This review is going to be fairly long (and updated often as I keep playing in the pads over time) since there are very few reviews on the Itech Prodigy line of pads, and that's really too bad.
Although I started as an ice goalie, I've been playing with my college roller hockey team for some time. I've usually tried to maintain a policy of one set of pads for ice, and one set of pads for roller. I've used a very, very broken in set of 36+1" Velocities for ice (they were essentially 36" due to the ankle padding breaking in) and a set of 36+1" DS 992s. My reasons for getting rid of those were, respectively, that the knee cradle in the Velos was a little low since the pad had broken in, and that I really don't care for the Koho-style leg channel of the 992s. That you had to strap them looser than sin to garner any rotation out of them was the final nail in the coffin of those pads. On sportcourt, I use a custom set of 36' Mission 500s which are really, really flexible, which is great for maneuverability on the less forgiving surface. I do give up some five hole closure, but hey, that's what they make sticks for, right?
A series of good investments and unforseen circumstances saw me sitting with way too much money burning a hole in my pocket. Instead of doing something intelligent, like putting it into stocks or bonds, I decided I would treat myself to a nice set of pads. Sitting on ebay for a price that was too good to pass up, I bought this set of 37" Prodigies with the pro soft knee from The Goalie Crease. They did a great job in getting the pads to me earlier than I expected! (Full disclosure: I had some trouble with them in the past over a mix up with shipping on a batch of sticks which I thought was handled poorly, but I decided to give them a second chance. I'm glad I did. Kudos to you guys.)
I returned from pick up hockey and found a package sitting on my doorstep. The box barely weighed anything, which was a welcome indication of how light the pads were. Upon opening the box, I took five seconds to revel in how nice they were before going to work changing the way the pad is built.
The nice thing about the Itech lines (11.8, 9.8, and 7.8, at least) is that they're pretty darn cusomizeable. The bad thing about them is that in an effort to be customizeable, they include a lot of junk that I don't think I need.
Nittimaki is an idiot
The first thing that I noticed that seemed really goofy was the thigh wing. It's a little piece of HD-80 that attaches to the thigh, ostensibly to help stop pucks from sliding through the five hole and perhaps lend a tiny bit of extra coverage on half butterflies or something like that. There's two problems with this: one, the thigh strap runs on the outside
of the wing, meaning there's nylon to ice contact; two, if you like doing the thigh strap anything other than undone, the thigh wing will interfere with your pants. Granted, I have huge McKenney flatface pants, but I'm willing to guarantee that the wing will interfere with pretty much every set of pants out there. Thankfully, it's laced on, so it was a minute long process to remove the wings from both pads.
More stuff getting removed
The second thing I did was rip out the Transforma-Fit calf and ankle pads. Basically, the idea is that you can leave them in if you prefer a shallow leg channel or a pad that is more raised on the skate. Given that these are already pretty big pads, I didn't need the skate lift, and the calf channel just seemed extraneous. Thankfully, they are attached with velcro so it was a simple matter of ripping them out. The loop side of the velcro is actually a pretty darn comfy material on the leg, so no problems there.
Next up was using the adjustable knee wing system. As I mentioned before, I was looking for a true 36" pad at the knee, so I had to use this feature to make sure I was in the cradle. I'd say these fit at least an inch bigger at the knee than similarly sized Vaughn pads (and, as it turned out, another inch bigger at the thigh, but more on that later). At the very lowest the cradle can be adjusted to, my knee hits a smidgen above dead center, and I have a 19.25" ankle to knee height. It was a simple matter of unvelcroing the cradle, moving it down, and re-velcroing it. (Note to those that are curious: no, velcro is not a verb, but yes, I used it as one. So there.) The actual knee lift system was a bit more difficult: since the knee cradle was mounted lower, I had to move the knee wings down one spot to ensure that I was hitting in the center of the wing. That was a more annoying process of unlacing and relacing the wings, although apparently Itech had a run on cord which made the lace about an inch too short to be able to be re-knotted by hands alone. I had to resort to using a needle-nose pliers to tie the knot.
A side note to anyone who doesn't need to actually adjust the wings for height: do yourself a favor and unlace the thing anyway. The wings come from the factory such that both wings are attached to the same side of the leather strip that connects them to the pad. That makes the top wing stick out farther from the pad than the bottom wing, which I imagine is just itching to promote overrotation. I moved the top pad to the inside of the attachment strip and left the bottom wing on the outside, and they are effectively a single block.
Itech apparently listened to people that are annoyed about the floppiness of seperate wings and how they interfere with skating, so they combatted this by using two wings and also running the nylon knee strap through a clip on the inner-most wing. Unfortunately, they used a locking clip with teeth as opposed to a smooth clip, which created some problems with mobility (to wit: the knee wings were too stiff and immobile and were interfering with my skating). I simply ran the nylon through only one side of the clip so that the knee wing can slide along the length of the nylon, which looks to be like a good solution.
Calf and Boot
Itech was nice enough to run the calf strapping through both the inner calf wing and the outer calf wedge. This is good! Unfortunately, when the knee cradle is at the lowest setting, the loop that the top calf strap runs through tends to get lodged in between the knee wings. I removed the strap from the loop; problem solved. The other two straps are more than enough to keep the calf wings snug.
Itech doesn't offer a sliding toe bridge, but the bridge they include does have two sets of mounting holes: one for a normal fit, and another two that move the toe ties an inch towards the inner contact surface. I wear my toe ties with about 4" of slack anyway so it's a nonissue, but I did like the option for the offset toe.
The pads come with a leather boot strap, 3 leather calf straps, a nylon knee strap, a nylon thigh strap, and an elastic thigh board strap. I personally keep my boot moderately snug through the center of my skate, the lowest calf strap tight, the middle calf strap loose (if they were quick change and removeable like those used in the Velocity or Smith pads, that middle strap would be long gone), and the top calf strap moderately tight. The knee strap is moderately tight, and the thigh strap is moderately tight.
On the ice
I had a chance to skate around with these for the better part of three hours today.
First things first: Holy crap these are stiff. My Missions and Velos were pillows; my 992s were also extremely stiff (even after being used for half a season) but because I had to wear them super loose, I didn't notice it as much. These are stiff, stiff pads. Thankfully, the ankle already seems to be breaking in after the one session, which is good, because it was causing pain in my skates that I'd never felt before. I had tied the pads up to promote thigh flexure; as of right now, it's going to take a lot longer before these approach any amount of flex. I can only imagine what the hard flex is. This isn't a huge deal since I have an extremely wide butterfly when needs be, but I really wish the ankle was more flexible. I'll be working that break constantly until it's flexing.
The second thing I noticed: These are actually 38" tall when measured binding to binding. I'm not used to the extra height, so I had to adjust my stance accordingly. Wasn't a huge deal, just had to bring my glove hand out more (which is a net positive anyway). Mobility was somehow not an issue. Maybe my Missions were small!
Other important points that I'd like to share, as well as some thoughts I had while playing:
- The Missions and Velocities had lateral flex; that is, the inside gusset would deform a bit when you did a butterfly slide or butterfly move, cushioning your landing a bit and giving the impression that the pad was flexing. The 992s were rock hard when going down. The 9.8s follow the 992 example. Not a bad thing, but I'd imagine some of the more traditional save mechanics would be a bit more tricky versus a pad with give on the inside gusset.
- Full 12" width from midway up the thigh to the ankle means that not only am I never making it in the NHL, you probably should have a wider stance to accomodate these pads. I'd imagine that the 11" width, or a smaller thigh rise, would alleviate this problem. I have a wide stance, so it's a non-issue.
- You can wear these extremely tight and get perfect rotation. Thank goodness.
- If I ever miss the knee wings on these things, I'm probably drunk. They're extremely forgiving.
- Can somebody, anybody, figure out a way to make a thigh board that doesn't get caught in flat face pants? This isn't Itech's fault, as every single pair of pads I own has this problem [You sure it isn't your Yugo-sized pants? -Ed] Sure, I just have to make a kicking motion to get it out, and it doesn't do anything other than be annoying if it's caught, but someone should have figured this out by now. Also, why is it always my right pad, not my left? Also, they did interfere occasionally while I was executing a narrower butterfly. Perhaps I should move to knee pads.
- The toe of these things is the perfect angle. How guys play in square-toe pads is completely beyond my imagination.
Early Complaints, and things I would change
Well, they play really nice, albeit very stiff. They should loosen up as they age though, as I could already feel the thigh starting to bend more as the game went on. There are a few things I'd like to moan and groan about, because I am easily displeased:
- The thigh board straps need about another 6" of strap. I'm (now) a thin guy who has medium sized thighs. A big guy is going to need more strap. I need more strap. At least Itech was smart enough to make this strap inanely easy to replace, but I shouldn't have to replace it.
- The knee cradle elastic is velcroed on both sides, which is awesome since that's usually the first part of the pad that needs replacing. That said, right now, it's also about 3" too short. This I'm willing to give Itech the benefit of the doubt on since it's going to loosen up as I play, but it's still really tight, and I don't have really thick legs. It's not like I can velcro it any looser either, since the elastic has the hook side which will tear into my skin if I leave any hooks un-looped. If I ever gain my weight back, I'm screwed.
- Would it have killed them to make the leather straps replaceable without sewing? I'm appreciative that it saves a tenth of a pound, but I'm going to tear my hair out when I bust a strap trying to sew it back into place. Not to mention that Smith manages to make his stuff replaceable AND still save the weight.
- I understand that Nittimaki likes his goofy little thigh wing. Good on him. That said, this should never be on a pad again. At least it's removeable, so now I have some extra weave lying around for patching or something.
- The rulers they use up in Canada are crap. 38" != 37" guys! I'd personally be okay with a half inch less pad. but I bet I'll appreciate this once they break in.
- White nylon. It's gonna get dirty. Oh well.
As you can see, these are really pretty minor complaints.
These are awesome, awesome pads. I'm not going to sit here and give the thing grades since pads are indredibly personal and what I like might now be what you like, but this pad meets my five major performance criterion perfectly:
- tight strapping
- let me skate god damnit
- as much pad on the ice as possible while in the butterfly
- let me hug the post without giving up a hole
- be light
We'll see how they break in as I use them. I'm extremely pleased with my purchase, and I think that this is a pad that more people should be looking at with a critical eye since I haven't seen very many out in the wild, but the ones I have are at an extremely competitive price.
Thanks again to the guys at the Goalie Crease for the great set of pads and the great service.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Banned for lack of couch.