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While some guys do not even wear shoulder pads (I'm not clear on whether they cannot afford them or they think they don't need them) almost all players do wear them. As with everything realated to hockey, the more you spend on protective gear, the more protection you get. It's no different with shoulder pads.
My philosophy on protective gear is simple: If I'm going to wear it, I want maximum protection from it. So I always buy the top of the line gear, and I did with shoulder pads. I choose the Bauer Supreme One pads. That line has been superceded for 2012 by the Bauer Supreme TotalOne Shoulder Pads, but except for cosmetic changes, they are the same product.
You can visit any hockey reseller web site to get the details on the construction of all manufacturers pads. Every one I have seen has a hard shell platic outer cover, with some type of shock absorbent material beneath. They all fasten use Velco® closures, and some have better protection for the side of the rib cage than others. To compensate for the lack of rib cage protection I highly recommend wearing a padded shirt underneath, such as the Shock Doctor ShockSkin 573 which has padding on ribs and lower back/kidneys, shoulder blades and arms. Or the short sleeve version which lacks the upper arm padding. A photo of the side protection shows how minimal it is. The rear protection leaves alotto be desired as wellmaking the Shockskin shirt all the more necessary.
Make certain that you try the shoulder pads on in the store. You might be surprised by the sizing. Each manufacturer differs somewhat with respect to their definition of small, medium, and large. Note that pads that are too large, are worse than pads which are too small.
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