SCOTT RADLEY Fa­mous for mak­ing goalie pads, Ke­nesky now saves goalies’ chests and arms

Fa­mous for mak­ing goalie pads, Ke­nesky is now sav­ing goalies’ chests and arms

The Hamilton Spectator - - Front Page - SCOTT RADLEY

It was back in 1992 that the Ke­nesky name skated off NHL ice for the last time.

Once the brand of pads that pretty much ev­ery big league goalie wore, the Hamil­ton hockey fac­tory hadn’t re­ally kept up with the times as styles, ma­te­ri­als and de­signs changed. So when Ron Hex­tall, Al­lan Bester and Brian Hay­ward moved on to dif­fer­ent makes af­ter that sea­son, the most fa­mous name in goalie equip­ment was es­sen­tially ren­dered ob­so­lete.

Years later as sales of hockey equip­ment be­gan mov­ing from re­tail to on­line, the work it took to keep the name­sake store at Bar­ton and Wellington op­er­at­ing — the spot where Pops Ke­nesky had in­vented and sewn goalie pads for decades — be­came more dif­fi­cult. Owner Joel Huls­man un­locked the front door at 9 ev­ery morn­ing and got home ...

“When­ever the hell I could get out of there,” he says.

That was of­ten at 9 p.m. or later, which made the de­ci­sion to close the place in 2015 a whole lot eas­ier than it might have been. Forty years af­ter buy­ing the busi­ness, he sold the build­ing, moved out, and saw it get torn down to make way for a still-yetto-be-con­structed med­i­cal cen­tre. End­ing the Ke­nesky name once and for all.

Or so he might’ve thought. If you look care­fully at the chest of Wash­ing­ton goalie Braden Holtby when the Cap­i­tals are on the road and they’re wear­ing their white sweaters, you might see the res­ur­rec­tion of a proud brand un­der the light fab­ric. His chest and arm pads are now Ke­nesky. Same with Cal­gary’s Mike Smith, Flor­ida’s Roberto Luongo and Dal­las’s An­ton Khu­dobin, among oth­ers.

Turns out that a hockey equip-

ment de­signer named Mike Howard had made some high-qual­ity gear but no hook to sell it. No rec­og­niz­able name to get at­ten­tion. He ap­proached Huls­man a while back and asked if the name was avail­able.

“I think it’s the her­itage of it and the fact that Pops was the first guy ever to make goalie equip­ment,” he says. “I thought the name shouldn’t go away.”

For­tu­itously, a huge rule change was hap­pen­ing in the NHL. Af­ter years of see­ing goalies wear up­per body pro­tec­tion that was com­i­cally gi­gan­tic and as much about stop­ping pucks as pre­vent­ing bruises, the league man­dated a down­siz­ing be­gin­ning last sea­son. This was per­fect for them.

Rather than of­fer­ing masspro­duced gear be­ing im­ported from China, their model was cus­tom-fit­ted to the in­di­vid­ual goalie. Equip­ment that fit per­fectly. Sud­denly Holtby was on the line ask­ing for a set. Of course, the an­swer was yes. Even if it’s no easy task.

As Howard starts break­ing down the con­struc­tion of each unit — cre­ated at their place in Lon­don — the list of parts starts get­ting very long. The chest is pro­tected by 76 in­di­vid­u­ally cut foam blocks that all have to be hand-sewn into place. Each arm con­sists of 26 pieces that are sewn into place. Then there’s ex­tra pad­ding for the rib cage, caps for the shoul­ders, a neck guard and oth­ers that add up to 40 more pieces. Not to men­tion the buck­les, straps, ny­lon cov­ers and more.

“A chest pro­tec­tor is prob­a­bly the most com­plex and time-con­sum­ing thing we put to­gether,” he says. It takes 2 1/2 hours just to cut out the pieces and as­sem­ble them. Sew­ing takes an­other five hours. Throw in an­other hour to in­spect and test the fin­ished prod­uct and you see why this small op­er­a­tion can only pro­duce four or five a week.

Huls­man says eight NHLers are wear­ing them now. An­other 16 are test­ing them in prac­tice. And it may not end here.

NHL li­cens­ing rules re­quire com­pa­nies to pay a fee to the league for any equip­ment that’s vis­i­ble. That doesn’t im­pact Ke­nesky yet but the com­pany is now also mak­ing block­ers, trap­pers and, yes, pads. There have to be pads. This is Ke­nesky, af­ter all. Any of that could be the fu­ture. For now, when Huls­man, Howard and their part­ner Dave Wil­cox flip to a game on their TV, they don’t watch for a won­der­ful piece of skill or an ex­cit­ing goal. In­stead, they’re squint­ing to see KE­NESKY in script through the goalie’s sweater. Hop­ing some­day they don’t have to be­cause all of them are wear­ing their stuff.

Just like in the old days.

NICK WASS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The new Ke­nesky cre­ated body ar­mour worn by Braden Holtby of the Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals. Cal­gary’s Mike Smith, among oth­ers, also wears it.

SUP­PLIED PHOTO

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