Hockey Hall of Fame Face-Off Interplay :: Blades of Steel skates feature :: Hockey Skates 101
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Hockey skates are specialized for the sport. They not only allow for fast stops, starts, and turns on the ice, they are also reinforced and protected in key areas to provide support and to help prevent injuries. All have high tops, reinforced toe caps, and most include at least some some plastic covering at strategic spots (such as the instep). Hockey skates also have a large tongue, which maximizes the fit, cushions the laces, and affords some degree of protection (and should therefore be tucked under the bottom end of the shin pads).

The business end of hockey skates includes a plastic blade holder that is riveted to the undersole of the boot, and the blade itself, usually made from stainless steel or carbon steel, and sometimes called the runner. The blade will need to be sharpened to keep your skates at their most effective (see Sharpening Tips below).

Because of their specialized role and need for extra protection, goalie skates are different in both form and function than those worn by the rest of the players (see Goalie Skates below).

FITTING YOUR SKATES

Hockey skates generally fit a half-size to full size smaller than street shoes. Skates should be worn with a pair of thin sport socks. (Although some elite players are known to skate in bare feet, this can cause bacteria growth and promote corrosion of parts of the skate.) Make sure there are no wrinkles in your sock when putting on the skate.

Loosen the laces so your foot can slide easily into the boot. First press the toes fully against the front of the skate, then the heel should slide in easily. (There should be some room between the heel and the back of the boot). Bang the skate once or twice to make sure the heel has settled firmly into place.

When you first try on a pair of skates, walk around in them for 10 minutes or so and feel if there's any painful pressure or slippage in the heel. Your toes should be able to brush the toe cap, and there should be a comfortable, consistent pressure all around. Afterwards, remove the skate and sock to check for reddened areas on your feet, which typically indicate points of pressure caused by a poor fit. All new skates need to be broken in, and the only good way to do that is skate in them.

To provide a customized fit, some skates come with custom heat molding. The skates are first heated (or reheated) then form to your foot before cooling. While this sounds like it will provides a closer fit, many believe breaking in traditional skates by simply skating in them leads to a better fit in the long run.

Lace 'em up
 
When tying up your skates, make the laces between the bottom 3-or-so eyelets snug, but then loosen the laces between the middle 3-4 eyelets to prevents cutting off circulation. Finally, make the top 3-or-so eyelets quite tight, which will make for maximum skating efficiency. Lace hooks or tighteners are specialized tools that are available to help get the tightest fit possible, especially for parents lacing up their kid's skates.

When laced up, the gap between eyelets should be in the range of 1 1/2 to 2 inches. If the gap is significantly wider or narrower than that, you may need to buy a better fitting skate.

Skate laces come in various lengths, from about 63 inches up to 130 inches. Black and white are the most common colors. Skate lace materials include cotton, polyester and nylon, with synthetic materials generally considered to be stronger. Many skate laces are waxed, which helps them last longer, and keeps a tighter knot in the laces. Laces will generally have a fused tip, which makes it easier to thread them through the eyelets. Breaking this tip renders a lace difficult to use. Burning the tip will help refuse it somewhat in an emergency, but the lace should probably be replaced.

Some players wrap their laces around their ankles for extra support, but it's generally frowned upon because it can cut off circulation or aggravate the Achilles tendon.

 

Both the boot and blade of a goalie's skate are designed for the specialized position.
GOALIE SKATES

Goaltenders wear specialized skates that not only provide extra protection for the foot, but are also designed to make it easier for the goalie to make the kind of moves the position requires.

The boot of goalie skates is a little shorter, and sometimes is also lower at the back of the cuff. There is a hard plastic shell around the bottom to protect the goalie's foot, and the area between the blade and the boot is shorter so as not to let a puck through.

The blades of goalie skates are also slightly wider than on regular skates (3.5mm as opposed to 2.9mm) and these blades are also flatter along the length and have a shallower cut for the edge itself, allowing for greater lateral movement.



SHARPENING TIPS

Keeping your skates sharp is crucial to good performance on the ice. Sharp skates let you accelerate more easily, and help you stop and change directions quickly. While some professionals sharpen their skates every day, beginners who play infrequently will be able to get by with a sharpening every couple of months.

The bottom of a skate blade is not flat, it is actually grooved, so that there are in fact two edges on a skate blade. Sharpening skates is a two-step process. The first step involves grinding a groove down the length of the blade, the second step involves removing burrs by laying the side of the blade perfectly flat across the grinding stone.

The depth of the groove area, also called the hollow, will vary depending first on the width of the blade, and then on the player's position and level of skill. Players will talk about a shallow. medium, or deep hollow (or those wanting to get more technical will use a numerical ROH (Radius of Hollow) value.)

Generally skates are ground with a medium hollow, which has a ROH range around a 1/2". The deeper the hollow, the more readily the blade cuts into the ice, which can actually make skating harder, and stopping more difficult. Beginners might want to start with a shallow hollow and progress from there.

Some advanced players go a step further and get their skate blades rockered or custom contoured. The rationale here is that different actions in hockey (skating, shooting, pivoting) focus on different areas of the skate. Rockering and contouring put a slight curve along the bottom of the skate, and different parts will typically be sharpened differently for optimal performance.

Sharpening Goalie Skates
 
The blade on regular hockey skates is not flat, but actually has a hollow in the middle. This produces edges that help the player push off, turn, or stop more easily. Goalies, however, have specialized maneuvers they need to perform, like moving side to side, so a regular sharpening technique is not for them. However, the actual ways they get their skates sharpened varies, and is determined to some extent by the type of game they play.

A flat grind is as its name implies. The radius of the blade's hollow is substantially increased, or eliminated altogether. A totally flat grind makes it easier to move from side to side but, for goalies who like to leave their net to chase the puck, or play the butterfly style, makes it harder to push off. For this reason many goalies choose a slightly hollowed blade, or even a combination that has most of the blade flat, but includes a hollow on the front of the skate to allow them to push off more effectively. A crosscut style, which was once more common but now seems to be losing popularity, involves adding perpendicular "track" lines along the length of a regularly sharpened blade, enabling side-to-side movement.

 

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