The NWHL is roaring away, signing players left and right, securing ice time for its teams and even holding contests for jersey designs. While most players will simply slip on the equipment provided to them and dash out on the ice in October, some are given the ability to customize their equipment to intimidate opposing players or show off team pride or their favorite hobbies (outside of hockey).
And each of those goaltenders has equipment designers, someone who works with them to ensure they’re getting exactly what they want when they pull on those pads.
We interviewed Matt Bell, a a senior at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut. He is currently studying Interactive Digital Design and Sports Studies, and due to his love of hockey and connections in the Quinnipiac community, Bell designed a set of equipment for Chelsea Laden, one of the Connecticut Whale’s three goaltenders.
We corresponded with him to learn more about designing equipment, what that entails, how working with a particular player could affect a design, and how some of his final products turned out.
Kaitlin Cimini: How did you get into designing sports equipment?
Matt Bell: Coming to college I realized that sports and design could mix very well…from promotional things, like posters or websites, to equipment, like jerseys and goalie pads. I did a lot of poster design for Quinnipiac women’s hockey using images from the unofficial Quinnipiac hockey photographer Rob Rasmussen. These posters were basically just for fun and meant to be posted on social media for the players and fans to see, however they would also promote the team at the same time.
My major teaches me a lot about design, however, as far as sports equipment design is concerned, I would say I am self-taught.
Have you designed anything else for other players?
I have done a few equipment designs for players and teams. A lot of my designs were for competitions. [For example], at the end of the last NHL season I made a few designs for then Vancouver Canucks’ goalie Eddie Lack, who had a pad design competition going on.
Chelsea [Laden]’s pads were [made with a blue, green and white] color scheme. For the NWHL I also [submitted] quick custom designs for Brianne McLaughlin of Buffalo and Brittany Ott for Boston. My first pads for Brianne were CCM E-Flex 2 pads that used the black and white of the Beauts, and a camel [color].
The second design was almost exactly the same, but I switched the camel for silver to fit better with Buffalo’s colors.
As for Brittany [Ott]’s pads, I knew I had to somehow incorporate the light blue that she is known for. I didn’t want to use too much of it, so it’s just one stripe down the middle of an otherwise Black and Sport Gold Reebok XLT setup.
How did you end up designing pads for Chelsea Laden?
It all started when I sent a Facebook message to her last Sunday asking if she had thought of any pad designs yet for the NWHL. She responded to that message by saying [that she didn’t] yet and asked if I had any ideas.
The first one I ran by her was actually the CCM E-Flex 2 design I did for a similar competition for [SPHL Cottonmouths goaltender] Shannon Szabados, since it used the same green blue and white color scheme as the CT Whale would. She liked the pads, but that’s when I learned she wanted to stick with Vaughn [pads].
Chelsea and I went through [a process of] trial and error.
My first Vaughn design was heavy on the blue and green (Iceburn 1). I based it off her Quinnipiac pads because they had a lot of color in them. She liked the pads but felt that she wanted more white in the design.
To be honest, her [equipment] set-up, mask to pads, is probably my favorite of all the goalies, man or woman, that I have seen in my three years at Quinnipiac.
My second attempt was a white base with a blue bottom, incorporating just a bit of green (Iceburg 2). My third design was completely different; it was a Vaughn 2000 series that was half-blue and half-white, with some green as well. She liked all the designs but had different thoughts on each of them. Chelsea then thought that having a whale tail on the pads would be interesting — trying to make that whale tail idea work is going to be our next project.
Did you do pads and helmet for Laden, or did you focus only on her pads?
As of now I have focused almost [exclusively] on her pads. We did talk about an idea of putting a whale tail on the helmet in some sort of way, however we have not started to design it yet.
Were there limits set by equipment size, or the pads manufacturer? How did you work around those?
To be honest I have never tried on a pair of goalie pads and I also cannot skate, which doesn’t help.
“Chelsea knew that she wanted Vaughn pads, the same company she used for her pads at Quinnipiac. I did a lot of designing through different brand websites and customgoalieoutlet.com.
The main difficulty I encountered is that there was no real-time form of customization for a a specific design I wanted to try out, the Vaughn Velocity V5 7800 Iceberg. Photoshop was my solution. I took the image from goaliemonkey.com of those specific pads and designed the pads in Photoshop.
As I said, I’m no expert what each company can and cannot do, so I got help from Chelsea and the newest member of the CT Whale, Jaimie Leonoff.
One of my inspirations in pad design is Chris Mason, who uses logos that cross over both pads.
Jaimie [Leonoff] was training with Chelsea the day before the tournament in Vancouver and knew what Chelsea wanted. She told me the idea of a whale tail going across both pads was something Vaughn should be able to do.
While Bell’s designs have not yet been officially accepted by the NWHL, he’s happy simply to work on his designs and share them. “I know it may sound cheesy,” he writes, “but for me just knowing that people appreciate the designs that I make for them makes me happier than any amount of money could.”
S/T to Rob Rasmussen (p8photos) for the featured image.