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Inside the Sabres: Robin Lehner shifts gears in drive for success, comfort

When Darren Pang was in Buffalo recently, the television analyst and former goaltender started walking toward Robin Lehner's locker stall. He gave a curious glance.

It looked like an equipment store was having a going out of business sale. There were three sets of goalie pads leaning on the bench. Six gloves, five blockers and three masks rested on the overhead shelf.

Lehner is neither an octopus nor a Cerberus. He obviously can't use all that gear at once.

He's certainly tried it all out, though.

The Buffalo Sabres goalie is like the Horse of a Different Color from "The Wizard of Oz." He seems to change every time he takes the ice. He's used at least nine combinations of pads, blockers, gloves and masks, and it might be more.

It's a quest for comfort, success and style.

"There's so much new technology these days, so you're trying things out and seeing what people are using," Lehner said. "There's a lot of development in it, so I'm just trying to see what's good."

NHL players can be notoriously finicky about their equipment. Pat LaFontaine had his skates sharpened several times a game. Lehner wants pads that feel like part of his legs, a glove that is soft and a blocker that's light enough to intercept a 100 mph shot.

"It's a lot of small details that make a big difference," Lehner said. "In this league everything is custom made. There's a lot of things they do for you. It's stiffness, sizes, how they fit. Obviously, colors and stuff like that, but there's a lot of different stiffnesses in different areas of the pads.

"Gloves, there's different angles. I like my gloves very soft. That's why I go through a lot of them. There's a few different things."

Lehner estimates he uses 15 gloves per season. They break down while facing hundreds, if not thousands of shots per day in practices and games.

This year, though, it hasn't simply been replacing worn-out equipment. He's been mixing and matching brands to find the right fit and feel.

Lehner opened the season with his pads, glove and blocker from Brian's Custom Sports while wearing a silver-blue mask. That lasted two games.

He replaced his Brian's gear with his holdover equipment from Vaughn Hockey. He switched to a white mask. By December, he was back to pads and gloves from Brian's but still had the Vaughn blocker. A Vaughn glove rejoined the rotation before Christmas.

Lehner donned a new mask on New Year's Day to celebrate the Winter Classic. In February, a glove and blocker from Bauer Hockey joined the pads from Brian's.

This month, he got a new, complete shipment from Brian's. The pads, gloves and blocker are all dark blue with gold accents, and he brought back the silver-blue mask.

"It's not really new stuff," Lehner said. "They sent me new colors because I needed to change anyways because my old Brian's are broken down."

All told, it was possible for Lehner to use at least 180 combinations of equipment this season.

"Things are getting lighter and lighter, and I'm just trying to stick with it and see what's out there," Lehner said. "I was going to go with Brian's from the beginning of the year, but they didn't feel like what I'm used to with the Vaughns until they made a bunch of changes and got them right for me. I switched to Brian's eventually, and I didn't like their glove model that I had currently. I used Vaughns and Bauers instead.

"Now they've figured that out and made a really nice set of blocker and glove for me, so now everything comes together."

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Lehner tests the gear in practice and works it in until it feels right. Once it does, the equipment is ready for a game.

A big question lingers: What happens when he struggles? Does he think, "Oh, that other glove would have caught the puck"? Or, "Those last pads would have made it across the crease quicker"?

Basically, does having so many options make him second-guess himself on the ice?

"No, no, no, no," Lehner said. "I don't go into a game if I'm not comfortable with it. If I'm not comfortable with anything, I don't go in, so if I go into a game I'm confident in them."

Sabres need DiMaggio

Last week, we suggested this group of Sabres take a tip from Ryan Miller on respecting coaches. This week, we'll go with Joe DiMaggio and respecting fans.

There's a legendary quote from the legendary New York Yankee, given to the Sporting News in 1951.

"There is always some kid who may be seeing me for the first or last time," DiMaggio said. "I owe him my best."

Every time the Sabres take the ice, it's possible that it is someone's first game. That was definitely the case Wednesday with Bills receiver Zay Jones in the arena. The Sabres certainly didn't give their best. It was among their worst.

Ryan O'Reilly and Zemgus Girgensons said they hope Jones comes back because they'll be better. How about being like DiMaggio and insisting on making a positive first impression the first time?

Inside the Sabres: It comes down to a matter of respect

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