Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Unsafe Safety Equipment?

The image to the left was posted on Twitter by Uni Watch's Paul Lukas last night. That's goaltender Marco Streit as a member of the Swiss league's Rapperswil-Jona Lakers. Notice his mask? It's not the usual birdcage or hybrid mask we're used to seeing on netminders. Instead, it has large circular openings where Streit's eyes are. Streit, as far as I can tell, doesn't wear glasses when he's defending the net, so what gives with this mask? Who makes it, and why is it made this way? Secondly, why don't I see any straps securing the back plate?

After doing a little Googling, I stumbled across the website for Airxess Custom Goalie Masks. They're a Swiss company that makes goalie masks and, from what I can translate, have been making custom masks since 2007 for goalies. The mask worn by Marco Streit above is an Airxess custom mask designed by Streit for his own personal use. That last part - "his own personal use" - is important to note. I'll explain why.

On the page showing the kids' version of the Streit mask, there is a small paragraph that should be noted: "our masks are tested but not approved! In Switzerland threre is no need of an approvement for the mask. Only the cage has some specifications." Hold on now... not approved? Spelling mistakes aside, I want something to protect my face that has some sort of safety standard applied to it. After all, frozen vulcanized rubber pucks can do some serious damage to unprotected areas of the body.

I'm not sure what testing is done, but I assume that Airxess does the basics when it comes to making sure their customers don't die. They do have some impressive features on the mask, though. You'll notice that there are no welds of any kind on the mask. As written on The Goalie Guild's site, "[t]he Hexagon Grill is actually one solid piece of stainless steel that is cut into the pattern you see above. So it is not only extremely strong, it's pretty much totally impenetrable. There are no welds, which means there's no rust, which means there's no weakening of the bars." That's pretty impressive, actually. While the costs go up dramatically with this version of the mask, it also makes the mask completely customizable so that it fits the goalie's face to a tee. Goalies won't have to look through bars if the holes for the eyes are set in the optimal spots.

Secondly, there are no straps or snaps anywhere on the outside of the mask. I know a few goalies who loathe when a strap or snap breaks, and it can be a time-consuming effort to replace that broken piece of the mask if it happens in the middle of a game. The Airxess Streit mask has everything hidden - all straps and metal harnesses are not exposed on the mask so that broken straps and snaps won't slow the game down. If you notice, the mask itself is secured by screws for easy removal in case there is a problem, and it can replaced just as easily. In other words, this mask shouldn't slow anything down in the game unless it basically explodes.

Except it won't explode. That's probably some good news, right? The shell of the helmet is made of carbon and aramid. You probably know carbon fairly well as being the main ingredient in carbon-fiber. Aramid is literally the fiber part. Aramids are probably better known by their more common name, kevlar, and are commonly found in military clothing such as ballistic-rated body armor fabric. Carbon-aramids provide extremely high-impact resistance while having a low weight. Because of these properties, the cost of carbon-aramid fiber is higher than regular carbon-glass fiber strand.

With that science out of the way, the helmet is extremely strong and light while being crafted to fit your head thanks to each helmet being custom-made. The cost of an Airxess goalie mask reportedly runs a bill of approximately $1500 USD, but you're truly getting one of the strongest, safest masks that science can support. However, while they are tested through some unknown procedure, they don't come safety-certified by any major safety organization. Science may say you're safe based on how it's built, but there's no one checking the testing done by Airxess.

For this one, I'm going to have throw up the old "caveat emptor" if you'd like to invest in an Airxess mask. They are incredibly unique, as seen on Marco Streit above, and will certainly generate some conversation when you're seeing wearing it. You're most likely going to be safe if a puck catches you in the mask as well. Just don't stop everything with your head.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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