August 19, 2013

From NEHJ: The skate scoop

By Jesse Connolly


Total Hockey offers 17 retail locations and an e-commerce site, with skate specialists who offer insight on fitting and product selection.

It’s no secret that hockey’s long been the most expensive mainstream sport for a child to get into. With growing kids requiring one new equipment purchase after another as they advance from one age level to the next, keeping up can be hard for parents.

No matter how prepared a player or their parents might be, sometimes an overwhelming case of sticker shock is unavoidable. New England Hockey Journal asked retailers to weigh in on that topic in regards to one piece of gear in particular: hockey skates.

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Ice Warehouse

Store address: 21 Zaca Lane, Suite #120, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Store phone: 800-366-3070

Store website: www.IceWarehouse.com

* Chase Burud, web editor

What are the tangible differences between low-end and high-end hockey skates? The biggest difference is that high-end hockey skates utilize a much stiffer, more protective and better heat-moldable quarter package. This gives the high-end players a more efficient and powerful stride, more overall protection and a more personalized fit. The other differences include full carbon outsoles vs. injected plastic outsoles, high-quality lightweight steel runners vs. standard steel runners, durable moisture-wicking liners vs. traditional nylon liners, and finally reinforced pro-style tongues vs. one-piece felt tongues.

What kind of suggestions would you make to someone shopping for skates on a budget? I’d recommend looking at how often they are playing and to look at what level of hockey they’re playing at. These days, the mid-level skates feature a lot of great technology passed down from the high-end skates, giving the amateur or rec-level players a great skate at a great value.

With such a wide selection out there, how does a player know which skate is best for him/her? The main points to take into consideration when deciding on a hockey skate is what their foot type is (shape, width and arch), what level of hockey they are playing at and how often they’re playing. Each manufacturer has a unique boot shape that can fit one player’s foot perfectly and another’s painfully, so knowing the shape of the foot and boot is key. Level of play and skating frequency is the most commonly misjudged point when choosing skates. Players who choose too stiff or too advanced of a skate run the risk of never fully breaking them and thus not ever being able to experience the true advantage of a high-end skate. Choosing the correct skate for your level of play and skating frequency will allow you to perform better and get the most of your skate. At IceWarehouse.com, we feature a comprehensive “How To Select an Ice Skate” video that goes into much more detail as well.

 Do the advancements in skate technology warrant the rising costs that accompany them? Innovations in any industry come with a price tag. With that said, beginner and expert hockey players both benefit from this because the expert players are getting better and better skates while the beginner/intermediate level player will see high-end technology and materials passed down to the entry-level and mid-level skates for not a bad price increase.

Is there brand loyalty when it comes to skates? How come? Most certainly; generally a player will find a skate that fits them well and feels comfortable so they will stick with it. When it comes time for a new pair of skates, they’ll buy the same skate or the following year’s successor from the same family and brand of skates.

How strongly are players influenced by which skates their NHL idols are wearing? I think the younger players may be slightly influenced by the pros in the NHL, but when it comes to hockey skates I believe hockey players tend to get the skates that they feel most comfortable in, even if their favorite player does not wear them.

How far off are we from a $1,000 skate? With the great advances we’ve been seeing in hockey skates the last couple of years, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came out with a game-changing innovation that brought the price of a pair up to $1,000.

HockeyGiant

Store address: Coming soon to 145 Wolf Road, Albany, N.Y.

Store phone: 800-633-5999

Store website: http://www.HockeyGiant.com

* Jeremiah Lafica, content specialist

What are the tangible differences between low-end and high-end hockey skates? Material quality and performance capabilities are the biggest differences between recreational skates and high-end, pro-level skates. High-end skates are more costly, simply because the materials used to construct the skates are lighter, more supportive and durable, and provide greater all-around performance benefits. High-end skates are often far more responsive to baking (heat molding), which drastically improves the fit of the boots, and consequently, your ability to perform is increased. It’s easy to forget, but hockey skates also offer protection for your feet, which varies greatly when you’re comparing low- and high-end skates. Weight, though, is a key factor when elite players are picking out their skates. Foot speed and agility are directly affected by the weight of your skates, so it’s no surprise that weight has become one of the determining factors for elite-level players as they consider their options.

What kind of suggestions would you make to someone shopping for skates on a budget? You have a couple of options if you’re looking for quality skates on a budget. Middle-of-the-line skates have many of the great features that you can find in top-level skates, with a few modifications that usually have a direct effect on the weight, stiffness and durability of the skates. You’ll get great performance out of these skates, but the performance life of the skates is likely to be decreased with the price tag. Another option — the best option in my opinion — is to find a particular line of skates that you like, such as Bauer Vapor Skates, and then purchase a high-end model from the previous generation of skates, usually from 1-2 years prior. You can pretty easily find great deals and significant discounts on models that were released from previous generations, and the difference between a mid-level skate from the current generation and a top-of-the-line skate from the previous generation is very likely to swing in favor of the top model from yesteryear.

With such a wide selection out there, how does a player know which skate is best for him/her? The first thing you want to do is identify your performance needs. Are you a beginner, mid-level skater or highly competitive player? This will guide you to the top, middle or bottom of each hockey skate line that you’re browsing through. If you’re a beginner, you really don’t need to pay for all of the bells and whistles that a top-level skate provides because you won’t be demanding as much from your skates. Conversely, if you’re an aggressive, competitive skater, you must understand that an introductory-level skate simply won’t be able to handle the same amount of abuse as a higher-level model. That being said, each brand and skate model is built with a slightly different shape and unique set of fit characteristics. The best way for you to find and select the skates that fit your feet best is to try on several different brands and models until you find the ones that feel “right.”

Do the advancements in skate technology warrant the rising costs that accompany them? To a certain degree, the rising costs are legitimate, especially when you see the amount of R&D that actually goes into the creation of the top models from each of the major skate brands. On the other hand, there are more dollars spent on marketing and player endorsements than ever before, and that money has to come from somewhere.

Is there brand loyalty when it comes to skates? How come? Absolutely; and when it comes to skates, you probably see more brand loyalty than with any other piece of equipment. One of the main reasons for this is often tied to a childhood experience, nostalgia. Skating is unique to our sport, and that makes it special. So, the skates that you wear say a lot about you as an individual player. In addition, as it relates to your gear, nothing will take the fun out of hockey faster than a painful pair of skates. Every hockey skate brand and model offers a unique fit, just as the feet of every player are uniquely shaped. Once you’ve found your brand, your fit, it’s hard to leave “home” and forge into the unknown to try something new.

How strongly are players influenced by which skates their NHL idols are wearing? It usually depends upon the age of the player, as well as a variety of other personality traits and other such factors. Generally speaking, if a player sees someone he admires using a pair of skates, or any piece of equipment for that matter, that have the appearance of being “cool” or advantageous, it will likely influence your purchasing decision. The major manufacturers have, no doubt, figured this out, and that’s why they pay such a large sum of money to the pro players who can attract youngsters and even adult-aged players to their brand.

How far off are we from a $1,000 skate?  We’re already there. It’s just a matter of someone being bold enough to take that step into the marketplace and demand that price for their product. Ten years ago, how many people imagined a stock skate model going for $800? Then, top models were going for no more than $400-$500, and at the time people said that was outrageous, too. But, they also paid the price, giving license to the manufacturers to keep the bubble expanding. I think $1,000 may be a year or two out, but you can be sure it’s on its way.

 



H.A. Zwicker, Inc.

Store address: 379 North Rd., Bedford, Mass.

Store phone: 781-275-0900

Store website: www.zwickers.com

* Wayne Zwicker, president/owner

What are the tangible differences between low-end and high-end hockey skates? The first difference is the weight. The high-end skate is noticeably lighter. Next is the stiffness. The high-end is more ridged through the quarter and ankle areas, affording more durability throughout the life of the skate.

What kind of suggestions would you make to someone shopping for skates on a budget? Buy the skate that will satisfy the needs of the player. Purchasing a skate that was designed for a 6-foot-4, 220-pound hockey player that skates everyday is a complete overkill for your Mite. There are some low- to mid-range skates that will give the performance and durability needed for non-professional hockey players. Used skates are another affordable option.

With such a wide selection out there, how does a player know which skate is best for him/her? Trying on a few pair of skates is great, but fit should always be the number one consideration. A customized fit will lead to better performance and pleasure. Heat molding helps, but the ability to relieve high-pressure areas to conform to the individual’s unique foot shape makes all the difference.

Do the advancements in skate technology warrant the rising costs that accompany them? No. Whenever prices go up, consumers feel cheated. Did the cost of producing a gallon of gasoline increase by 20 cents in the last two weeks? Most companies today don’t ask “What is a fair price for their product,” they ask “How much can we sell it for.” Skate manufacturers increase prices because they can and people buy them.

Is there brand loyalty when it comes to skates? How come? Absolutely! When a skate does all you ask of it and more, you’re likely to buy it again. Trying on other brands is good, but often feels different or strange. Staying with the “tried and true” usually wins out.

How strongly are players influenced by which skates their NHL idols are wearing? Not too much ... unless they wear Bauer. In the NHL you can see numerous players wearing skates besides Bauer. Walk into a rink and see how many players are in anything other than Bauer. They are few and far between. We all love Patrice Bergeron here in the Boston area. That fact has not led to an increase in sales of RBK skates.

 How far off are we from a $1,000 skate? Within five years. With the influence on manufacturers to become more and more profitable, the current trend will top the $1,000 mark by 2018 or sooner.

Total Hockey

Store address: 17 retail locations and an e-commerce site

Store phone: 866-929-6699

Store website: www.totalhockey.com

* Andrea Roewe/Joe Altnether, marketing director/TH tech service brand manager

What are the tangible differences between low-end and high-end hockey skates? When it comes to hockey skates, you get what you pay for. Materials and quality is where your money is going when you purchase a high-end skate. High-end skate boots utilize tough, lightweight, thermo-formable materials such as high-end synthetic leathers, composite laminates and polypropylene composites (high-end Bauer and Graf outers). Lower-end boots use a variation of nylons and other plastics. This still makes them lightweight, but not as durable. Higher-end skates typically use a thicker, higher-density felt tongue, whereas a lower-end skate could be a thinner felt/foam tongue. High-end skates will feature a composite or fiber composite outsole, which is stiffer and lighter in weight than a low-end PVC or other plastic outsole. High- to mid-range skates often will feature the same holder with varying grades of stainless steel that is replaceable. Low-end skates will feature a holder with a non-replaceable runner, typically with a low-grade stainless- or carbon-steel runner.

With such a wide selection out there, how does a player know which skate is best for him/her? Skates are the most important piece of your equipment. You want a pair that fits your foot properly so you can perform at your level of play. The skate that is best for a player is the skate that fits the player’s foot best. Not only length, but also forefoot width, arch type, heel fit and instep depth — all of these aspects play very important roles in how a skate should fit. The player must also take into account how often they play and at what level. A player who is on the ice 4-5 times a week playing junior hockey will have very different skate needs from a one-day-a-week recreational player.

Do the advancements in skate technology warrant the rising costs that accompany them? The short answer is yes. Different skate manufacturers are always trying to come out with the next best thing in skate construction. This drives advancements in technology and materials. Not only do these skate manufacturers spend years doing research and development for new skate models, but some also use materials patented by other companies. This means skate manufacturers must pay for a license in order to use these new, high-tech materials in their products. When one looks at other applications where these materials can be found (aircraft, auto-racing, marine, industrial, etc.), it is easier to understand how these costs are shared with the customer in order to be profitable.

Is there brand loyalty when it comes to skates? How come? Brand loyalty definitely exists when it comes to hockey equipment purchases, especially skates. Hockey players are creatures of habit. Once a player finds something they like, they will typically stay with it for a long period of time. Players typically grow up wearing a certain brand of skates because that’s what their dad or siblings wore. Often skates get handed down as well. Once a player gets used to skating in a certain brand or becomes accustomed to a certain fit, players will often refuse to change for fear it may affect their game. Many times what a player is used to is not necessarily the best-fitting skate for them. A Total Hockey skate specialist can identify aspects of a player’s skates that do not fit properly and help make suggestions on a skate that might work better for them.

How strongly are players influenced by which skates their NHL idols are wearing? Players are very influenced by skate usage in the NHL. Equipment in the NHL is probably the most visible among all other team sports. Young players will always want what their favorite players are wearing and equipment manufacturers know this. Even though a skate might not be the best fitting, a young player will still want them simply because his/her favorite player is wearing the same pair. Then, as mentioned earlier, brand loyalty kicks in.

How far off are we from a $1,000 skate? It’s not too far in the distant future. With high-end skates currently in the $800-$850 range, we are just a couple seasons away from seeing that $999 skate at the top of the skate display wall. A custom built pair of high-end skates will already cost about $1,000. Keep in mind, the level of play is integral in selecting the perfect pair of skates for your player. The high-end skates are not the perfect pair for every player.

Westside Skate and Stick

Store address: 174 Fifth Avenue Suite 504, New York, N.Y.

Store phone: 212-228-8400

Store website: www.westsideskate.com

* Tony Lynch, manager

What are the tangible differences between low-end and high-end hockey skates? With modern hockey skates, the differences between the low-end and high-end skates really comes down to the stiffness/support of the boot, the quality and breathability of the boot liner, the quality of the holder/runner, and finally the build quality and durability of the boot. Customers often get caught up on the idea of weight, but the best skate is not necessarily the lightest skate. Fit and matching appropriate stiffness to skating level are much more important factors to consider when purchasing new skates.

What kind of suggestions would you make to someone shopping for skates on a budget? I’d suggest to try on skates from different companies. Companies typically do not offer as many different fit options, and width options, at the lower price points. However, each company’s boots will fit differently and may or may not provide you with a better fit. It’s important to familiarize yourself with each company to find the pair that fits your foot type best and will allow you to perform on the ice without worrying about the fit of your skates.

With such a wide selection out there, how does a player know which skate is best for him/her? I don’t want to sound like I’m plugging myself here, but the in-shop fitting experience is more vital than ever with modern skates. Leather boots would soften when a skater would sweat into them, but the newer materials absorb much less moisture and hold their stiffness much more than leather. Essentially, the boots don’t really “break in.” Over time they will begin to break down and soften, but in order to skate well in a new skate the fitting is key and heat-molding is nearly essential.

Do the advancements in skate technology warrant the rising costs that accompany them? Yes and no. Without naming names, there are companies that are really advancing the industry by putting money into researching the mechanics of skating and designing boots that provide unique fits that provide support while allowing the skater the flexibility to extend their stride naturally. These companies are justified in increasing skate prices as they experiment with the incredible modern materials that are available. Meanwhile, there are other companies whose prices seem to rise to accommodate their ever-increasing player endorsements.

Is there brand loyalty when it comes to skates? How come? Absolutely. Skates are the piece of equipment to which customers are the most brand loyal. A number of things come into play. Younger skaters are brand loyal because they try to emulate their favorite player by wearing the same brand, or only want the brands that are the most prevalent in the NHL. Older skaters have skated in a brand since they were kids and tend to stick with what they know.

How strongly are players influenced by which skates their NHL idols are wearing? Strongly, especially the college and younger skaters, which is fine, except that these kids don’t understand that the pros are wearing a custom skate built to their foot shape. The pair of skates on the wall at your local shop will not necessarily fit you as well. A properly fit skate is essential to improving as a young skater, and sometimes the skate their idol wears will not provide that.

How far off are we from a $1,000 skate? Scarily close.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com