ICE HOCKEY SKATES, A CUSTOMERS COMPARISON/ THOUGHTS ON BASIC VS MID LEVEL SKATES. IS THE INCREASE IN COST WORTH IT?
We all know the feeling. That feeling when your beloved skates are looking a little the worse for wear – maybe an eyelet has broken and you’re coming up with funny lacings to hold them together, or the blades won’t hold their edges like they used to…and then autumn comes, a new season starts and you think “maybe it’s time for a new pair of skates”.
These are both the best and worst times for hockey players. It is our equivalent of buying a new car. Walking into a showroom (or a hockey shop) confronted by a pristine rack of skates full of possibilities, all promising awesomeness in their own ways.
But then reality hits, particularly if you’re a rec player, as you look at the prices. With skates starting at around £100 in adult sizes and ranging up to eyewatering sums for “custom” skates, the questions in your head rattle around as a rec player, or perhaps a parent of a junior player, in times where every pound is precious.
Am I really good enough to notice the difference between a “basic” skate, a “midlevel” skate and a “pro-skate”?
I faced this dilemma myself a few weeks ago, my venerable old Easton Synergy base-level skates I had used for many, many years (yes, kids, that’s how old my old skates were – they’re not even made any more) had finally gone to the great rink in the sky after a blade had snapped and it was time to join the modern world. Given I’m not the youngest and probably nearer the end of my hockey career than the beginning – an undistinguished rec-hockey career that had always seen base-level skates – this time I walked into the shop with no particular ambition beyond a new pair of decent base skates just like I’d always used. Maybe I’d ask for a bit of advice from the lovely folks at Willie’s, just to see if I could dream a little…
Then, I saw them, calling like sirens…the latest CCM Jetspeeds. I’d read somewhere that these skates were designed for thinner ankles like mine, but the price had always previously put me off. But now, with a feeling that these would possibly be my last skates, I took the plunge, and asked to try on skates that, while not “fully pro level” by any stretch, were definitely a step up from my usual level.
And reader – after asking for advice from the expert staff, entering into some hockey-equipment nerdery (there is NOTHING hockey players love more than talking gear with people who can talk to them on the same level) trying them on, realising that they did, in fact feel comfortable and deciding “you only live once” I decided to treat my feet, especially with the heat moulding service offered by Willies to help break the skates in (always the worst part of any skate purchase). And it has been a revelation.
Now, there are some caveats here in my story. Firstly, I am not a growing child or a beginner. I’m an adult, who’s skated for 20 years, spending my own money, confident on skates and knowing that there will probably not be much change in my feet. If you’re a parent buying the skates for growing children or just starting hockey, pro-level skates are probably not a wise purchase in most cases, because a) children won’t get the use from them as their feet grow, and replacements get very expensive very fast, and b) the increased stiffness and higher-tech materials of higher-level skates, which are designed to help you “feel” the ice and stride better, are often a lot less forgiving for those still perfecting a skating stride. More expensive is not necessarily better when picking the right skates for you. Start at the bottom and move up, and ALWAYS prioritise fit and feel over brand and how “prestigious” the skate is. If that £100 skate feels right on your feet compared to the flashy £400 one, then the cheaper one is the one you should buy.
Another important thing to remember is, whether or not you want the skate brand your fave NHLer wears, looking cool is not worth the discomfort it can come with if they are not the right fit for your feet. You can often buy cheap/ entry level skates that mimic the pro skates anyway. ALWAYS ask for advice from the staff, who will listen and guide you into the best skates for you.
That said…over the past few weeks I have fallen in love with my new skates. They feel lighter than the entry level skates I’ve been used to, I feel faster and more agile on ice even going through the basic low-level I play at. My stride feels sharper. But part of me knows that that is only the case because of the time my body spent perfecting its stride and being forgiven by those old, low-level skates that allowed me to get to a level where I can notice the difference.
It turns out that if you spend your whole life playing on the lowest level, any step up feels incredible. But that doesn’t mean that I regret all those years with basic-level skates – because they helped me become confident on ice, and allowed me to play the sport I loved at a level that was fine for me for a (relatively) modest outlay.
Skates are a very personal thing – perhaps one of the most personal things in hockey, and using base-level skates is a valuable and vital rite of passage – it allows you to try different brands, hone your skills and play while your feet are growing or you’re “finding your feet”. They’re vital, underappreciated and proof that contrary to the ads, you don’t always need to have the “best” skates to find your bliss, just the ones that work for you. And half the fun is the journey to the point you feel comfortable enough to say “actually, now I’m going to step up a level”
(But that said, I’m still grateful I finally, after twenty years, managed to step up to those Jetspeeds)
A BLOG BY WILLIES CUSTOMER, LONG TIME ICE HOCKEY FAN AND RECREATIONAL PLAYER, PAUL WHEELER.