Over the years of working with goalies of many different ages, I have noticed a common problem that compromises the safety of goaltenders which in turn can cause serious troubles. This problem being the lack of knee protection. Most, if not all pads, come with standard thigh boards attached to the pad, however many goalies find these very restrictive and therefore remove them to gain better mobility. With no knee protection the risk of injury can increase dramatically and put goalies in serious jeopardy.
The consequence of no knee protection may not be apparent, besides the common bruised knee, however for younger goalies the end result can be more damaging then one can conceive. It is normal for young kids to stop performing tasks that result in pain or any other kind of negative stimulant, therefore if a young goaltender receives a very painful shot to the knee while trying to perform a butterfly, that trauma can manifest itself in many ways which can negatively effect the goaltenders performance.
One very common repercussion of taking a shot to the knee is fear of performing the butterfly technique on low shots. Most young goalies that tend to stand up on low shots and try to force a save with their stick, have at some point, taken a very painful shot while on their knees, which in turn makes them fearful of utilizing the technique. Another common issue associated with this problem is tensing up on shots. It usually takes one very agonizing shot for a young goaltender to develop a sudden fear of the puck, hence why exposed knees are usually the prime suspect for assisting this phobia to manifest.
In order to prevent these series of events from unfolding, it is important to have proper protection around the knees. It is impractical to rely on the thigh rise of the pads to cover 100% of the knee for many reasons; one being that most pads are standard +1 sizing and the other being that the butterfly requires fairly flexible hips to get the pads to cover the 5-hole completely. Even if flexibility is not an issue, all it would take is one miss-performed butterfly to open the 5-hole and expose the knees to an untimely and unwanted shot. Henceforth, goalies need something more, and this is why it is a huge recommendation to have knee pads which cover the entirety of the knee.
As mentioned earlier the thigh boards which come attached to pads can be very restrictive, however they do not offer complete protection of the knee. They are still better then no knee protection, however their coverage is only limited to the thigh area. Because these protectors are wrapped around the thigh, once a goaltender performs a butterfly they shift and leave a sizable hole right around the kneecap area. This problem will never occur with knee pads. The knee pads wrap around the knee and thigh and therefore move with the goaltender, giving optimal protection no matter what position the goaltender may himself/herself in.
One common misconception surrounding knee pads is that they fall down and expose the knee regardless of how you wear them. This use to be a very common problem, which is now resolved with the invention of knee pad specific garder belts. These belts are specifically designed to attach to knee pads and hold them in position so they never fall down and leave exposed areas. This also increases the comfort of the knee pad which makes the transition into wearing them seamless.
Overall, maximizing protection for goaltenders should be a must, especially our young goaltenders. Trying to learn the position can be a very complicated, yet fun experience. If young goaltenders develop a fear of performing the butterfly or a fear of the puck due to recurring knee shots, then their development and performance will dwindle. This is why proper protection for all areas, especially the knees, should be worn to maximize safety but to also give confidence in the net.