Everything You Need To Know About Ice Hockey Skates
Hockey skates are easily the piece of equipment that every player is (or should be) picky about. From the way the skates are sized to how players take care of them, everyone is different. Here is an all-encompassing guide to everything you need to know about your skates.
Starting off, laces come in two different styles: waxed and non-waxed. Briefly put, waxed laces are preferred by players who like their skates to fit tight or who want their skates to fit tighter in certain areas of the boot. Non-waxed laces are preferred by players who like a looser-fitting boot throughout. Be sure to read our article fully explaining the differences between lace types here.
Sizing skate laces is easy - they all have a sizing chart on the back of the box. But, if you can't find a size chart before you buy them, here is a general lace sizing guide:
Youth 8.0 - Junior 1.5 skates need 72" laces
Junior 2.0 - 3.5 skates need 84" laces
Junior 4.0 - 5.5 skates need 96" laces
Senior 6.0 - 8.5 skates need 108" laces
Senior 9.0 - 12.0 skates need 120" laces
Now that you have the right laces, it's time to put them on your skates. Some players lace "in-to-out" and others lace "out-to-in," but what's the difference?
Lacing "in-to-out" (pictured left) can be considered the standard way shoes and skates are laced. This lacing method will give players a tighter fit at a potential loss of comfort. The laces will apply more pressure directly to the top of the tongue.
Lacing "out-to-in" (pictured right) is when the lace is brought over the eyelet and then turned back in. This method will provide more comfort and reduce the risk of lace bite because the tension is applied laterally instead of downward. Therefore, no pressure is being applied directly to the tongue and the top of the foot.
Lace Bite & Blister Relief
Even with properly-fitted skates, players can still experience lace bite and blisters, especially during the break-in process. Lace bite happens when skates are tied too tightly and cause "hot spots," cysts, or localized blisters in one or multiple areas on top of the foot. Lace bite can be eliminated by either changing how the skates are laced up or by using gel inserts in those affected areas.
Elite Hockey makes three different gel pads to provide foot pain relief - lace bite gel pads, Achilles gel pads, and ankle gel pads.
Their lace bite gel pads are placed on the inside of the tongue to disperse pressure and decrease the pinching sensation created by skate laces.
The Achilles Heel gel pads are placed at the base of the heel inside the boot. They help fill any empty space at the back of the skate and can provide relief from rubbing during the skate's break-in process.
Much like the Achilles Heel gel pads, the Elite ankle gel pads also provide extra comfort during the break-in process. Plus, they prevent blisters and other discomfort by filling in any empty space if the skates are a little too big.
Players experiencing discomfort in multiple areas can use a combination of any of these gel pads for customized relief. However, this may mean that the player's skates are not sized properly.
Getting your skates sharpened properly is extremely important. There are several different hollow options to choose from and each will affect how you skate. Players should consider their playing style and their rink's ice condition before selecting their hollow. Our chart below shows many of the hollows that shops can sharpen skates at, with the larger numbers being the more popular and recommended options.
A sharper hollow (right side of 1/2" on the chart) will give players improved acceleration and stopping power but less gliding speed, as their skates will dig in to the ice more. A sharper skate hollow is recommended for smaller players or for players who skate at frigid rinks to help them dig more into the harder ice.
A duller hollow (left side of 1/2" on the chart) will give players improved gliding speed at the cost of acceleration and stopping ability, as their skates won't dig into the ice as much. A duller skate hollow is recommended for larger players or for those who skate at warmer rinks to prevent them from "sinking" into the softer ice.
The best "all-around" hollow is 1/2" because it is right in the middle of the road - neither too sharp nor too dull. The 1/2" hollow is also considered the industry standard by repair shops, so if you don't know what hollow you want, just ask your sharpener for a 1/2". While the 1/2" can be considered a "jack of all trades," it is also the "master of none." Players may want to consider going up or down one hollow from 1/2", such as 9/16" or 7/16", to get more of a customized feel on the ice.
Tongue Flop vs. Tuck
Tongue flop, or "flop" for short, is an ancient art that earned players lots of style points from the early 1990s to the mid 2010s. Flop is where the skates' tongues are not tucked into the shin guards and are angled forward. On today's skates, flop is only doable on mid-range skates and lower, as higher-end skates have stiff, padded tongues that don't flex forward.
Flop is generally created by using a shin guard that is 1" shorter than normal and by skipping the top one, two, or even three eyelets when lacing up the skates. Players can improve their tongues' "flopportunity" by tying their laces on top of the tongues when not in use.
Pictured: Two tongue floppers, Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Zetterberg, await the ceremonial puck drop from the legend of flop himself, Sergei Fedorov. Photo credit: Rick Osentoski, USA Today Sports.
Tucked tongues are much more common as they provide more protection. This is where the tongues are tucked underneath the shin guards and the tendon guards are outside of the socks. Tucked tongues provide protection in the front and mobility in the back.
Jonathan Toews shows how to wear skates with the tongues tucked. Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images.
Soft or Hard Blade Covers
Transporting skates inside of a hockey bag is risky. After all, sharp objects mixed with soft gear, like jerseys or gloves, will usually result in something getting torn. Or worse, they can cut through the bag and leave you with a major gear spill at the rink. Fortunately, blade covers exist.
Blade covers come in two styles: hard and soft.
Hard covers are ideal for younger players who get their skates on at home. They allow the player to walk across hard surfaces, like a parking lot, without damaging their steel. The downside to hard blade covers is that they don't protect against rust like soft covers do.
Soft blade covers, or soakers, are recommended for all players because they have a terry cloth liner on the inside. This liner absorbs the leftover ice and water from the blades and prevents them from rusting. In turn, soft blade covers significantly extend the skates' life. The downside to soft blade covers is that most are not recommended for walking across hard surfaces. Soft blade covers with a rubberized bottom, like the Elite Pro-Skate Guards, can be used for walking on hard surfaces.
After every game and practice, players should be wiping down their steel and holders until they are dry before putting their skates in their bag. Drying off the water will prevent the steel from rusting and breaking prematurely.
Then, players should take their skates out of their bag when they get home from the rink. Airing out the skates will help them dry faster and helps prevent odor and rust from forming. Players who really want to go above and beyond should also remove their footbeds after each use to prevent moisture from becoming trapped inside the skates.
As stated above, steel should be wiped down after every use to prevent rust from forming. However, all steel will eventually need to be replaced. You should replace your steel when one or both are:
Chipped, cracked, or broken - usually caused by a blocked shot or by stepping on concrete or metal.
Very short - caused over time by frequent sharpenings that require cross-grinding. Very short steel is commonly found on older or lower-end skates.
Rusted through - caused by a combination of water residue and not airing out the skates after each game.
Bent - usually caused by a blocked shot but can be caused by poor sharpening technique where the jig clamp is too tight.
If your skates ever get to a point where they look like one of these photos, it is crucial that you replace the steel on both skates, even if only one is damaged. When skates get used and sharpened, the steel gradually becomes shorter. So, putting new, taller steel on one skate and leaving old, shorter steel on the other skate will throw off your balance, which will put serious strain on your hips and knees.
Players in Bauer skates with TUUK LightSpeed Edge holders (standard on all mid-range skates and up) should absolutely keep a backup set of steel on the bench in the event of mid-game damage. Always keep the worst case scenario in mind - if you block a shot off your skate on the first shift or at a clutch moment of the game and your steel snaps in half - you'll be on the bench for the rest of the game. LightSpeed Edge holders use a trigger release system to eject and replace the steel in a matter of seconds, getting you right back in the game.
Bauer also made a convenient carrying case that holds two pairs of additional steel. The spacers inside lock the steel in place, preventing them from making contact with each other, and keep your edges in pristine condition.
Players who don't have TUUK LightSpeed Edge holders can still replace their steel, but it requires two screwdrivers, much more time, and will be difficult to replace on the bench mid-game. However, players with CCM skates or lower-end Bauer skates can swap their holders with TUUK LightSpeed Edge holders. Just take your skates to your local hockey shop's repair center to get them replaced.
Pictured: Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon replaced his CCM Ribcor 70K's SpeedBlade 4.0 holders with TUUK LightSpeed Edge holders. Photo credit: John Leyba, Denver Post.
Some players, such as defensemen or those recovering from a foot injury, may need some additional protection when blocking shots. Skate Fenders makes high-quality polycarbonate skate guards to protect feet from pucks. They are easily attached and removed from the skates by using two Velcro straps. Skate Fenders can be seen being used by several star NHL players, like Drew Doughty (LA), Johnny Gaudreau (CGY), and every single player on the Anaheim Ducks.
Losing an edge during the middle of a game will happen to every player at some point. A lost edge is when a skate's blade becomes dull on one side, making turns and stopping on that side extremely difficult. Even worse, this can happen at a clutch point in a game. You can't just get off the ice and get your skates sharpened - so what do you do? You use the A&R Re-Edger tool.
This handheld tool has a ceramic "V" on one end that helps create a new edge on the skate's steel with three to five swipes down the blade. On the other end, there is a stone to remove burs and small nicks. Although a re-edger can create a new edge on your blade, it is NOT a suitable replacement for regular skate sharpenings and should be used only on an "emergency" basis. Constant use of the "V" side of a re-edger can cause damage to your steel.
Rivets are the part of the skate that connect the boot to the holder. Skates have about 10 to 14 rivets, depending on the size and manufacturer. Rivets need to be replaced when they start to rust because eventually, they'll fall out and your boot and holder will be disconnected. The easiest way to prolong your rivets' lifespans is to dry off and to air out your skates after every time you skate.
You can check the lifespan of your rivets by removing the footbed and examining the flower petal-shaped pieces of metal inside the skates. Ideally, there should be no orange rust on or around them.
If rust has formed, take your skates into your local hockey shop to get the rivets replaced. While a little bit of rust won't make your skates disintegrate, it's better to get them replaced sooner rather than later.
Powerfoot Performance Inserts
Arguably the hottest skate accessory on the market right now, the Adrenaline Powerfoot Performance Skate Inserts should be in every player's skates. At first, they seem like they are "just another footbed" until you realize they go on the top of the toes, not beneath. Once they are attached to the inside of the toe cap and your foot slides in the skate, you can already feel the difference.
Your toes now feel as if they are comfortably resting against little Tempur-Pedic memory foam pillows. The Powerfoot skate inserts are more than just comfortable - they also serve a purpose in performance. They help eliminate the empty space above the toes and lock the front of the foot in place, resulting in an overall skating improvement. This empty space is prevalent even in properly fitting skates.
These inserts make even the stiffest skates feel like slippers you'd find at the at the Four Seasons Resort & Spa.
When players experience foot pain while skating, the footbeds are likely the cause. Footbeds are the flat pieces at the bottom of the inside of the skates that make contact with the player's feet. They are easily removable and can be replaced as needed. Skate manufacturers always include more supportive and comfortable footbeds at nearly every price point, so the nicer the skate - the nicer the footbed. There are a couple footbed options that players can choose from if they decide to switch theirs out.
Bauer SpeedPlates are one of the most popular footbeds on the market today. They are made with a recovery alloy that becomes soft and malleable after being heated and then becomes hard and rigid when it cools. This allows the SpeedPlates to form precisely to the foot's shape, enabling the player to achieve optimized balance and stability, resulting in higher top end speed and ultimate efficiency. Bauer SpeedPlates come standard on all top-of-the-line Bauer skates.
CCM Custom Support Insoles are another great option. Simply match your foot's arch height to the corresponding footbed height and you'll receive a soft, yet supportive, footbed to give your feet the added comfort they need.
Both footbed options have a universal fit, meaning players with Bauer skates can use CCM footbeds and vice versa. In some instances, players may need to trim parts of the footbed to get a perfect fit inside their skates.
Some players prefer to wear socks under their skates and others may prefer to go barefoot - it's all personal preference. Players wearing socks are usually more comfortable in their skates but barefoot players tend to have a slight edge when it comes to agility. Obviously, skill will outplay gear every time, but not having any material between the foot and the skate will allow players to truly feel their edges.
Players looking for skate socks have a couple style options, such as ankle- or shin-high. Some even have protective properties, like Kevlar reinforcement, for players cautious about skate lacerations.
You can read more about the difference between wearing socks and skating barefoot here.
Skate Sizing & Advice
Players can always come by any of our xHockeyProducts locations in New Jersey and New York for skate sizing, repairs, and advice. Our friendly gear experts will help get you into the right pair of skates every time.
Discount Hockey is also in New Jersey, where you can get your feet scanned by the Bauer 3D Skate Lab! This scanner tells you exactly which size, width, and Bauer skate family you'll need to improve your performance and comfort on the ice.
Be sure to read our other articles about skates here:
What To Look For When Buying Hockey Skates
Quick Tip To Properly Size Hockey Skates
Cheap Hockey Skates vs. Expensive Hockey Skates: Which Ones Are Right For Me?
Bauer Vapor, Supreme, & Nexus: Which One Is Right For Me?
CCM JetSpeed, Tacks, & Ribcor: Which One Is Right For Me?