This won't come as a surprise to most people but a hockey player's skates are by far their most important piece of equipment. Proper fitting skates are the difference between a young player enjoying the sport or quitting it all together. It's also the difference between getting to the puck in time, or most often being late. As an athlete I can't think of another piece of equipment for a sport that is more important than skates are for a hockey player (you can add skates for a figure skater too, but you get the idea). A poorly stringed tennis racket or awful 3 iron in golf will hurt one's game, but at least the player can get to the ball. Always being a step behind and getting blisters is not fun.
How does someone choose the right skates? Should skates be bigger, the same size or smaller than shoe sizes? I see people wrapping skate laces around their ankles, or taping their ankles - is this a good idea? Will proper skates hurt for a while until they are broken in?
These are common questions and the answers are fairly simple. Your first stop in Canada is a store like Sportchek, Cleve's Source for Sports or Pro Hockey Life. You'll find skates at many different price points. But the most important quality in skates is the fit. They need to fit properly. As a rule a proper fit is generally 2 sizes smaller than one's shoe size, but this could push the player's toe into the toe cap, or still leave too much room. Start at 2 sizes smaller than a shoe size though and adjust from there.
In my opinion one of the worst things a player can do is wrap their laces or tape around their ankles. Our ankles are spectacularly engineered. They can move up and down, roll in a circle and move side to side. By putting on skates and wrapping our ankles we can't move them as well as they would be able to naturally. Truly a hockey player needs to be able to move in all directions, and often quite quickly. Free the ankles!
Lastly, a proper fitted skate should be ready to wear in a practice or a game as soon as you leave the store. (If you are changing brands or models the boot and blade may feel slightly off so a practice or two might be more necessary, but generally you'll be good to go.) Today a skate oven is pretty standard in most pro shops. Once you choose the proper fitted skate a sales associate will bake them for a couple of minutes, then return them to you to put on and sit with them on your feet for a couple of minutes in the store. After this get them sharpened and head home. They should feel great the next time you are on the ice.
NHL hall of famer, Paul Coffey is known for wearing skates that were 2 sizes too small for him. He wanted to feel the boot squeeze his foot so he could move along the ice more quickly and efficiently. Other players don't lace the skate all the way to the top, leaving one, two or three eyelets open to give themselves maximum flexibility in their ankle. While these probably work well for these players the most important factor to consider when buying skates is fit...and don't forget to free the ankles.
"Passion is your greatest love. Passion is the thing that will help you create the highest expression of your talent."
- Larry Smith
For the past 4 years I have had the pleasure of coaching 4-8 year olds in Chester, Nova Scotia. I've been coaching for over 20 years total but it wasn't until my oldest daughter, Ceili started playing that I gave the Hockey Canada Initiation Program a try. What I discovered (among many kids' stotty noses) were kids who loved to be on the ice and would do anything to skate,stickhandle, chase pucks, play games, give awesome high 5s (complain about their best friend butting in line) and smile, despite Chester having one of the coldest arenas in the province. Is this where passion comes from? Will these kids who clearly love the game now be obsessed and calculated about it when they are in their 30s and 40s? Was I like these snot-bubble blowing hockey tykes? The answer to that question is definitely - no!
Anyone who knows me well knows my memory for life details really isn't the best. I can't remember any of my teachers or classmates from age 5 to about 11. If I didn't have pictures of hockey teams I wouldn't remember much of that either. I do remember Saturday morning cartoons though! Oh how I loved to watch cartoons on Saturday morning. It was the highlight of my week for sure. That is, except between October to March because my mom and dad signed me up for hockey, which I wasn't pleased about at all. I think I cried every single day when I couldn't watch the Sylvester, Tweety, Daffy and Speedy Show. My dad also took me to watch my older brothers play all the time too. As a 5 year old I escaped from the arena and hopped onto a train. This is true. My parents used to tell me that story. It happened more than once. When I was on the ice I spent more time studying the ceiling and structure of the rink, and wiping my nose no doubt.
I don't know where my passion came from, but I definitely have it now. Around the age of 11 my parents started putting me in hockey schools. One that I remember very well was called Yerxa Hockey Clinics. The camps were well organized and run mainly by hockey coaches who are also teachers. I learned to skate well from these camps. I put the work in day after day, year after year. What I found was my skating really improved and I learned to like the game more. A few years later I was an instructor at these camps too and I demonstrated drills almost every day all summer. By the end of high school the sport was an obsession. My connections, friends, thoughts, dreams all centered around hockey. If I wasn't going to play the sport I'd be happy to coach it too. I'd rent hockey instruction videos (does anyone remember The Shooter's Edge with the Courtnall brothers? I watched it - many many times. I took notes too.) and I'd attend conferences and talk to Development Coordinators several times a week at the Hockey Canada Atlantic Regional Centre. I wanted to not only be immersed in hockey, but also to be really really good at it.
As I started teaching I figured it was time to give hockey a back seat. I had a good career. I thought teaching was going to give me the same satisfaction that coaching would. For 11 years I've been searching for that same passion. While I'm interested in teaching I have never found a passion for it. I love seeing the students each day. I love having my own space in the school and room to develop my programs. Certainly there are things I like about teaching that are similar to hockey, but it still isn't hockey (I love chicken. If someone gives me turkey I'll like it and eat it, but it's not chicken. Teaching to coaching is like that for me).
I've been coaching everything from minor hockey to boys high school to DalhousieUniversity and been somewhat involved in the National female U-18program and provincial High Performance Programs. I've also served as a Hockey Nova Scotia Female Council Regional Director for 3 years. Hockey has taken me many wonderful places, which is fantastic. I can never repay the game for this. I've discovered I don't want the game of hockey to take me places though. I want hockey to be my journey. I want it to be my career.
I come back to the question: How did we get here? The answer is simple. I want my 3 daughters (Ceili, Alice and Isla) to be inspired by seeing their dad pursue his passion, despite possible odds. I want them to pursue their passions too, so they will need an example of someone who tried. That's how we arrived at Apollo Hockey Development.
What is your passion? What do you want out of hockey or your own sport or activity?