Hockey skate nerd quiz! How old are these skates and to whom do (did) they belong?

It wasn’t a hard shot. There are no hard shots in adult women’s non-competitive beginner shinny. Okay, maybe one, but she doesn’t use it much, out of a sense of decorum or maybe just not giving a fuck. Beyond her, though, there a couple of accurate shooters, a few quick shooters, and a great number of terrible shooters, but no one who sends a puck flying in high or heavy. On defense, I’ll get in front of anything. Why not? There is no shot in this hour capable of denting my layers of plastic and foam, providing I have the ovaries to face it square.

So when I deflected a puck off my skate and pieces of black shrapnel scattered across the ice, it took several long seconds for me to figure out what happened. At first, dumbly, I thought the puck had broken. But then I remembered that rubber does not work that way, and looked down, and saw the pink of my toes peering back up at me.

My skate had shattered. Not just cracked, but shattered. The goalie was busy fishing up chunks of plastic from the crease and other bits hung by tenuous threads and specks of glue from the sides.  My toe cap was gone.

Huh.

I didn’t know such a thing was possible.

“I’ve never seen THAT happen before,” said the goalie, sympathetically, as I skated alone towards the doors.

***

In the dressing room, I mourned. They weren’t good skates. Probably they had never been good skates, some kind of leathery-looking CCMs that were already worn and dented when they came to me, their silvery plastic highlights battered to a dull iron grey, the ankle supports pre-softened by the sweat of whatever Taiwanese teenager had them before me. His name had been stuck on the back when I got them, three characters on a little sticker with a cartoon dog at the end, but somewhere along the way the tag had been lost. Whoever he was, we had had the same feet.

I dug my old skates up out of the dusty upper room of the only hockey shop in Taipei, out of masses of gear that would, in any normal hockey society, have been thrown away long ago. But in Taiwan, people save hockey things, reuse them, pass them along from one generation to the next, and old equipment survives well beyond its intended lifespan. I scavenged that room for whatever bits of gear I could fit into and take away for free- a pair of shinpads with hand-mended elastic, an old black helmet with a bulbous cage- but at first I wasn’t sure about the skates. I had been warned about the dangers of secondhand skates. They’ll pinch, people said, and bite, and leave you with sores and blisters and great thorny bone growths everywhere. I imagined my feet growing into knotty, scarred, Hobbit-like things, and clomping around the ice in pain.

But the old CCMs fit perfectly. I slid my feet in and stood and it was like standing in my very own boots, as if years of hard wear had molded them to my very own arches.  I was absurdly grateful. It was like they’d found me, in a cool, quasi-mystical way. We were destined for each other.

This is all an elaborate way of saying that I loved my old skates.

***

Hockey is a technological game, it advances with the science of plastics and metals . We often talk about how players now are bigger and stronger than ever before, but much of what the modern hockeyist can do that the 1967 hockeyist could not has nothing to do with the man. It’s the stiffness of his skates and the lightness of his stick. It’s polymers. Half of hockey evolved on frozen lakes, but the other half was invented in a lab.

More than any other sport, hockey is a game where you can buy yourself better. Not dramatically better, maybe: you can’t buy eyes or instincts. But you can buy yourself stronger shoulders, a higher shot, and lighter feet. Everyone has had this experience: oh my God, with new stick/new insoles/new sharpening, I’m a whole new player. If you’ve got money and don’t mind spending it, you can upgrade you every damn year.

But perhaps because it is so easy to buy self-improvement, there is also an undercurrent of resistance to shiny new gear. A lot of rec hockey players (and even a few pros) take a perverse pleasure in wearing battered old things. People will show off the skates they’ve had for twenty years with twice the pride they’d take in a new pair, and vintage shoulder pads are an instant shortcut to respect. Some retain a commitment to wooden sticks with a haughty intensity that would shame the hippest of hipsters. Paradoxically, it is good to have new equipment, but it is better to have ancient equipment- and indeed there is no quicker way to earn the approbation of your fellow rec players than to have gear that is too flashy and expensive for your skill level, except maybe to wear a douchebag number.

Why do we retain this attachment to old things? The new things are better. My old skates were heavy and soft; I should have thrown them away with joy. But, just like the velveteen rabbit eventually became real through love, through use hockey gear eventually becomes than just stuff you put on your body. It becomes a synthetic extension of your body. That’s not just a wooden stick, there, that’s your slapshot. Those shoulder pads are your work in the corners. The new gear may be technologically superior, but the old gear is a part of you, part of everything you’ve struggled to learn in the game. My old skates weren’t just my skates, they were my skating. They were the appendage that made possible a whole new kind of movement. They were my wings.

***

The store has a wall of skates six by ten at least. Sixty different kinds of hockey skates at least. Bauer alone is represented by two different lines, each in two different generations. They redesign them every other year, bring in a slightly new numbering system, a slightly different style of highlights, representing slight differences in material and construction that no one seems to properly understand. Doing research online, I found a lot of generalizations- this kind is more for speed, the other is more for stability- but I came away with the singular impression that nobody in the rec league hockey world really understands the meaningful differences between this style and that, this version and its two-years-ago incarnation. Most accounts of the history of hockey skates stop in the fifties, although we know very well that the technology is evolving right up until today. Like everything else in the modern world, like food chemistry and car parts, most of us use skates without even the slightest idea what’s in them.

The salesman, a sharp, perfunctory young man with more knowledge than I, has no advice beyond “try them on and see what feels good” and “get a size smaller than you think you need”. He brings out five or six pairs and I try them on alternating feet. They all feel wrong. The first is too wide and the second too narrow, the next pinches my toes and the one after that bites my heel. All of them hurt at the ankles. None of them have the instant familiarity of my old skates. None of them feel like wings.

“It’s normal,” the salesman says. “The ankles are usually tough at the beginning. Get them baked, break ‘em in. It’ll go away.”

I take his advice and choose a pair of Bauer Supreme One70s. They’re a little wide, but they have the look and feel that’s closest to my beloved old pair. He takes them away and comes back with them warm, like towels fresh out of the dryer, and tells me to sit perfectly still and let them mold to my feet.

I stare at the skates. The skates stare back up at me.

So. Hi.

If finding my first skates was like falling in love, this is more like an arranged marriage. The yenta of Sportcheck brought us together and has left us sitting here in his parlor, trying to figure out if we can get along. The skates are trying to charm me, with their bright yellow accents and cozy cuddles, but I’m not sure. I let myself love a pair of skates before, and they abandoned me, left me alone and cold-toed right in the middle of shinny. I don’t know if I’m ready to trust again. But I don’t have a choice.

At home, I put them on and sit on the bed and try to negotiate this new relationship, the way I used to try to negotiate with God when I was seven and really wanted to win at solitaire . Okay, skates, firstly: don’t slice my sheets open. Secondly: I don’t like you and you don’t like me, but we’re going to be stuck with each other for a long time, so let’s make a deal. I promise I’ll sharpen you and get you waxed laces and loosen you properly every time I take you off so I don’t bend your supports all squishy, if only you please please please don’t hurt me too bad. Don’t kill my ankles. Don’t give me blisters and sores and grotesque bumps that make my normal shoes fit wrong. Don’t take away everything I’ve learned so far, my crossovers and backwards skating and three awkward first strides. Please, skates, don’t fuck up hockey for me. I need hockey.

The skates flash their dozen eyelets blankly in their shiny synthetic weave. I don’t think they understand.

***

I wish there was a happy ending to this story. I wish I could say I got out there and flew twice as fast as ever before, and did all kinds of sexy pivots and turns and realized all the great potential of the ten years of technological development that separate the new skates from the old. But the truth is more disappointing. The Bauers are lighter and swifter, yes. I can pick up my feet a little better and get up more speed on the straightaway. But the balance is all wrong. I go into a turn, take it too far and stumble off the puck. I try to skate backwards and find myself teetering on my heels. Half my skills are better, but the other half are completely gone. I wish I knew how long it would take for the new skates to become old skates, to become, again, part of my very own synthetic hockey body.  I wish I knew when I’d be able to fly properly again.

Comments (19)

  1. Maybe you need to adjust your radius?

    • I’ve thought about that (it’s obviously quite different from the old one), but I’m hesitant to make a dramatic change while they’re still so new. It seems like the unfamiliarity could be coming from so many different places that I’m not sure a massive reprofiling would entirely solve the problem.

      • I agree with gru33. I would at least get a good shop to measure your old profile and the new one to see what the difference is. It might be so radically different not only in radius but the location of the radius bottom could be different that it might be the main cause.

  2. Skate quiz answer attempt:

    The Vapor XX’s were out around 2004. So roughly 8 years old.

    They could belong to anyone, since the Vapor line up until the hard boot Supreme’s came out were regarded as the most popular skate, with Bauer being one of, if not THE most popular skate brand. But I’m going to guess they’re your resident Justin Bourne’s as these were huge in his prime.

    Justin if they’re yours, minus points on the tongue :( Flop or tuck! Only Zetterberg seems to pass the hockey sty test with that same tongue.

  3. Going through the same thing. Old boot completely broke down, upper seperated from sole. They weren’t the greatest skates, but they were mine. They were comfortable, they were consistent. When I pushed, stopped, turned, they obeyed my will instantly. These new ones are foreign. I don’t trust them. They seem to be waiting for an opportunity to throw me to the ice and laugh as I slide headlong into the boards.

  4. I hate to sound like this, but in my experiences with purchasing at a generic sports store such as Sportcheck, Cdn Tire etc etc versus a dedicated hockey shop, chances are low they even did a radius.

    Get a radius, then a sharpening. Please do not let them forget to sharpen after the radius, I don’t know the ins/outs of the science behind it, but its like skating in quicksand without it. My local shop generalizes the radius names to defensive, neutral or forward. You’ll need a forward radius if you’ve got a good lean in your strides. Hope this helps! Anyone please correct me if I’ve butchered any of the sharpening terms. :)

  5. I don’t know what city you are in, but I recommend taking them to a place like Edmonton’s Pro Skate (I am unaware of what other places offer the services, especially not in Edmonton). They modify the skate boot to fit your foot, as well as adjust the blade holder to be correct. I ended up buying my new skates there (free fitting), but I think most places that do this will take any skate you bring in and just charge 80-100 for the fitting.

  6. If you never got your old ones profiled and they were many, many sharpenings old [which it sounds like] then they probably accumulated all sorts of variations from skate to skate. I wore a pair for four years and then got them profiled. Turns out at that point, one pitched forward and one pitched back, and they had different centers for the radius. First skate after one felt like it was glued to the ice and one felt like it was greased. Give them a few more skates and then get them profiled.

  7. Skates are so complex it’s kind of ridiculous. The place I usually get mine sharpened went under a few months ago and now I’m trying all kinds of new places to find someone who does it right. A lot of the women on my team are in the same situation, and it sucks. Sigh.

    I’m a goaltender and I remember a few years back I joined our intermural team at university, but since we already had a goalie I played defence for the first time in probably about ten years. Most people think that there isn’t much of a difference between players skates and goalie skates except the padding. But that isn’t true. At all. I was smart enough to go to some public skating sessions before heading out on the ice for a game.

    I strapped on those players skates and fell straight on my ass. I’ve been playing hockey and skating consistently since I was 8. And when I stepped out on the ice with those skates it was like going back to step one. I looked and felt like a new-born deer.

    I improved a lot that year and way more quickly than if I’d never played before. But it was also a huge relief to get back into my own pads and skates. I hope your adjustment period doesn’t take too long!

  8. One thing I would suggest, remove the footbed (insole) from the skates and place a temporary shim under the heel. The shim should be no more than 1/8″ thick and can be made of any material. Then replace the insole and go skate again. I suspect your balance when skating backward will be better.

    If it is, you then have a few choices. One, install a permenant shim under the insole. Or, if you have a reputable skate tech nearby, they can profile your blades to accomplish what the shim accomplishes. If you go that route, make sure to remove the shim. Also, an experience skate tech can help if you tell him or her exactly what skate you were skating in before, too.

    Also, Bauer does no one any favors with the marketing crap they dispense regarding their three skate lines. Their three skate lines fit three different types of feet. Has nothing to do with “Built for the quick-footed player who thrives on acceleration.” (souce: Bauer.com)

    I guess that’s what you have to do to market to an uninformed audience.

  9. Wow – I’m thinking my toes are right up there on the list of things I never want to see when I’m out on the ice!

    I learned in a pair of retired-hockey-player skates (Mike Knuble if the guy at the store is to be believed) I picked up at and end of season sale. They were too big, worn out, heavy as all get out, and I didn’t know any better. When I finally knew enough to know better I went to Hockey X (Oakland CA) and tried on a bunch – but in my case I found *my skates* there. Easton Synergy 1500C. They were the new thing that year (’06?) and I’ve worn them ever since. I know Easton has continued the Synergy line…but I’m very afraid that when these finally do break down the new ones won’t be right.

  10. Echoing some of the previous commenters, I would highly recommend getting your skates profiled (or sometimes called contoured). If done properly, the skate shop will ask for some measurements (such as height, weight, etc), and will inquire about the position you play. This information will impact the type of radius they give your blades. I was amazed by the difference I felt when I first used my skates after having this done. Skates simply sharpened straight out of the box would be awful!

    I can definitely understand your plight. I bought a new pair of skates about 4 years ago and it took me at least two seasons to feel comfortable in them. Now I love them, but the process of getting to that point was horrendous.

  11. CCM and Bauers are famous for having different profiles.

  12. I can’t comment to the radius business, but my kids – girls and boys – have been through oodles of skates with never such a thing. I had a [Brutal!] old pair of plastic molded Lange skates, and yes, I must have got used to them because putting on CCM’s when I finally replaced them I felt like I was on tip-toe. I expect you’re getting the opposite effect, you’re probably a bit “heel-down” coming off of CCM’s. You could try shimming up your heel, but I’d suggest in a month you’ll just get used to the new feel. My youngest just got the one70′s this year too – at SportChek- she likes them a lot. They seemed like the best fit for her narrow and outrageously long feet.

  13. I think your skate (and stick) experiences highlight the untold story-the quest for a great hockey shop and sharpener. A great hockey shop can point you in the right direction and even make you try stuff you think won’t work, but somehow do. Your skate sharpener is even more of a quest for love. Find the right one and you’re joined for life, anything less is just biding time until ultimate disappointment. I’m lucky to have both a great hockey shop, KoSports, and a great sharpener in my area. That is the quest rec hockey players must undertake.

  14. I got my skates (Reebok 4K’s) used from a teenage boy and am in love with them. They were already broken in, they fit perfectly, I learned to skate backwards in them.

    I am absolutely terrified of having to get new skates. I know I can still get the 4K’s, and have contemplated buying a pair just to have, in case I need them. I’ve tried on the 12K’s (my coach bought 12K’s and 11K’s for herself earlier this year) and just plain old didn’t like them (the boot was too stiff, it hurt my ankle and arch, etc.).

    I feel for you!

  15. About a year ago I went from my very well broken in Bauer 8000′s to brand new Vapor X7.0′s. I have a feeling part of your problem is how the skates have changed. I know I noticed that the new skates are cut a bit higher on the ankle. Also, the new materials used are inherently stiffer. These 2 together might be part of your problem. I suspect you’re not getting as much flex out of your new wheels yet. I say just give it time and work on getting some good flex out of the boot.

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