Hockey Skate Profiling and Contouring

hockey skateMost amateur players don’t know what their hockey skate radius or rocker pitch is. Some wouldn’t even know what you are talking about while others would say it’s not that important. But I guarantee, if you were to change it on them, they would most certainly notice a big difference. And I’d bet anything that each pro-skater in the NHL knows exactly what their profile is, or has a trainer that knows exactly what they want. Some NHL’ers even ship their skates back to a trainer on another team once they’ve been traded because the trainer knows exactly how to profile and sharpen their skates. That’s because the profile on a hickey skate has a tremendous impact of skating ability and puck-handling. There are three main adjustments one can make to their hockey skate, each described below.

What do you mean hockey skate profile?

A hockey skate profile describes a few things. The first of which is, how much of a flat spot your skate blades have. The second thing it describes is where that flat spot (pivot point) is in relation to the overall length of the blade. And third, it describes the hollow or how “sharp” the skate blade is.

hockey skate radiusFirst … the flat spot, also called the “radius”. Yes, every skate out there has a flat spot, which is called the “gliding surface” or the area of the blade where one does most of their skating. If you start skating then glide along the ice, you are gliding on the flat spot of your skates.

The radius determines how tight a circle you can skate if you were to glide around in a circle at maximum turning capability without picking up your feet or sliding the skate. The bigger the flat spot, the bigger the radius. The smaller the flat spot, the smaller the radius. There’s a trade off between a large and small radius. The larger radius means you will skate faster and have more stability, but you won’t be able to turn as sharp and you will be less agile. A smaller radius means you will be more agile and capable of making sharp turns, but you won’t skate as fast and will feel a little less stable. As an example, take a look at a pair of speed skates. The flat spot is the entire length of the blade, so they have a very large radius, can skate very fast, but make very wide turns. No hockey player could ever keep up with a speed skater, but they could easily out maneuver them. This is because a hockey skate has a much smaller radius or flat spot, which is in contact with the ice. Finding what’s right for you depends on your skating style. Fast skater, less agile? Slower skater, but very agile?

hockey skate lieThe second thing a profile describes is the rocker position, or the lie, which is where the flat spot is positioned on the blade. If the flat spot is right in the middle of the blade it’s called a neutral rocker, or balanced. If the flat spot is just behind neutral and slightly towards the heel of the skate, it’s called a defensive rocker. Slightly forward of neutral towards the toe of the boot is called an offensive rocker.

If you play forward, you might want an offensive rocker as this causes the body position to lean forward a bit which results in better acceleration and stick handling. A defenseman might like a neutral or defensive rocker because they spend most of their time skating backwards or in a defensive posture. Some prefer a neutral rocker because it provides a balance between skating forward and backwards.

hockey skate hollowThat last thing that describes a hockey skate profile is the hollow, or how “sharp” the blade is. This is what every player has re-adjusted every time they get their skates “sharpened”.

If you look down the skate blade, you can see an inner and outer edge. In between these two edges the blade curves upwards (convex) ever so slightly. This is called the hollow. The science behind why a skate glides along this is ice rather interesting. When the edges of the skates put pressure on the ice, they melt a very thin layer which turns into water. The water gets trapped between the two edges and the skate hydroplanes on the water.

Technically, the hollow is the measure of a radius (as in a circle). For example, if you put a piece of paper flat in your hand then bend your fingers, the paper curves. The more curved it is, the smaller the radius (deeper hollow). The less you bend your fingers, the less of a curve in the paper (less hollow). Therefore, the paper has a larger radius.

What does this mean? A deeper hollow (say for example 3/16 of an inch radius) means the skate will have more “bite”. That is to say, when you are skating, the blade will dig into the ice which translates into more aggressive traction in turns and more stability, but it will degrade your gliding efficiency by causing more friction.

A shallow hollow (for example 5/8 of an inch radius) will provide slightly better speed and glide efficiency with less bite. If you are a very aggressive skater who makes sharp turns and quick starts, you may be more likely to “blow a tire” or lose the ability to “hold an edge” with a more shallow hollow (eg; larger sharpen radius).

Finding the right mix of all three criteria is the tricky part. If you have a large gliding surface (rocker) you probably don’t need to have as deep hollow because more of the skate blade is in contact with the ice; it’s just spread over a larger area. Where the rocker is depends on the boot. If the boot already leans forward, you may not need an offensive rocker. It just depends on the manufacturer.

What’s my profile at now? Can I tell?

Unless you take them into a shop, it’s kind of difficult to know what your current profile is. If you set your skate straight up, you may be able to see if the skate leans forward or backward. The flat spot or gliding surface should be visible, but it’s hard to measure. The hollow is also hard to measure, but the guy sharpening the skates at the shop can tell you.

Do I really need to have my skates profiled?

In my opinion, heck yeah. And most pro sports stores will say the same thing for a couple reasons. The first being, most skate blades for all the major manufactures (Bauer, CCM, Easton, etc) are ground then shipped from overseas. They may come from different batches and may not always have matched radii. This can cause pretty severe degradation in your skating ability, even if you don’t know it. Especially if you buy a pair of skates then just re-learn how to skate on them thinking you “just need to break them in”.

The second reason is, profiling can make a HUGE difference in your skating ability, but be aware there is no magic number for what a radius should be. Just because you are 6′ tall and wear a size 11 skate doesn’t mean you should have a 10′ radius, offensive rocker, and a 5/8 hollow. The size of the boot, who makes it, your height, your weight, your stride, what position you play, and your skating aggressiveness all have a role in the radius you should choose.

Getting your skates profiled is not expensive and usually costs around $35. You can even ship them off, have them profiled, and returned in just a few days. However, each time you have your blades profiled, it takes away a little bit of the blade surface. Do it too many times and you will need to have the steel runners replaced (about $50 or so).

How often should I sharpen my skates?

I like a 5/8″ hollow so there is less bite, but more efficient gliding. Once I loose a little bit of that hollow, I lose the bite in the ice. That’s when I find myself loosing an edge in turns, in quick accelerations, and know it’s time to get them sharpened. For me, that’s after about 6 games. I’d probably get it done every two games, but it’s just a hassle since the shop is far away.

How often should I have my skates profiled?

There is a lot of leeway in this topic. Remember, most don’t know what profiling is and in most cases have never had it done. So those that do have it done, vary from once every few years to every 20 times they sharpen their skates. The blade does loose its contour the more your sharpen it, so I like to do it after about 2 years. And of course, if things just don’t feel right anymore, it’s a good idea to take them in.

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