As the hockey season is officially over, I have seen many younger skaters who are in need of a different pair of skates. Buying the proper fitting skate for every skater is essential. When trying to buy skates, fit, type of skate, stiffness of a boot and sharpening are some things to consider. This is the most important piece of equipment a skater can have. Parents may be able to cut costs on some other equipment, but make sure to invest in a good pair of skates. There are so many choices out there, so following are some things to consider.
First, and possibly most important, is getting the proper fit to a skate. A general rule of thumb is that the skate will fit one-and-a-half or two sizes smaller than a standard shoe size. The skate should have a snug fit that will limit heel movement or general foot movement in the boot. Too many younger skaters are “swimming in their skates” because their parents want the skater to “grow into them.”
Doing this only hinders the skater. Poor-fitting skates contribute to a lot of skaters becoming “ankle skaters” or limiting them in their ability to do basic skating skills such as stopping and doing power turns.
Older skaters can choose skates that fit tighter in the heel or tighter in the toe box, depending on the shape of the skater’s foot. Ask someone who has skate knowledge at your local sporting goods store which boot would be the best fit for your foot. Each skate is different and the best skate for you may not be what your buddy wears but what is best for your foot.
Another thing to consider is the stiffness of the boot. This is something that is important to understand and it could go either way. We see a lot of younger skaters that are in really flimsy skates. This again hurts in ankle support and limits the skater’s ability to execute basic skills.
A younger skater needs a supportive boot that is fitted properly. With that being said, the way skates are made now (especially adult skates), they are almost too stiff for some skaters.
Consider this situation. We have many skaters who are around the age of 12 and are in adult skate sizes, but still buy the top end, stiffest skate on the market. Many of these skaters may not even be 100 pounds, but are in skates that 215-pound NHL skaters wear. This is a reason why most of these kids will not be able to get ankle flex or really ever break in their skates because they are way too stiff.
Being in a skate too stiff would be like being in a ski boot in which the skater will have limited flexibility. For this situation, the skater should consider getting a lower- end model (that will still be a good skate) to help give them the ability to have some flex in their ankle. Again, it may not be the most expensive skate on the market that will be the best skate for the individual.
As parents bring skates to get sharpened, it may get confusing. After getting a new pair of skates, they should be rockered (also called contouring or profiling) to help take some of the blade off the toe and heel. When you buy skates, they come with a standard radius, so this helps give the blade some “shape.”
Once this is done, the skater should decide what hollow to get their skates sharpened. The hollow is the upside down U shape of the blade, separating the inside and outside edges. The deeper this is, the more the skate will “cut” into the ice. The shallower the hollow, the more the skate will “slide” across the ice.
A pretty standard hollow is half-inch. As you move closer to an inch, the shallower the hollow gets. A goalie would use a very shallow hollow because he/she needs to slide side to side. Most of the pros that I skate with have a relatively shallow hollow because you are able to get more of a glide and become a little more efficient. Again, this a personal preference in which a skater can determine on their own what they like best.
Remember to ask a lot of questions when buying your next pair of skates. Skates are expensive these days, so it is important to have as much knowledge on each and every brand that is out there. Also, the right skate for you or your child may not be the right skate for someone else, so be selective. Good luck.
Andy Ness is the head skating and skill coach for the Minnesota Wild. He has also been an assistant skating instructor for the New Jersey Devils, the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.