Skates are the most important piece of equipment in hockey. If you can't skate, you can't play. That's why it is so important to find a pair of skates that fit you comfortably and match your playing style. The ideal skate is one that will not hurt your feet, your wallet, or your game.
Choosing the right size is integral and requires a little bit of expertise at first. If the skate is too big, your feet will shift in the skate. This may cause blisters or chafing. Also, it will hurt your agility and speed because some of the energy that you use to shift your weight is lost in the extra space in the skate. If the skate is too small, you will have to squish your toes, which will cause pain and discomfort.
When you put your heel all the way back in the boot, your toe should be close to the toe of the skate or just barely grazing the end.
Note: The more snug the skate, the better. It is better for the skate to be slightly tight, than too loose because with wear, the skate will loosen up. If after being worn for a while, the skate still feels too tight, you can ask a local dealer to "punch out" the skates and make them slightly longer or wider.
Note: Someone who is rapidly growing may have to get a skate with slightly more space than someone with a mature foot. A good fitting method for growing feet is to touch your big toe to front of the skate, lean forward, and check the empty space that is left at your heel. Half an inch will allow growth room, without compromising skating ability. Anything bigger than that may hurt the player's skating.
Width is an important factor too. You may feel that your toe is not near the end, yet the skate still feels to tight. This means that the skate style does not fit your foot well, or that you need a wider skate. Widths come in C (narrow), D (regular), E (wider), EE (widest).
Although the brands change their models often, they will try to keep the fit about the same so that they can meet the needs of past customers. Below are the traditional widths by brand, however they do change depending on the model:
Easton - Typically wider, but may have a narrower toecap
Graf - Typically average width, with many options available
CCM/RBK- Typically average width
Bauer - Typically narrower than average
Nike - Typically the widest fitting skate
Mission - Typically narrower
Stiffer skates are better for heavier players, while softer skates best suit light players. Buying a skate that is too stiff, will take ages to break in, while a skate that is too soft will not be durable enough and will break down quickly. Broken-down boots will hurt balance and may cause uncomfortable chafing.
A competitive player that is on the ice 5 times per week will need a higher-quality (and more likely stiffer as a result) than a recreational player. Buying top-of-the-line skates for a beginner will only lengthen the amount of time to break the skates in, while buying cheap skates for a competitive player may result in the player requiring more than 1 pair of skates for the season.
Skates can be sharpened many different ways. If you are not sure what size your's are sharpened at, they are probably done at 3/8", as this is what most sports stores use. Ask your sharpener to try it at a few different sizes to determine which one you like best. Typically skates are sharpened between 3/8" and 5/8". Here is a comparison of the two measurements:
3/8" - Sharper, but requires sharpening more often. Offers more dig, which may be better for sharper turns.
5/8" - Duller, requiring less maintenance. Offers more slide, which may be better for smooth pivoting and straight-away speed.
- Put longer or shorter steel on your boot. Longer steel will improve speed, but hurt agility.
- Change the shape of the steel to change posture. By grinding down the front or back of the steel, the amount of steel on the ice, as well as the skater's posture will change.
- Add a wedge between the boot and the steel to change posture. By adding a wedge at the heel, you will lean further forward.
Buy a skate based on quality and fit, not price. Nobody will tell you that you have cool skates if you can't skate well. Remember, it is better to have skates that are slightly small than too big. If you need to, you can punch them out to improve comfort.