A Complete Guide To Ice Hockey Skates

A Complete Guide To Hockey Skates

Ice hockey is a voracious sport. It requires skill, balance, and general athleticism.  The strength and speed of a professional player is one that is unparalleled in any other sport.  The mental fortitude requires dedication both to learning to become a better player and a smarter one. 

As much as it is fun, hockey is also dangerous.  Without the proper equipment such as good ice hockey skates, it can be less fun and more dangerous.

In a sport with as many dangers as hockey, the first thing to consider is both skill development and safety.  While it is one of the most popular games in the world, it can be expensive.  The choice shouldn’t be between safe equipment vs. quality equipment due to price.  In this article, we will go over some of the finer points of ice hockey, ice hockey equipment, and safety.

The Need To Know History

Ice skates have been around a long time. Originally used for transportation, ice skates were a necessary part of living in an icy environment. Some historians have dated ice skates as being originally invented thousands of years ago. The old skates used pieces of bone to and leather straps to hold skaters in place. 

Old hockey equipment.

Eventually, the Dutch revolutionized how skates worked by replacing it with wood and iron materials. Previously, ice skating required the use of rods that were similar to sharp poking sticks used to propel the user forward. The Dutch adopted this set up further with their skating system. These had blades and didn’t require rods to propel the skater forward. 

The advantage was that these were perfect for performance as well due to the traction marks left behind. Eventually, it was adopted by other cultures and gradually grew to become the ice skates as we know them today. 

The important detail to consider is how ice skates began out of necessity. As they developed, they became more comfortable and accessible. Now, skates are widely used for a variety of purposes. 

From History To The Next Level

Just as the skates developed, so must a player's understanding of their function.  Ice skates are now more than just a means to navigate the ice on the playing field.  Hockey skates are a means to adequately protect the player by helping navigate and safeguard their footing.

Any player that wants to be great is limited without the right equipment. From having a stick that feels comfortable to skates that offer real fluidity to their movements, every detail matters. Players that don’t take the time to find the perfect equipment for them tend to suffer. It is a way of looking at the sport that is reflective of their greater mindset about the game.

Ice Hockey Equipment: What Matters

Every piece of hockey equipment fulfills one of two functions. First, hockey equipment makes it so that the game is more exciting and the player can successfully play to the best of their ability.

Hockey equipment.

Second, it protects them from other players as well as themselves. Ice hockey is a violent sport. No matter who you ask, chances are, if they have played the game they have been injured at least once. 

Not every injury is threatening or severe. While toughness plays a part, good quality equipment is what keeps most injuries from being as severe as they could be.  There are always anomalies. Some things are unavoidable. The point of picking the best equipment is to make sure that it keeps you protected.

The Three Most Important Parts Of A Player’s Equipment

Every piece is important, but there are three that make all of the difference.

  • Face Masks & Helmets
  • Hockey Sticks
  • Hockey Skates

Face Masks & Helmets: These do a very simple yet important job: they make sure that you don’t die from a severe concussion. It is that simple.  Face masks avoid stick checks, head butts, puck shots, punches, and more. 

Face masks and helmets protect from the worst of the sport.  Padding plays a part, but face masks and helmets can literally mean the difference between substantial brain damage and enjoying the game!

Hockey Sticks: These are the way any player is both able to protect themselves as well as play the game.  Hockey sticks are the way that most puck movement happens. When players skimp on paying for a quality stick, they'll eventually feel the pain.

Player sticks can break after only moderate use. A player can even sustain injury from his hockey stick breaking. And in some cases, an opponent can be hurt.

A weak hockey stick can make it hard to handle. A soft grip, a flimsy handle and body, and more can add to the problem. It should be sturdy and aerodynamic so that each shot or swing maintains power and speed.

Hockey Skates: Obviously without a pair of hockey skates, you simply can’t even play the game.  Hockey skates need to be stronger than your average pair of skates. They take a lot of the stress of playing hockey.  They have to be durable and yet light enough that they can be used to move quickly and change direction.

Of all the essential safety equipment used for hockey, even more than the head gear choices, hockey skates play their role continuously from game to play.

What Makes Ice Hockey Skates So Unique

Hockey skates are substantially different from other ice skates.  They are built to last, with a thicker body that protects the foot, ankle and lower leg.  Hockey skates can take impacts from sticks, pucks, and other skates with relative ease.  If they aren't high quality, a player’s vulnerability is substantially increased. 

Wearing Bauer skates.

The blade itself needs to be extremely sharp. This can lead to injury when players fall in piles, and their neck guard doesn’t suffice.  Some players have been injured via a neck lesion caused by skates.  The reason for the ultra-sharp blade on the bottom of the skate is simple.  It makes picking up speed and having complete control over direction change easy.

A good player knows how to use their skates to his advantage.  While they are durable, they are also very firm.  Being firm around the ankle prevents further injury, so quality laces are another detail that needs to be considered.

Why You Need A Good Pair

Of course every hockey player needs solid hockey skates.  Using anything other than regulation hockey skates is dangerous.  They make it so that you can focus on gameplay rather than worrying if your equipment works well. 

Your skates shouldn’t be a yearly cost as they should last for some time. Skates should be able to withstand a few seasons' use if they are reliable.  Remember, they are an investment that can determine the course of your career.  

For leisure, skimping on skate cost can be even worse. Even casual hockey players need something they can use long term.  Because most casual pick up hockey games are unregulated, there is more of a chance of an injury happening due to the more aggressive playing style.

Age And Growing Into Skates

Young children will need to change their skates frequently. Since kids grow at an accelerated rate, ensuring their skates grow with them is important.  The way they learn to play will be based on the quality of the equipment.

Young boys sitting in hockey jerseys.

Smarter players have a balance of quality equipment and an understanding that their protection doesn’t make them invincible. It’s a lesson that every player learns early in life.  Every pair of skates needs to be broken in to prevent blisters. Boot size is a bit lenient, but buying oversized boots can lead to strained and even broken ankles. 

Learning How To Skate Smarter

A good pair of skates can make sure a young player can play to the best of their ability.  Anything less, and they will have to compensate.  Adaptability is important in any sport. In hockey, reliability is the most important aspect.  More than half of serious players in their lifetime will experience an injury related to equipment failures. 

Good skates help a player learn to navigate the field better. When you are focused on your ability to skate, the last thing on your mind should be whether your skates will work correctly.  If they don’t, your confidence is inhibited due to some mistakes that will inadvertently occur.

The Important Parts Of An Ice Skate

A pair of high-quality hockey skates varies in price. The price of a good pair of ice skates ranges from $30-$200.  Each component plays an important role and we've described each one below:

  • Protective Tongue: The protective tongue works to protect the top of the foot from blades, pucks and stick checks.  Its thick padding on the inside prevents the full amount of shock from impacting the top of the foot.  The harder exterior is hardened to keep ice and moisture from the outside as well as compliment the inner padding.
  • Ankle Padding:  The ankle padding is meant to keep movements fluid.  It keeps the ankle cushioned when transitioning through quick sprints and changes.
  • Boot: The boot is just as it sounds. It’s meant to cover your foot and prevent contact with the ice.
  • Toe Cap: The toe cap is a highly durable part of the skate in the front. Most collisions end with this part coming into full contact with a hard barrier. Without this, it would lead to most collisions ending with broken feet and knees.
  • Heel Cup: The heel cup holds the sole securely so that when shifts in direction happen the ankle doesn’t move. During fast acceleration and hard directional changes, it lets the heel sink into the movement without dealing with slippage. The entire cup is made to create strong tension and comfort.
  • Blade: The blade is what makes movement possible.  There will be more on the importance of the blade later and how to properly take care of it.

Skates For New Players

New hockey players don’t necessarily need to have the best of the best skates.  While you shouldn’t go on the cheap side of things, something in the medium range should work perfectly. The problem with high-end skates is that they tend to be too flashy or cost too much money.

For those starting out, more expensive skates only makes sense once a certain level of commitment has been met. For younger players, skates can get damaged on accident or even stolen so spending a lot of money isn't ideal in most cases.  However, quality is still important and any skate purchase should be well researched. After all, low priced, low-quality hockey skates most of the time don’t have a well-designed structure. 

Low quality skates can lead to ankle injuries, shin splints, and can also cause blisters and general foot pain from toe to the arch. Also, they just don’t last very long. 

So how much can you expect to spend on a reliable pair of hockey skates? Well, the golden price range for decent hockey skates seems to be $125+ but less than $200.  Visiting hockey shops is a good way for familiarizing yourself with the price & quality options. However, do be aware that these shops tend to be more expensive than ordering online.

For those that don’t have access to a shop near them, it’s great to first check Amazon.com for what you need if you know what you are looking for.

Kid on skates.

At the very least, hockey shops are a perfect place to get your measurements done by a trained professional.  You can find what fits comfortably and know what your size and weight requirements are. Also, it’s also another way to get introduced in person to what other equipment you may need.

Picking Your Perfect Skates

There is no such thing as the perfect skates.  All ice skates have their advantages and disadvantages. The longer and slimmer the boot, the more speed you can gain. This means more momentum for quick transitions. The thicker the boot, however, means it will last longer. The skate will provide more support, more cushion and protect you far better.

The right boot for you should be above all: Comfortable.

The best size for your skates will be within two sizes of your regular footwear. This means that depending on the brand or your foot, it could be widely variant from what you may normally wear.

Ideally, just like your regular shoes, your feet should lightly touch the front of the boot. It should also provide just enough space for your fingertip to fit in the back. Once the skate is ready, your foot and ankle should feel securely set in place

The materials for your hockey skate of choice should be made of either a hardened plastic, faux leather, and a few other materials. Your hockey skates should provide the perfect balance of comfort and flexibility. Without one or the other, both safety and your movement will be compromised and limited.

Skates For Intermediate To Advanced Players

If you have been playing hockey for a long period, chances are you are sticking to it.  Shelling out the money for more advanced skates makes sense. You should be looking at above the $175 to $200 range for a quality pair of competitive skates. But remember, these will last you much longer than those beneath this range. The only exception to this rule is if you can find discounts online or off season. 

Hockey skates in use.

For those that want just to play hockey casually, a cheap pair of skates may suffice. Most of the time they don’t tend to last very long. You don’t need to have the most up to date skate. Older models that are still high-quality function perfectly.

Cheap vs. Good Quality: The Blade

One of the biggest differentiating factors between cheap and good skates is the blade.  The blades on quality skates last longer and are easier to sharpen.  However, they can still break or become damaged. 

In the event this happens you may have two options for what you can do.  First, you can take it to a specialist and get it replaced. This will usually be cheap to get done in any shop but by no means necessary. The other option is to change out the blade yourself

Most quality skates have an area at the base of the boot or blade where there are screws that can be used to remove just the blade itself. This makes it easy to change it out in as little as thirty minutes. That’s without taking into account the possible need to sharpen or prepare the new blade. 

Sometimes the screws are hard to find. The paneling on the underside of the boot can sometimes hide it. It usually only takes a few extra minutes but can still be done quickly. However, it's not recommended that you do this right before a game. Why?

The balance of a skate is important. Replacing hockey skate blades shouldn’t take too much time, but it does take some. It can dictate how well you will be able to navigate across the ice.  If you rush it just before a game, it can lead to the blade not being properly secured.

This ends up either causing injury or breaking the hockey skate blade. In some cases, it can even lead to severely damaging your hockey skate. And remember, women's hockey skates and men's hockey skates are sturdier than a kid's hockey skate so be even more cautious when changing out the blade on a kid's skate.

Blade Choices

In most cases, the only time goalkeeper ice skates, leather ice skates, or a wide hockey skates don’t have replaceable blades is if they are cheap.  In a few cases, this can include recreational skates.  Most skates themselves have a boot that is built to be durable and therefore the blade is replaceable.

Bauer Senior Supreme 140 Skate

source: purehockey.com

This also means they usually last far longer than the steel  of the blade will.  Boots that don’t have a changeable blade are either cheap or aren’t expected to handle too much stress. In the long term, it’s preferable that serious players choose a skate that lasts long with a blade that can be replaced.  If you don’t choose one that does, you will have to replace your skates after a couple of years of use.

A Disclaimer Against Using Cheaper Blades & Skates:

Cheaper skates and their blades tend to damage more quickly.  This is due to the deficit in the quality of the steel.

Usually, skates should be able to last at least a few years.  If you use cheap quality steel blades, you will probably have to have them sharpened fairly often.  They usually only last a year or two for players that play twice a week or more.  Serious players who play daily will require new blades every month or bi-monthly

A hockey skate youth blade won’t require as much regular sharpening due to the variations in weight.  Hockey skate weights themselves vary by age. The added weight of your body in conjunction with the play is what cause them to wear down so quickly.

Your Style & Your Skate

Every skate has different builds.  For offensive players, head on styles of play require skates that have more frontal and side protection with a focus on acceleration speed.  Every ice hockey player plays differently.  For those that use a more aggressive strategy or have a very particular style, a deeper sole makes it easier to skate backward for defense oriented plays.

It will take some practice and experimentation, but gradually you will find a skate that fits your style. As you test different builds for your ice skates, you will find what works well and what impedes your ability to move.

Bauers, Reeboks, and more all fit differently and are made to work diversely for an array of players.

Conclusion

There’s a lot to consider when selecting ice hockey skates. Whether you are looking for recreational hockey skates, replacing hockey skate blades, or sharpening ice skates, every part is important. For those who are still seeking to understand more about what works for them, be sure to check out a skate profiling chart.

If you are looking for a new pair of ice hockey skates, don't forget to check out our buying guide for the best ice hockey skates for your money.

Playing ice hockey.

The parts of an of an ice skate cooperate to form a cohesive unit, that helps you be the best player you can be. We hope this guide answered your important initial questions so that you won’t be stuck asking, what size skates should I get?

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