Saturday, October 1, 2011

Tips on Buying Skates In-Store

Skates are the most important piece of hockey equipment you will ever purchase.  An improper fit can cause blisters, bone spurs, poor skating technique, accelerated boot breakdown and injury.  All of which can help make your hockey career very brief and quite painful.

We generally prefer and recommend that you find a professional to help with your skate fitting in store.  Unfortunately, having a qualified person to help and talk you through the process is not always an option.  As I've covered how to buy skates online in a previous post, here are some pointers on how help yourself purchase skates in store. 

Skate sizes, in any width, from size 6 to a size 15+ are a senior size.  Skate sizes from 1 to a 5.5 are juniors and anything below a 1 (YT7 -  YT13.5) are youth sizes.

A letter following the size (length) refers to the width of the skate.  A 'D' width (also known as an 'R', or 'regular' width) best  fits a standard or average width foot.  A 'C' width (also known as an 'N', or 'narrow' width) fits a foot that has a narrow or slender heel, ball and ankle  width.  An 'E' or 'EE' width (also know as a 'W', or 'wide' width) best fits a foot that is larger or wider than a standard width foot.

Most skate manufacturers generally size their skates to be 1 to 1.5 sizes smaller than your shoe size.  This is only a general 'rule' though, and does not always guarantee a perfect fit.  Depending on how you buy and wear your shoes, your skate size could be 2 or more sizes smaller than your shoe size. Click the following link for more on this topic:

If you are replacing skates, take the footbed out of your old skate, place it on the floor and step on it making sure to properly align the heel and arch of your foot with the contours of the footbed (this could be done at home).  For full-grown adults, there should be a 1/8" or less of space between the top edge of the footbed and the tip of your longest toe.  Any more than 1/8" and the skate may be too long.  Preferably, the less space between the tips of your toes and the top edge of footbed the better the fit and the better the performance of the skate.  The 1/8" measurement is good for occasional recreational skaters looking for maximum comfort while the zero space measurement is best for high-end hockey players looking for maximum speed, agility and control.  Use your playing ability and comfort level when gauging this gap measurement.  As for kids, any space showing between the tips of the toes and the edge of the foot bed generally indicates that there is still room for growth.  If the child is still complaining that the skate is too small, it is more than likely a width issue instead of a length issue.  If this is the case, a spot-press of the affected area (performed by your local pro shop) is highly recommended before purchasing a larger boot.

When buying new skates for kids that are still growing, parents should make sure there is about, but no more than, 1/8" or one finger widths worth of space behind the child's heel.  This is best tested by placing the child's foot in the skate in the standing position and having them push their foot as far forward into the front of the skate as possible without bending their toes.  If, in this position, you can get one finger width SNUGLY between the heel and the back of the skate with little room to spare, the length is good.  This should give you, in most cases, 9 to 12 months worth of growing space.  If you can easily wiggle your finger behind the child's heel or not feel the child's heel at all, there is too much space and a smaller size is needed.

While sitting down, put the skate on your foot and kick your heel firmly into the back of the boot.  Lace your skates up completely.  The laces should be snug but if you feel yourself having to really bear-down to get the laces tight (or use a skate lace key), the skate is most likely to big (too much vertical volume) for you.   Once you have tightened the skates, stand up and look down at the lacing pattern of each skate.  If your lacing pattern looks something like /\ (an upside down V), you have the makings of a proper fitting skate.  If the pattern looks like | | or \/, the skate is probably too big for you and you should try a smaller size.

In the standing position, the tips of your toes should just 'feather' the front of the toe cap, i.e. they should very lightly touch the toe cap when extended. Your toes should not feel crushed or compressed in this position.  Now, bend your knees.  This is your natural skating position.  In this position, you shouldn't really feel the toe cap much at all and the laces should feel snug without 'biting' into the top of your foot.

Walk around in the skates.  The heel should not feel like it's slipping up and down or moving side-to side inside the boot.  For proper fit and skating technique, your heels MUST stay locked to the footbed.  Any movement can cause accelerated boot breakdown, blisters and will force you to expend more energy for less return in your skating stride.

When standing in the skates, you should feel completely secure and stable in that position.  If your feet are wobbling or you feel off balance, the skates could be too wide or too big.  It may also indicate that you have a natural tendency to pronate (feet fall in) or supinate (feel fall out).  If you feel that the length and/or volume of the skate is appropriate and you still don't feel secure, we suggest you seek out a professional to properly have the problem identified and corrected.

For a more custom and comfortable fit, ice and inline hockey skates can and should be baked, especially if any tightness or uncomfortable pressure points exist.  This can be done even if the skates are not brand new.  The general rule is 5 minutes in the oven and 10 to 15 minutes on your feet in the sitting position.  There should be no movement made by the wearer until the skates have completely cooled.  We do not recommend using a conventional oven though, as this will void any warranty offered by the manufacturer and may cause irreversible damage to both the boot and wheels (if applicable).  Skates, ice or inline, should only be baked in ovens specially designed for that purpose.  Most, if not all, pro shops should be equipped with a skate-bake oven.

Many people have one foot larger then the other (usually, no more than a half-size).  If this is the case, we suggest that you try for the smaller size first on both feet or as snug a fit possible on the larger foot.

Your foot, not your socks, should fill up the entire interior of the boot.  Therefore, to ensure the best possible fit, you should be wearing the thinnest sock possible when skating and/or trying on new skates.  Standard white cotton socks are usually considered to thick for proper skate fitting.  If you are doubling up your socks, the skates are too big.

In general, because of how most people wear their shoes (loose and comfortable), a lot of players tend to think that they have wide feet.  This is usually  not the case, especially in ice and inline hockey skates.  With skates you want the most snug fitting skate you can get while still being comfortable.  The foot (and especially  the heel) needs to be locked into the skate so that the skate acts as a direct extension of the foot.  There should be little to no wiggle room or vertical movement inside the skate.  This is best accomplished by buying a regular width skate and having it first baked and then custom stretched to remove any remaining pressure points that may exist.  The general rule is it is better to buy a little tight and stretch the skate than it is to buy a little wide and try to compress the skate down around the foot.  Furthermore, the interior of a skate will start to break down and stretch slightly over time.  If you buy your skate a little big to begin with, the interior of the boot will become even bigger as time (and the skate) wears on.

Anyone who tells you that your skates should or will hurt, especially while they are being broken in, is probably wearing skates that are too big.  Your skates should be snug but comfortable and feel like a direct extension of your foot.

QUICK TIP:  If you're working with a salesperson in a store whose trying to convince you that the skate you're trying on is perfect for you or your child, even though the skate doesn't feel right or doesn't follow the guidelines listed above, feel free to walk away.  More than likely, the salesperson is attempting to push old or slow moving inventory on you rather than helping you find the right sized skate.

I hope this helps with your next skate purchase.

Russ Edwards
Hockey & Skate Outlet

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tips and Facts for Buying Hockey Wheels Online

Here are some quick tips/pointers for buying inline hockey wheels:

- A number followed by the letter 'A' on the Hockey Outlet website refers to the durometer (hardness) of an inline hockey wheel.  On this scale the higher the number, the harder the wheel, the lower the number, the softer the wheel (72A through 92A).

- In general, harder wheels (83A, 84A and 92A) are used for rough, slow outdoor surfaces.  Softer wheels (72A, 74A, 76A, and 78A) are used for smooth, fast indoor surfaces.

- Softer wheels are considered 'stickier' and therefore, offer better grip than harder wheels.  Conversely, softer wheels also tend to be slower and break down quicker, especially if the user is above the rated weight for that particular wheel.  As a general rule, adults should only use 76A (Labeda x-soft) and 78A (Labeda soft) wheels for indoor surfaces.

- Some manufacturers use what is called a 'dual-pour' to make certain wheels in their product lines.  A dual-pour means that there are two polyurethanes within the wheel each with a different duromoter.  For instance, Rink Rat Hornets & Hot Shots have an inner-core (68A) that is softer than the outer polyurethane shell.  The soft inner-core allows the wheel to compress more easily (from the players body weight) allowing it to grip the floor while still offering proper wear and speed by the outside shell.  Conversely, The Labeda Fuzion, Dynasty II, and Millennium wheels offer an inner-core that is harder than the outer polyurethane shell.  The hard inner-core limits the wheels ability to compress which lessens the wheels footprint (the amount of wheel touching the floor at any given moment) making for a much faster wheel.  At the same time, when making turns and stops, the hard inner-core flexes slightly allowing the softer outer shell to create a larger footprint increasing the wheels grip and stopping ability.  For comparison, Labeda Asphalt or Gripper wheels have the same durometer rating from the hub to the outer edge of the wheel.

-Mini-bearing wheels (688) have hubs that are smaller than the standard bearing (608) wheels.  Therefore, standard bearings will not fit in a mini-bearing wheel and vice-versa.  If you wish to change from using standard bearings to using mini-beaings, you will need to replace both the bearings and the spacers.  The axles should make the transission without issue.  Players that make the transission do so because mini-bearings are smaller and lighter than their standard counterparts.  Players that switch back do so because mini-bearing wheels are considered high-performance and therefore, cost as much as $8.99 or more per wheel.  There is also no outdoor hockey wheel made with a mini-bearing hub.

- Inline wheel makers make every attempt to make sure their wheels are bubble free.  This does not guarantee though, that bubbles will not appear in a certain percentage of wheels.  The wheels that do have bubbles and make it to the retail market are generally considered to meet or exceed the manufacturer's quality control standards and are therefore, capable of handling whatever punishment the user can dole out.  Some manufacturers do offer brief warranty coverage for their wheels.  Wheels with bubbles are not generally included under that protection though, unless they break in a relatively short period of time from their date of purchase.

QUICK TIP: Hockey wheels will last longer when rotated regularly.  The wheels should be flipped so that outside edge become the inside edge (graphic facing toward the inside of the skate instead of the outside or vice versa).  The number 1 wheel (very front) should also be switched with the number 3 position (second to last wheel) and the number 2 wheel (first behind the number 1 wheel) should be switched with the number 4 position (very back).  This should be done with both skates.

Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!

Russ Edwards
Hockey & Skate Outlet 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Buying Gloves Online - Getting the Right One

The best way to fit a pair of gloves without actually trying them on is to use a combination hand/arm measurement.  Have the player hold up one arm, bent at the elbow, at a 90 degree angle.  With their fingers pointing straight up, have them bend their fingers down into their palm and keep them there (like they're waving goodbye).  Place one end of the measuring tape under the players fingers at that point at the base of the palm (just above where the thumb joint ends at the center of the palm).  Now, measure from that point of the palm to the very bottom of the elbow.  That distance is the players glove size.  For verification, be sure to measure both the left and right hands.

If your hockey player is still growing and their glove length measures to a half-inch (10 1/2", 11 1/2", etc.), then we recommend rounding up to the next full length (11", 12", etc.) to allow for growth space.

Every glove manufacturer has their own idea of a proper fitting glove, even within their own product lines.  Some gloves have a more snug feeling around the palm, fingers and wrist cuff (Bauer Supreme series) while others tend to be a little wider and loose around those same areas (Bauer Vapor series).  Each player has their own preference based on previous experience and stick handling ability.  If you are just getting started and have never worn hockey gloves before, a more snug fitting glove will allow for a better feel for the stick and puck and be a better starting point for you.

A gloves main purpose is protection from injury.  Gloves with the most protection come with four main points:
1) A double-locking thumb joint to protect the thumb from being bent backwards and tearing the joint tendon
2) Plastic inserts and double-density foam in the backhand rolls and fingers to absorb and disperse stick slashing impacts
3) Reinforced rolled wrist cuff
4) Reinforced nash palm to reduce stick vibration, wear and extend the life of the glove.

QUICK TIP: As a general rule, white or light colored stick tape is best for extending the life of the palms of your gloves.  The dyes from black or dark colored stick tape have been known to eat through the nash palms, thus shortening the life of the hockey gloves.

Stay tuned for next weeks blog!

Russ Edwards
Hockey & Skate Outlet

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Buying Hockey Skates Online - The 1.5 Size Rule

One of the questions I get asked the most either by email or over the phone is, "I wear a size XX shoe, what size skate should I buy?".  The answer to this may seem simple on the surface, but in reality, it can be more complicated than that.

The general rule most of the major hockey skate manufacturers use (and retailers will tell you) is; for a full grown adult, your skate size is 1.5 sizes smaller than your shoe size.  For kids that need a little growth space, your skate size is a full size smaller than your shoe size.  Therefore, if you wear a size 9 mens shoe, your skate size will be 7.5.  If you're a child in say, a size 4 shoe, your skate size would be a size 3.  Easy, right?  Not so fast.

The problem with this rule is that for a number of varying reasons, your shoe size IS NOT necessarily your foot size, and your actual foot size is really what's important here.  So when buying hockey skates online, here are a few points to consider before making that purchase:

1.  FOR KIDS: If you're a parent buying skates for your child, the size down rule is the hardest to follow.  The reason being that if you just bought shoes for your child, they're probably already a full size bigger (at least) than your child's actual foot size.  This, of course, makes sense.  You want your child to have growth space and with shoes, you can generally get away with this with few, if any, issues.  In skates though, this can be very problematic.  The MOST growth space that you ever want to give your child in skates is a half size (which is why skate manufacturers recommend only going down a full size instead of a size and half like adults) .  There are a number of different reasons for this with varying degrees of severity, the least of which is a hindered ability to learn proper skating technique (I'll cover more of this issue in a future blog post).

So, lets say that you just purchased a size 4 shoe for little Timmy and you gave him a full size worth of growth.  The assumption then is that his actual foot size is a 3.  If you follow the rule and go a size down from his shoe size (4), his skate size is a 3.  But if you applied that rule to his actual foot size (3), his skate size would be a 2.  A full size smaller!  Yet, with the size 2 skate, he would still have a half-size worth of growth built in.  That means that the size 3 skate you would have purchased based on his size 4 shoe would actually be a full size bigger than what the manufacturers recommend and 1.5 sizes to big for his foot.  Ever seen kids out on the ice or roller rinks skating along on the inside edges of their skates and their wheels or blades look almost horizontal to the surface their skating on?  This is why.

So, when purchasing skates online for your child, please keep their shoe size vs. foot size in mind.  With a proper skate size, your child's speed, agility, and enjoyment of the game will be greatly improved.

ADULTS:  The biggest issue I see with adults telling me their shoe size is width.  If you have a wide foot and can't find shoes that fit your proper length, you're generally forced to buy shoes that are bigger in order to compensate for your width.  In reality then, your shoe size could be as much as 1.5 to 2 sizes longer than your actual foot size.  For example, if your foot size is a 9 and you apply the 1.5 down rule, your skate size is a size 7.5.  If, on the other hand, you buy a size 11 shoe to compensate for your wide foot, your skate size would be a size 9.5 based on the 1.5 rule. That's a full 2 sizes bigger than what your foot size says you should be skating in!  If this sounds like you, I strongly recommend that you go into your local pro shop to get properly sized and fitted (provided they know what their doing and have a boot heater and spot press).  If you are unable to make it into or don't have a local pro shop, you may want to consider an E or EE width skate (depending on how wide your foot is), but ONLY if you buy a skate size that corresponds to your actual foot size.  If you buy that size 9.5 skate (already to big) in a EE width, you're only exacerbating the problem.

While the example above might be an exaggeration of sorts, the truth is, we all tend to buy our shoes a little on the big side for one reason or another.  Whether it's because you had to have a particular style and the shoe store didn't have your exact size, your shoe size varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model, or you just happen to wear your shoes loose and comfortable, you need to keep these size variations in mind when converting your shoe size to a skate size.  Otherwise, the myth that your skates are supposed to hurt (and it is a myth), will become a reality.

QUICK TIP:  If your new skates feel a little tight or uncomfortable, try switching from your standard cotton sock to a thin skating sock.  You'd be amazed at the amount of space that makes.

Stay tuned for next weeks post!

Russ Edwards
Hockey & Skate Outlet