Earlier this year, the folks at Reebok / CCM invited us up to their Montreal offices for product meetings to see the new XLT and Retro-Flex lines. As a part of these meetings, we also spent a good chunk of time touring the legendary Lefevre pro goalie gear factory just outside of Montreal. There, both Patrick Lefevre and Sonya Dibiase gave us a soup to nuts tour of the pro production process, and they even took us into the back rooms to see some truly unique items. For goalie nuts like us, this tour was the highlight of the meeting agenda! As always, we figured that you'd like to see a bit of what we saw at Lefevre, and also learn more about what makes their products so special.
One thing that surprised us about the Lefevre factory was just how small it is. Though this picture doesn't show you much of the building, you can get some sense of it's scale compared to what you think a building that produces gear for most of Reebok/CCM's Pro, College, and Junior goalies should look like. We're talking hundreds and hundreds of goalies here! In our guestimation, this building is about 3000 sq. feet - and that's being generous. By contrast, the US Vaughn factory measures close to 20,000 sq. feet - and though that factory produces both pro and retail gear, the comparison gives you a sense of just how small (and how efficient!) the Lefevre factory really is.
Like most factories, the construction process starts with an order form that is created and attached to an empty bin. Jenpro and foam are then cut according to the specs on this sheet, and all of the pieces are kept together in this bin as they move down the construction line. Anyone recognize the goalie that this bin is for? Look closely and you can see some of the unique specs that this famous goalie uses in his leg pads.
As you can imagine, the jenpro and foam used to make different sized leg pads needs to be cut to very specific sizes. Even if the holes or patterns are off by just fractions of an inch, the differences can often lead to a pad that doesn't lace together properly and/or a pad that looks very sloppily made. That's why it's imperative that each piece is cut to exact tolerances. These shots here show the die storage area that Lefevre uses to hold it's hundreds of leg pad, catch glove, and blocker dies. Each die costs thousands of dollars to build, so there's probably close to half a million dollars worth of dies here.
Do you dream of making goalie gear in your basement like we do? If you're like us, then perhaps your dream took a slight hit after seeing these pictures. The layout table above contains all of the cut parts necessary to produce just a few leg pads to be made that day. In total, you're looking at hundreds of separate pieces of jenpro and foam for just one pad. That's a lot of precise cutting, and a lot of sewing!
Fast forward through a few different, extremely skilled sewers (many of whom have been working at Lefevre for many, many years) and you've got the assembled, unstuffed skin of a Reebok XLT leg pad. This particular pad above was built for Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and it just came off of the line as we were touring the assembly area.
Once the skins are assembled, they are taken over to foam stuffing for finishing. After a craftsman skillfully lays up the foams on a specialized jig developed by Michel Lefevre, the foam is inserted into the skin. The perimeter of the pad is then clamped together and hung from a strap attached to the ceiling so that it can be supported and easily twisted around in the sewing machine. Another skilled craftsman then carefully sews the perimeter closed and attaches the top and bottom bindings to the pads. We were surprised at just how quickly, and how precisely, this final sewing process came together.
As luck would have it, yet another NHL pro goalie pad had just finished final assembly. This pad belongs to Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks.
Goalie leg pad design and construction sure has come a long way, hasn't it? One of our tour guides - Patrick Lefevre - poses here with one of the first sets of leg pads that his father, the legendary Michel Lefevre, made for him as a Pee-Wee. Pretty good for a set of pads made in a basement, don't you think?
This rack contains finished gloves and blockers that are ready to ship. There's also a separate rack for leg pads as well.
Here are a couple of blockers that we saw on the rack. Sergei Bobrovsky's blocker is on the left, and a blocker made for Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators is on the right.
Catch glove for Jhonas Enroth of the Sabres is ready to ship!
When gloves, blockers or pads are ready to ship, the staffers at Lefevre peel the name labels off of the order forms and then place them on this table for posterity. Look closely and you'll see some pretty famous names stuck to this tabletop. This gives you just a small glimpse of how many famous goalies that Lefevre has made gear for.
Though the Lefevre name is pretty well established as a premier manufacturer of leg pads, catch gloves, and blockers, what is lesser known (at least in the US) is that the Lefevre family has been designing and building pro quality goalie masks for decades. The CCM Masks for 2013 were all designed by Lefevre, and they feature the company's classic shape, incredible fit, and innovative features that make it a mask that you just have to check out.
As part of our factory tour, Sonya and Patrick took us to a smaller nook of the factory that is set aside for mask creation and design. As you'll see from the pictures below, this part of the tour turned out to be a real treat for us. Patrick's passion and enthusiasm for his masks comes through loud and clear as he describes his family's products, and this dedication translates into a fantastic retail and pro product.
This shot does a great job of telling the Lefevre mask story. One of Michel's first designs sits on the shelf, and in the print you can see several of the mask designs that have come out of the Lefevre factory over the last several decades. Can you name all of the pro goalies pictured here? A new mask sits in the blue bin at the lower right - we'll show you that a bit later.
Walk out of the office, take a sharp left, and you're in Michel and Patrick's tiny mask design studio. Here, both legends are hard at work making new mask moulds and tweaking existing designs. In this picture we see the original molds used to design the new CCM goal masks.
Sitting on a table towards the back of the mask design studio is this older, incredibly valuable mould. It turns out that Patrick Roy hated the conventional method of custom fitting a goal mask - placing wet plaster on the face, letting it dry, then using the dried plaster as a template to create a custom mask. So, the Michel constructed and dialed in the fit of this plaster mould to perfection, and it was used as the template to build Roy's masks throughout his entire career.
Just outside of the design studio in what is more of a building/prep/storage area we found this mould sitting on a shelf. As you can tell by the name across the forehead of the shell, this mould is used to create all of Martin Brodeur's masks, and it has been used for nearly two decades.
If you've been paying attention this season, you've noticed that several high profile goalies have made the switch to the CCM Pro Masks this season. As we arrived in the prep area we found these mask bags sitting on the shelf, but unfortunately the masks were out for paint. We've all seen the finished products in the NHL this year though - and they turned out great! All of the masks used by NHL pro's are designed and built in the Lefevre factory.
The mask sitting in the blue bin from the first mask picture above belongs to J.S. Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche. As Patrick explained to us, "Jiggy" has been getting masks made by the Lefevre factory since he was a teen, and he will not even try a mask from another manufacturer. He knows quality and a perfect fit when he sees it!
Looking back, we were pretty fortunate to be able to get such a great tour, by such well qualified tour guides. Typically, Patrick is dividing his time between the Montreal pro factory and the retail production factory in China. He travels there regularly to insure that the product you receive for your retail purchase meets the strict quality specifications that the pro's demand of their Canadian made gear. And, if the high volume of Reebok/CCM gear that we sell is any indication, he's doing a fantastic job.
Those of you who speak french might enjoy this recent feature on the Lefevre plant by RDS in Canada. This piece shows you a little bit more about the factory, and actually shows some of the manufacturing tools in action.
We hope that you enjoyed this peek into one of the most legendary goalie gear factories in the world. If you've got your own Lefevre story, or if you just want to know more, get the conversation going below and we'll do our best to answer any questions that you have.
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