Basketball, football, baseball, soccer and lacrosse are all fine sports. Like hockey, they are sports where teamwork is essential, as are a strong work ethic and coordination. Hockey players, however, have a special ability that is not required in any of those other sports. Any person can walk onto a field or a court and start playing. Stepping onto frozen water, however, and playing ice hockey is like a super power. What helps give the ice hockey player that super power is the skate.
A study posted on the National Geographic website suggests the first ice skates were invented more than 5,000 years ago from animal bones. Skates, especially ones made specifically for ice hockey, have gone through many changes and advances over the years. This year is no different.
Manufacturers, including Bauer, have plenty of new changes they are excited about.
“We’re introducing a new Vapor line of skates,” said John Davidson, senior brand manager for skates at Bauer. “We have a huge legacy behind our Vapor family. It’s been out for over 30 years now. It’s quickly become the most popular skate for the usage at the professional level. We spent a lot of time revamping the skate line and making sure it caters to the player looking for the ultimate quickness.”
Davidson said the company has put a premium on agility, and the new features Bauer has included in its skates are meant to help with that.
“A couple key features are we built the skate to have an asymmetrical taper. It’s an offset in the boot to promote that shifting of play or agility style,” he said. “One of the other key features is we’ve gone to an asymmetrical toe cap. That was built off 25,000 scans across the globe to build that profile. It reduces the amount of negative space in the skate. You get an energy transfer from the foot to the skate to the ice to get a better stride.”
Dave McNally, senior director for global sales and marketing at True Temper Sports, also is excited for new offerings with the True Hockey brand.
“Our focus continues to be on the elite-level player via our custom skate offering,” he said. “On July 15, we had a very exciting launch in the custom player skate category specifically, with our new Shift holder and upgraded custom boot hitting the market.
“Our development team has delivered significant innovation,” McNally added, “with our new custom player skate now 15 percent lighter than its predecessor while continuing to deliver ‘best in class’ fit and performance in the custom skate category.”
Customization is an increasingly popular option for players in many sports, particularly with the popularity of social media and being able to share with others what the player has created.
For a majority of other sports, the customization options are mostly cosmetic. With ice hockey skates, however, the options for customization extend beyond making them look good.
The main feature for customization in ice hockey skates is being able to build the skate to one’s own preferences.
“Through our proprietary process, we are the only company who builds a custom skate from the ‘inside out,’ using a 3-D scan of the player’s foot to develop a custom foot last,” McNally said. “It is this process that leads to our best-in-class fit and performance and a skate that is truly built for the individual player’s feet. Other customization features include upgraded steel, built-in shot blockers for added protection, five different tongue options geared to different player needs, side panel color customization, and personalization through embroidery.”
Davidson said Bauer also uses technology to help build the right-fitting skate.
“In 2018, we launched MyBauer, which is a state-of-the-art custom skate platform,” he said. “You get your foot 3-D scanned at one of our authorized 3-D scanner locations. There’re over 200 locations. That makes the ultimate fit performance. Then we have options for consumers to choose from. You can adapt a skate to the performance need you’re looking for. You have the eyelets, you have five different tongues with performance characteristics, you have choice of steel, and two different liners. You can build the skate from the ground up.”
Paul Stanton is the owner of Sports Etc. in Arlington, Mass. His store uses the Bauer 3-D foot scanner.
Stanton said he is impressed with how the scanner helps with the fitting process, and believes the cosmetic customization of the skate could soon follow.
“I think it probably could be down the line, but it gets into the manufacturing process,” Stanton said. “They may not want to open Pandora’s box. Five or 10 years ago, if you said they’d offer iPads to scan the foot, I’d say you’re crazy. It’s changed the game for scanning the foot, but it would slow down the manufacturing. I wouldn’t be surprised if down the pike it would happen.”
Using new technology to build the skates can add benefits to performance. Companies like Bauer and True are using materials to make skates lighter, making it easier for players to maneuver around the ice.
With innovation and new technology also comes higher prices, however. High-end skates for Bauer and True come in close to $1,000. The Bauer Vapor 2X Pro skate is listed on the company’s website for $899.99.
While the price of top-tier skates is climbing, Stanton said there are positives to this.
“The good thing is the next tier down, the quality is outstanding,” he said. “A kid who’s a serious junior or high schooler, they can move to the $600 range, which is similar. They’re making better skates at the lower price point.”
Davidson said when the company pays focus to research and design on new materials and innovations, that does come at a cost. He said using new materials on the high-end skates allows for a trickle-down effect for the other lines.
“What you see is our mid-price points take on older materials in elite price points,” he said. “The Vapor 2.9, I often say it has the most value built into it. The materials we used, how they’re manufactured and what it means for performance on ice, they were high-end skates four or five years ago.
“Even further focus is on the younger generation,” he added. “The 2.7 is a whole new way of making a skate for players. Typically, we said for the junior skate size we want to build in as much support to keep them as stable as possible but also have the most flex as possible.”
As for McNally and True, he said that because the True skates are custom, that adds to their value.
“Our custom skate is positioned in the premium part of the market, directly aligned with the price ceiling for elite stock skates,” he said. “This provides us with a significant point of differentiation and ‘value add’ to the consumer versus the competition who are offering a stock skate off the shelf that doesn’t provide all of the game-changing benefits of a custom skate.”
When an item is around for as long as the ice skate, change is inevitable. There are changes in materials, changes in technology and changes in prices.
Despite all the differences over the years, one thing that remains consistent — and always will — is how the skate fits.
“For those consumers who have the budget for an elite-level skate, the key decision point should start and end in how a skate fits on their feet,” McNally said.
“A better-fitting skate will inherently perform better and provide a better skating experience. That has really been what has driven the success of our skate. Players across the globe have been seeking a better-fitting skate, a pain-free skating experience without sacrificing performance going all the way back to the origins of hockey skates.”