To some extent, Jeff Lerg has looked a little out of place on the ice for as long as he’s been able to lace em’ up.
At 5-foot-6, the diminutive netminder is often the smallest man on the ice, but that’s not to say he isn’t one of the most effective. He’s overcome size issues and a heck of a lot more to win a national title in college and earn a pro contract with the New Jersey Devils.
This season, however, Lerg looks a little out of place for a different reason.
His mask, glove, blocker and pads? All green and white. Playing for a team with a red, white and black color scheme, Lerg’s old Michigan State gear isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“It’s finally all ordered,” said Lerg of his new gear back on media day.
“Obviously, when I came last year, I didn’t get anything. This year, this stuff is going on its third year. It’s pretty beat up and old, and I’m definitely looking forward to getting some new gear for my body’s sake, at least. I can feel almost every shot.”
The 24-year-old native of Livonia, Michigan has also ordered a new mask — “I get hit there the most, so I had to get a new helmet,” he says — that will be painted plain black for now. One thing you won’t see on that mask, however, is what’s called a cat-eye cage.
Colleges mandate the use of a full cage, which you can see on Lerg’s current Sparty mask, which he also used while with Michigan State. Most pros, however, prefer the visibility of the cat-eye, but Lerg says it simply isn’t practical given his height and the way he has to play.
“Actually, I’ll probably be the only guy without a cat-eye,” he said.
“I get hit in the head too much, I don’t think it’s that smart for me to get one since I’ve seen goalies or know goalies that have had pucks ding them right above the eyebrow and getting stitches on their forehead. For a big guy, they might not get hit there, but for me I get hit there a lot. It’s probably the smartest thing for my body.”
Lerg says he’s never so much as tried the cat-eye cage, which became more prevalent in the late 80’s and early 90’s and have been the norm ever since. Despite the way it may look — Lerg uses a fuller cage than some — he insists visibility has never been an issue.
“It’s not hard to see through mine,” he said.
“Obviously, everyone who has a cat-eye says they love it and they’ll never go back. But I’ve never been there. For me, I’ve never really thought about my equipment too much, I just know what feels right. Whatever feels right, I go with. I feel like I’m going to continue to get hit there, and I don’t want to take a 100 miles per hour one-timer right off the forehead and have it somehow get lodged in there at some point.”
Even with the full cage Lerg currently uses, it can still create problems.
“I’ll take shots, and at the end of the day, the mask will be touching my nose,” Lerg told me.
“Less protection, I think, could be a recipe for disaster.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com