RALEIGH, N.C. — Many goalies ditch their anonymous protective gear for flashy padding and shark-mouth and eagle-beak masks.
Not Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Arturs Irbe--that retro, throwback, old-school guy.
The 33-year-old Irbe has stuck with the same type of pads, mask and helmet since playing in his native Latvia more than a decade ago. He even carries a sewing kit to make his own repairs.
His white leg pads, glove and blocker are grimy-gray and scraped from years of hard use. His pads are plain-Jane white, not multicolored like the pads some goalies wear to match their team jerseys.
"It's not pretty," he said. "Everyone knows goalies are different birds--normal people don't want to stay in the net 60 minutes."
Irbe, who came to the NHL in 1991 after five seasons with Dynamo Riga in the Soviet Union, will whip out his needle and thread and patch a torn leg pad--even during a game.
"I know exactly how I want to get it done. I'd rather fix it myself," he said while rummaging through a small green bag in which he keeps glue, extra foam padding, thread and needles.
Irbe learned to sew when he was about 10 because he had to repair his own uniform for his youth team in Latvia. His teammates asked him to sew up their equipment, too, because behind the Iron Curtain there wasn't much money for new gear, he said.
Before Irbe joined Carolina in September 1998, the Hurricanes' equipment managers had already heard about his unusual regard for his old-fashioned gear.
"We were told the guy barely asks for anything," said Bob Gorman, assistant equipment manager. "He does good work. Archie always seems to be fixing something."
Irbe says hanging onto the same equipment is a good puck-stopping strategy.
The longer he wears the leg pads, for instance, the more he becomes attuned to how a puck will bounce off his shin, or how far he has to bend down to catch a puck between his knees.
"After awhile you learn about your equipment. I know exactly the angle, how far the rebound will go," he said. "It's important. It's a big part of the goaltending job."
Irbe also wears the same Swedish-made mask and helmet he was assigned 16 years ago.
Some of the newer, fancier masks are eagerly sought souvenirs, but Irbe prefers his old standby, even though a painted mask might attract more fans.
"I don't want to stand out," he said.
Irbe's fondness for the same head gear poses a small problem for equipment managers: The Swedish manufacturer discontinued Irbe's mask and helmet 10 or 15 years ago. But many remain in warehouses, never used.
To find the masks and helmets, the team has had to search the Internet. It buys several each year when Irbe needs replacements.
Irbe has to get new pads next year because he has nearly worn out the same ones after about three years. It's a change he views with a little trepidation.
"Next year is a big year," he said. "New pads."