Here’s my pair of the U+ Pro Reloaded next to my Reebok 11Ks:
I have a TUUK Lightspeed 2 holder on my U+Pros, but otherwise they are Retail. Notice the silver Eyelet Row and the lack of lace-lock (as opposed to the 11Ks, which have a lace-lock at the 4th eyelet). The quarter-package is Retail Stiff and has already shown signs of breaking down under my 210-lb frame.
By comparison, here’s a Pro Stock pair of CCM U+ Pros made for Loui Eriksson:
Loui’s skates are 9.5 D/A, meaning that a heel cup has been made for the player to improve fit and heel lock. This is seldom seen on Retail skates any more, as Retail skates are actually made to fit “most” feet in a given length/width. Many if not most Pro Stock skates have heel size specification, commonly something like E/A or D/A. You will regularly see obscure heel width such as AA or B on Pro Stock skates.
Loui has had the Retail Eyelet Row removed and had a leather or polyurethane piece stitched into the skate, as well as lace-locks on the 4th row. Ironically enough, I went to Reboot partner Mark with a request for this exact modification. I love the fit I get from the U+Pro/U-Foam around the quarter-package area, but I have always wanted the traditional-style leather/faux-leather Eyelet Row seen on older CCM and Graf skates. I’ve never done this mod because I haven’t yet found a leathered pair to rip up, but it’s been on my to-do list for quite a while.
(Note: it appears CCM/Reebok has put this pro-style Eyelet Row on the 2015 CCM RibCore 50K. The 48K and all skates beneath it seem to have the composite eyelet row seen on previous late-model CCM/RBK skates.)
Interestingly enough, Brenden Morrow has this same modification, along with an A heel cup. I guess both feel, as I do, that the Retail Eyelet Row on the U+Pro inhibits traditional foot-wrap. Both prefer the traditional D/A configuration that was commonly seen on skates in the 1990s and prior.
Loui uses the CCM/RBK E-Pro holder and has his #21 stamped on the back, and he uses the standard Pro Reloaded tongue. I am also sure the Pro Stock U+Pro is significantly stiffer than the Retail version, but otherwise they look quite similar.
Pro Stock skates are highly-individualized, and you will frequently see skates that are L: 8.75 D/A R: 9.25 C/AA, or sized in a similar way. This is great if you happen to have identical foot dimensions to the pro player in question, but 99% of the time that’s not the case.
Former Edmonton Oiler/LA Kings forward Ryan Smyth wears two different sized skates: his left skate is a Size 9 1/4 and his right skate is a Size 8 1/2. Forefoot width is a C and heel width is an A. This is obviously very unique, and very, very few players could comfortably play in these. This is a good example of why Retail is a better option for most players for skates.
Here is a pic of another pair of Pro Stock skates, in this case a pair made for Dion Phaneuf:
These are a pair of Reebok 9Ks made for or worn by Dion Phanuef earlier in his career. The skates are heavily reinforced along the outsole, appear to be double-stitched, have had a TUUK Lightspeed 2 holder put onto them (in place of the Reebok E-Pro holder), had Nash Sniper tongues sewn in, and have had Dion’s #3 stitched onto the heel.
This is a pretty specialized pair of skates. I have no first-hand information, but I’ve read Dion uses a standard 10D skate. He has had these skates heavily-customized with different holders, tongues, and specs from the 9K Retail version.
Most amateur players are not going to be able to reap a performance benefit going from an RBK E-Pro holder to a Bauer TUUK LS2. If anything, some players might notice the 9′ factory radius on an LS2 versus the 10′ factory radius seen on an E-Pro. But the work done on these 9Ks is fairly advanced customization, and not needed for many recreational players.
Most people are probably better going the Retail route and having a baking/fitting done by a smart Pro Shop employee. Higher-end Retail skates are so heat-moldable that they can be very highly-customized. Unless you have a ridiculous pair of feet (cough, cough), you can probably find a Retail model that fits you just fine.
If you are one those people who has obnoxious feet (cough) that don’t seem to fit into any of the standard Retail offerings, I suggest you look at my article on How to Optimize Your Hockey Skates. Even then, I think most people are better starting down the Retail route, or saving themselves time and going full Custom, than chasing Pro Stock models.
Verdict: Retail. The feet of most Hockey Players are highly unique, and purchasing a pair of Pro Stock skates is often gambling, at best, in terms of finding a proper fit. The materials themselves – minus a Pro Stock perk such as Clarino liners or a custom holder/tongue – are going to be very similar to those seen on high-end Retail skates. Unless you have the opportunity to try the skates on and know exactly what you’re looking for, you’re probably better going the Retail route.
Some companies try to deliver professional-quality sticks at the Retail level, while others shrug and save their best work for the pros themselves. My experience has been that Pro Stock sticks are generally much more durable than their Retail counterparts, and come with a noticeable performance upgrade. The question comes down to availability and value.
The puck feel on Pro Stock sticks is often top notch. Composite sticks are always a crap-shoot to begin with, but you push the odds in your favor by investing in a professional-grade stick. Again, you do not have any kind of Warranty or store-return protection if you absolutely hate the stick, but going with Pro Stock increases the likelihood you’ll be pleased with your purchase.
Pro Stock sticks often come with highly-customized blade patterns, so this can be a good or bad thing depending on how well you like a particular pattern. I will say that the quality of the stick itself is usually so high that you as a player will spend less time compensating for the pattern itself, and more time shooting and stick-handling on autopilot.
Just to overwhelm you, here’s a Reebok chart showing off some of their Pro blade patterns:
That’s just one company’s chart from one particular year. It only gets more confusing from there.
One advantage of Retail sticks is that the blade patterns are relatively-consistent. You can expect an Easton E3 on a Mako II stick to be very similar to an Easton E3 on an Easton HTX stick. But the quality of a Pro Stock stick itself is so high that unless a blade pattern is completely detrimental for the player in question, the Pro Stock stick becomes a major upgrade.
Now, a trap is buying or overpaying for a stick because you like a certain player, unless you intend to use it strictly as a collectible. My Reboot partner Mark purchased a pair of Warrior Pro Stock sticks because he and the player have the same last name, but the sticks sit unused in his office because they are way too short for Mark. The Pro’s pattern is also an H20/open-wedge, and it’s comical to watch Mark try to shoot with it.
Meanwhile, paying $500 for a used Evgeni Malkin stick – as cool as it would be to have – is a bad investment as a player because A) the stick is likely to break at any time, and B) Geno has ripped some slapshots with it, and likely softened it up quite a bit. I don’t recommend purchasing used sticks under any circumstance, unless the stick is being purchased as a collectible. A mid-level Retail stick is a better purchase than a used Pro Stock stick at the same dollar figure.
Retail sticks are almost always unused, and you of course get the instant gratification of walking right out of the hockey shop with your new purchase. But many Retail models are so inferior to their Pro Stock counterparts that it’s barely worth discussing.
Just as an example: I heaped praise on the 2014 Sher-Wood EK9 Rekker, as I believe the EK9 was the best stick released in 2014 at the $100-$120 price-point. However, the Sher-Wood T90 Pro – which I purchased for a very similar price – is such a quantum leap from the EK9 in terms of balance, weight, puck feel, and overall performance that it’s almost not worth discussing.
The only category in which the EK9 might challenge the T90 Pro is durability, as I got 6-7 months of heavy use from the EK9 before it began to lose it’s pop. That’s phenomenal for a Retail stick.
For reference, here are the tags from two Pro Stock Sher-Wood sticks next to my Retail EK9. Almost every Pro Stock stick I’ve seen has been stamped Pro Stock No Warranty, and many include the player’s personal tag:
(Note: I’ll review the Sher-Wood T90 and T100 Pro sticks in a future article, but take my word that most Pro Stock sticks are massive upgrades on their Retail counterparts.)
Next, I’ll have some fun at the expense of Reboot partner Randy and point out the advantage of going the Retail route:
Randy picked up a Bauer 1X, the 2015 high-end stick from the Bauer Vapor line. Due to some faulty reporting from an unnamed Online Hockey Warehouse, Randy purchased his 1X in the Giroux P28 pattern, which aficionados will recognize as an Easton E28/Ovechkin Pro (open-toe) clone. Randy ordinarily uses an E3/H11/P92/PP26, which is a pretty standard moderate-open mid-curve. In short, the P28 is a pretty big departure from the E3.
Like a kid at Christmas, I grabbed a spot on the bleachers at our local rink and waited with giddy anticipation for Randy to start launching – and I do mean launching – shots with his brand-new 1X. For educational purposes, I picked up the Easton Synergy 60 stick in an E28, and I know all too well how the open-toe pattern can send routine shots into the netting around the rink.
I didn’t get much of a chance to watch Randy shoot pucks over the glass, because he wasn’t on the ice for five minutes when the toe of his brand-new $260 1X got caught in a crack along the boards and snapped off. The tape wasn’t even wet on the just-purchased stick. Five minutes on the ice, never to be used again.
It was a clear sign from the Hockey Gods, who are obviously huge fans of Sher-Wood and for some reason find hubris in the P28. Randy’s face reddened up with rage like a thermometer as he glared at his clipped 1X before going back to his ever-dutiful EK15 Rekker. Bauer of course immediately replaced the 1X and Randy continues to adapt to the P28, but the takeaway point is this:
Had he paid anything similar to what he paid for his Retail 1X for a Pro Stock stick, it would have been like Randy jumped out of a plane with no parachute. Pro Stock sticks generally cost less than their Retail counterparts, but Retail sticks also have Warranty protection for instances such as this.
Randy lives in the big house on the wealthy end of town and wears shoes made of alligator (WOO!), so he can endure the loss of a $260 stick. Meanwhile, $260 is just about a three-month stick budget for me. If I paid anything close to that amount for a Geno Malkin Pro Stock stick and broke it immediately, I would have gone full Happy Gilmore.
The point being that Retail Warranty protection is certainly a consideration. If you are one of those who loves the Warranty protection of Retail and isn’t all that interested in digging around for Pro Stock gear, more power to you. But I’ve found that I actually get much better value going the Pro Stock route.
Verdict: Pro Stock. You absolutely see a big performance jump going from Retail sticks to Pro Stock sticks, even at the highest end of Retail. With Retail you have a window of Warranty protection, but Pro Stock sticks are simply better built top-to-bottom. Compared to a lot of other Pro Stock items – Protective, in particular – Pro Stock sticks are pretty affordable and available. I recommend you at least look into Pro Stock sticks prior to your next purchase.
- Gloves are a signature piece of Pro Stock gear, because they generally come stamped with a specific player or team’s name on the cuff. Pro Stock gloves can also be highly customized compared to the Retail versions. Here are a few examples of custom jobs done on Pro Stock gloves:
These are a pair of Rick Nash’s gloves from his time in Columbus. To my knowledge, Rick is the only NHL player who sports Winnwell gloves. The #61 was sewn into the thumb and “Nash” was sewn into the collar. The collar goes high into the wrist for added protection.
Here is a pair of CCM gloves meant to go with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ former 3rd (Navy) jerseys. The gloves have been heavily reinforced across the top of the hand with a slash guard/shot-block guard, and I strongly suspect they were made for a defenseman.
These gloves were obviously made for the University of Maine Black Bears. As you can see, U-M has one of the most distinctive color schemes in all of college sports. The gloves look quite a bit like Retail CCM U+ Crazy Light gloves, but obviously have added value due to their look and rarity.
Finally, these Warrior gloves were made for Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks. Unlike Rick Nash, who seems to prefer a higher cuff, Marian Hossa despises the cuff and has it shortened on his gloves. “Hossa Cuff” is a term tossed around by those in the know. You can clearly see “Hoss” on the short cuff along with Hossa’s #81 on the thumb.
Most Pro Stock gloves are not fundamentally different from Retail gloves prior to modification. Many players take advantage of the world-class equipment trainers on their professional or college teams, and have gloves bulked up, repalmed, lengthened, and shortened. It’s routine at the college/professional level to have the player or team’s name on the collar.
As a prospective buyer, the question becomes how much you will pay for a unique-looking or highly customized pair of gloves. The quality of high-end gloves at the Retail level has become so great that the differences between the Easton Pros you can buy at most hockey stores and the Easton Pros worn by Marian Gaborik are miniscule.
The choice material for palms by professionals is a high-grade material called Nash. Nash is tremendous for puck feel, but it’s somewhat expensive and not particularly durable. When money is no object, Nash is the palm material of choice. The CCM 4R II/III, 2014 Easton Pros, and Bauer Nexus Pro gloves all use Nash palms in some variation.
Some palms gets overly technical – I’ve read the phrase “digital palms” more times than I would like – and while there is a quality difference between certain types of glove shells, finger gussets, etc, in the end gloves are relatively simple and serve the same purpose. Pro Stock gloves are sometimes a bad value because they can be identical to high-end Retail gloves, the difference being that a well-known player or team’s name is stitched into the collar.
While you will usually not see a big performance spike from high-end Retail gloves to Pro Stock gloves, you could simply want a pair of gloves from your favorite team. The custom colors of a team like the Maine Black Bears, the Swedish National Team, or even the Pittsburgh Penguins, can be difficult to find at the Retail level.
Verdict: Push. While there’s no performance bump to speak of going from Retail gloves to Pro Stock, with gloves it’s more about the look and the comfort level. Pro Stock gloves are almost like collectibles, and you can expect to pay accordingly – sometimes double or more the Retail price – due to relative scarcity.
Let’s start with helmets first, since they’re unique among protective gear:
Surprisingly, Retail helmets are often more protective than non-modified Pro Stock helmet. As you know, Hockey Players are creatures of habit, and many of them who reach the professional level opt to wear the same style of helmet that they’ve worn since Junior or College.
Concussion awareness has brought a new level of safety to the Retail market, seen in helmets such as the CCM Resistance. The Resistance hit Retail shelves as a Suggested Value of $229 (!), but a little bit of investigating will show that the science behind the helmet is incredibly-sound. CCM has taken potential head injuries very seriously, and spared no expense in constructing the Resistance.
For some people, particularly those with a history of concussions or head injuries, a helmet like the Resistance or the Bauer IMS 11.0 Pro is going to be a great purchase. A player could conceivably get five or more years of use from a helmet, and given the serious nature of concussions, spending a bit more money in a helmet is simply a smart investment.
Now, as stated above, Hockey Players are creatures of habit. To use myself as an example, I’ve basically worn two helmets over the course of my 25-year playing career: the Jofa 390 (Forsberg/Jagr), and variations of the Bauer 5000/5500.
I have a number of other helmets at my disposal, including a Pro Stock CCM Vector 10.0, a Pro Stock Reebok 11K, and a Pro Stock Reebok 8K, but I just get optimal comfort from the Bauer 5000. I’ve tried beefed-up Bauer helmets such as the 7500 and 9900, and I’ve taken a look at the Cascade/IMS line, but at the end of the day I’m just most comfortable and confident in a Bauer 5000/5500.
Observant players will notice that a lot of Pros prefer the denser foam seen in helmets such as the Bauer 5100 or the CCM Vector 8.0 as opposed to the space-age materials seen in helmets like the IMS 11.0. This style of helmet lining is even called “pro-style” in many marketing materials. Here are Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk showing off pro-style helmet liners:
Geno and Jordan Staal are admiring some of their handiwork. Geno is wearing something akin to a Bauer 9900 with pro-style lining (the beige, memory foam-like padding). Jordan Staal is rocking a broken nose because he didn’t have a visor on in 2011, though he wears one now. Which leads me to my point: put on a damn cage or visor.
Here’s Kovy also sporting the pro-style liner on a Bauer 7500/9900. I suspect Geno and Kovy, among hundreds of other players, wear this style of helmet just because it’s what they were issued when they were 15 or 16 and grew comfortable with it.
Professional Hockey Players can’t be told what to do in most cases, so they often wear helmets that are far less protective than those seen at the Retail level. Before developing his own M11 helmet line, Mark Messier continued to wear his Cooper/WinnWell broomball helmet as recently as 2006. Teemu Selanne famously wore the Jofa 366 model years after the company was dissolved, much to the chagrin of the primary NHL sponsors. Notice the blacked-out Jofa logo:
A Pro Stock helmet from an NHL player is more likely to be a collector’s item than a piece of equipment you would wear. A game-worn Evgeni Malkin helmet, for example, is going to cost a buyer no less than $300-$500, and is customized to Geno’s head. This makes it an impractical purchase for game use.
If you are looking at Pro Stock helmets, you are far more likely to see batches of helmets from Junior or minor-league hockey teams. Depending on your needs, you may be able to pick up a higher-end helmet for a fraction of the cost. A team-issued helmet would likely fit more like a standard Retail helmet than a NHL helmet crafted for a specific player.
A trap would be to overpay for a “Pro Stock” helmet. I’ve noticed Reebok 11K helmets – which admittedly are great lids – fetch a minimum of $100-$150 on the aftermarket. If the helmet has AHL/ECHL stickers, that adds another $50 to the purchase cost. Of a used hockey helmet.
My advice would be to look at Retail helmets first, especially if you are newer to the sport. Try on a number of different models from different manufacturers, and talk with someone reputable from a local hockey shop. If you are considering price, invest a bit more in a helmet, as it will be a piece of equipment that you can get years of use from. To this day, I still sometimes use my college helmet “Red Rampage”:
As for the rest of the Protective equipment – shoulder pads, elbow pads, and shin-guards – I strongly recommend you stick to the Retail market.
The Pro Stock Protective market is by far the most overinflated. To start, take a look at Sidney Crosby’s shoulder pads:
Notice that Sid (not his friend holding Sid’s stick backwards) has had Reebok 7K/8K shoulder caps sewn onto the Jofa chest pad that’s probably worn since Junior or before. Alterations of this type are frequently seen at the professional level, as players frequently insist on comfort to an obsessive degree.
Here’s another Pro Stock mashup:
The player, much like Sid, has Warrior shoulder caps sewn onto a Jofa chest piece. This pic is also a good demonstration of how armored-up many modern NHL players are, with a double-flap extension sewn into the arm pad and a very cumbersome (by Retail standards) Jofa elbow pad.
Professional players are playing every other night on 60-82 game schedules, and often times laying in front of 100-MPH slapshots or hitting other 220-lb. players at full speed. NHL players take the ice in veritable suits of armor, especially compared to players of generations past. For giggles, check out this video of Brendan Shanahan, in which his “shoulder pads” are featured prominently:
Shanny isn’t really happy unless he or someone else is bleeding, so you can understand why he maybe prefers a less-bulky set of shoulder pads. But I digress.
Pro Stock shoulder pads, and professional-level Protective in general, are vastly different from their Retail counterparts. Some Protective equipment, notably discontinued Pro Stock Jofa equipment, can fetch ridiculous sums of money in the aftermarket.
As an example, I found a pair of 7k Pro Return – meaning unused Pro Stock – Jofa elbow pads available for the low, low price of $230. Jofa/older RBK gear has taken on a near-mythical status in the hockey equipment aftermarket, probably because so many older players grew up using Jofa protective.
Some players with discretionary income will see the value in an admittedly-great pair of elbows like these Pro Return 7Ks, but most beer-league superstars will do just fine with Retail protective gear.
As always, my interest lies in educating fellow Hockey players and parents, and keeping consumers as well-informed as possible. You can’t go into a locker room anymore without someone spouting off about the “Pro Stock” stick or skates they picked up, and I’m interested most in helping Reboot Hockey readers weigh the merits of purchasing Pro Stock versus Retail.
“Pro Stock” is a very undefined and nebulous term. Any equipment that has passed through the hands of an organized team’s trainer is by definition “Pro Stock”, and there is a community of people who make their living obtaining and reselling “Pro Stock” hockey equipment.
Reboot Hockey is predicated on making needed and requested equipment modifications, so I am not criticizing the value of all Pro Stock hockey gear. But you should know as a consumer that the market for Pro Stock gear is quite inflated, as Pro Stock gear is often a combination of a collectible and the highest-quality product available.
In many cases, Pro Stock equipment will be noticeably higher in quality than Retail hockey gear. It’s not always the case, and often times well-used gloves or helmets are pawned off as “Pro Stock” in the interest of commanding greater value. But unused Pro Stock, or Pro Return gear, can be a great value based on the quality of the equipment. Read up and make informed choices before purchasing.
As for the Retail side:
Hockey as a sport has been hit hard at the Retail level. Hockey is not recession-proof, and as you know it’s very expensive to play. This has squeezed a lot of equipment manufacturers at the Retail level, most of whom made healthy profit margins in the 1990s/early-2000s. There are simply less players playing, and those that continue to play aren’t spending as lavishly as they once did.
Long-time players will note that many of the brands from their youth – Koho, Jofa, Canadien, Micron, Louisville, Mission – are no longer in production. Most have been assimilated by the industry juggernauts, and some companies have simply gone under. We are at the point that five or six companies are producing the majority of all Retail equipment. This isn’t ideal from a Competitive Market perspective.
Compounding the fewer total-dollars problem at the Retail level is the fact that Online Hockey Equipment Wholesalers – I won’t site names – have killed the margin of profit for the Retailers. By continuously offering 15-20% off MAP (Minimum Advertised Price), the Online Wholesalers have dealt a body-blow to Local Hockey Shops by 1) skimming the margin of profit razor-thin, and 2) circumventing local State Sales Tax in most cases.
I’m not going to continue to bore you with an Economics thesis, but there has been a major adjustment in how Hockey Equipment Retailers do business. Retailers are forced to charge more because Online Wholesalers are underselling them by a minimum of 15-20%, which is significant when you’re talking about a $700-$800 pair of hockey skates or a $260 composite stick. As a result, the sticker price for quality Retail hockey equipment has never been higher.
In any event, most consumers today are extremely value-conscious, and Hockey Players (or their parents) are no different. Finding the best product for the best price has become an ongoing project for most people involved in the sport. Helping to break down some of the advantages and differences between Retail and Pro Stock hockey gear is the primary goal of this article.
As always, feel free to provide intelligent feedback. Like Reboot Hockey on Facebook, and look for future articles on all things Hockey-related.