What You Need to Know to Buy Ice Hockey Skates

It’s counterintuitive but true. The best time to get new skates is in the off-season, when they’re on sale and you have time to break them in. Because the last thing you want to do is break in skates a couple weeks before tryouts — or during tryouts! Whether buying new or used, we found out what you really need to know to get your money’s worth.

For information, I talked to Robert Hineline at the Skater’s Edge. Despite working with nationally ranked figure skaters and hockey players, Hineline is full of practical tips for parents of players at any age or level.

Start with the Sock

Don’t even go skate shopping without the right socks. “Thick socks can add a full size and create sliding within the skate,” says Hineline. Robert and his wife Cathy recommend a thin men’s dress sock for skating. Knowing that my kid will never be the dork in the locker room in the black nylon socks, I suggest skate socks by Underarmour, Easton or CCM — or even the Champion athletic socks at Target. Hineline agrees these are ideal as they also draw moisture away from the foot.

Hineline warns against the old myth of skating barefoot. “The reason skates smell is that rotting skin is left behind. This gets back on the feet and causes athlete’s foot,” he says.

Fit Tips

The easiest, and probably most pricey, thing to do is march into a hockey store, be fitted and have the skates molded there. But when working with hand-me-downs, skates at resale shops or skates bought online, you may need to check out the fit yourself. For starters:

  • Bauer and Nike skates tend to be narrow.
  • Easton skates are generally medium width.
  • CCM skates run wide, but they also offer narrow widths.

Tip: Rather than taking the time to cram a kid’s feet into a bunch of skates, you can pull out the insole and let your player stand on it to check the width.

Hineline notes that getting fitted is important because, “What some people think is wide not wide at all. It’s a proportion issue.” This is why a professional fitting may pay off. You can pay $10 or so at a skate shop for a fitting and still search for skates online or at resale shops.

If you’re “buying big” for a younger player:

  • If dad can slide the flat side of a finger in around the ankle, that’s the perfect amount of growing space. If you can turn your finger to the wide side, however, that’s too big. (Sorry moms, this test works best with man-size hands.)
  • According to coach Rich Kennedy, buying skates a half-size larger than the current skates usually works best for 8 and under players.

Hineline notes that if the skate is too big, it will cause bone spurs, bunions and corns. (Believe me, I’ve seen this. He’s not saying it to sell more skates!) Also, if the skate fits, but a kid is complaining about the toe box, it can be stretched.

Evaluating Used

Parents may opt for used skates or hand-me-downs for the first few years of play, particularly if a player is experimenting with hockey or deciding among multiple sports. According to Hineline, after three or four years of skating, kids need the performance of skates really fitted to them. In the meantime, his top tips for checking out used skates include:

  • Stitching: The stitching around the skate should be consistent; gaps indicate tears.
  • Rivets: Pull out the insole and check the condition of the rivets. They are likely to be rusted, but the tangs should be there and be gripping the skate.
  • Blade life: Sharpening affects the life of the blade, removing a little bit each time. If the blade is only 3/8” tall, it’s life is too short and you will need new blades.
  • Chipped blades: In a recent two- to five-year span, the metal mix from some manufacturers had too much nickel, leading to chipping on the blade edges. Avoid these.
  • Solid blades: A solid blade without a gap is stronger, particularly for the shorter blades Mites use.
  • Screws: Look at the screws holding the blade to the skate. If the skates click when you walk, the screws need tightened.
  • Remold: Used skates are molded to someone else’s feet, whether by intent or wear. Since everyone’s ankle bones are in a slightly different position, Hineline recommends that you remold used skates.

Taking Care

The first time you wear a new pair of skates, guess what? They’re used, too. To take care of any pair of skates, keep in mind:

  • Get sharp: For new skates, the first sharpening is the most important so make sure it’s done professionally. Used skates are almost sure to need a sharpening before wear.
  • Rosie rivets: Take out the insole and dab the rivets with metal paint to prevent rust and slow wear. (Hineline admits that clear nail polish will work if you don’t have time for a special run to Lowe’s or Home Depot for metal paint.)
  • Guards: If the blades do not say “stainless steel,” they can rust. In this case, do not use hard plastic guards. If you’re putting skates in storage for a month or so, leave the guards off regardless of the metal.
  • Insoles: After every use, and particularly for storage, pull out those insoles to dry.

As a parting note, Robert and Cathy Hineline — who have no agenda as they don’t actually sell hockey skates — note that you should check over skates bought online as carefully as skates purchased in a store or purchased used. Be sure they’re in top condition before you wear them. Now get started breaking those skates in!

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Kelly Kordes Anton for this story.

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