One season after winning the Vezina Trophy, Connor Hellebuyck did something unexpected for a goalie at the top of his game: He switched his pads.
After using CCM-branded gear for the first five years of his NHL career, the Winnipeg Jets goalie is now wearing pads from True Hockey. He’s not alone. In something of a major shift in the goaltending world, the previously little known company seemingly grabbed a large market share overnight. Thirty-seven goalies on NHL rosters or taxi squads are wearing True pads this season, many of them switching from CCM.
Why did so many goalies switch?
The truth is the pads didn’t change at all.
Hellebuyck’s pads, just like they’ve been since 2010, were handcrafted just outside of Montreal by Lefevre Inc., a goalie equipment manufacturer that used to be partnered with CCM and was bought by True in 2020.
It’s an important deal in the hockey world and sheds light on the battle for market share in the hockey equipment business and how marketing and branding play a role in shaping the competition.
In the whimsical world of goaltending, the Lefebvre family is the equivalent of Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs in “The Wizard of Oz.”
The Lefebvres — Patrick, Véronic and Michel — are behind the curtain, pulling and sewing the strings, while their public presence has always been behind a marketing giant, such as Reebok or CCM, and now True.
Pads made by Lefevre (the company name dropped the B from Lefebvre) have been a fixture in the NHL since 1987. The five all-time winningest goalies — Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo, Ed Belfour, and Marc-Andre Fleury — all used Lefevre pads during their careers.
Roy was the first to popularize Lefevre pads, which were Koho-branded pads in the late 1980s. The craftsmanship of those initial pads, combined with Roy’s success, turned Lefevre into a fixture for NHL goaltenders, particularly those from Quebec in the early 1990s.
While Lefevre would work directly with goalies on the pads, their hands-on approach was a selling point to NHL goalie customers, they left branding and marketing and mass production to a larger partner company.
“We’ve always been focused on the product first, that’s the most important thing,” Patrick Lefebvre told The Athletic. “We are pad makers, not marketers, for us it was always about making the best thing for goalies and working with the goalies. They know who we are, the goalies do.”
Hellebuyck got his first pair of custom-made Lefevre pads, then branded as Reebok, in 2010 when he was a senior at Walled Like High School in Michigan. The pad changed his style, helped him become the more self-described “boring” goalie in his stance, and it was part of the groundwork for an eventual NHL career. The Jets goaltender has tried other pads in practice before, just to see what else is on the market, but said nothing has been able to compare to the fit he gets from Lefevre and more importantly the ability to call Patrick directly and discuss potential tweaks to equipment.
“Goalies are going to have lots of opinions on equipment and how pads should or shouldn’t do something,” Hellebuyck said. “Something they do, which I think is great, is take all of that and are able to figure out what feedback actually makes sense to use in pad performance. For example, a couple of years ago I was worried about consistency in a glove, so Pat tried on every one of my gloves personally before they were sent out. What other company is going to do that for their client?”