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