Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Skates

I'm breaking in new skates, or more correctly the new skates are breaking me in - more specifically my toes.

I have a strange foot, I have a nearly opposable big toe, and widely splayed toes - monkey like actually - a flattened arch and a somewhat narrower than would be expected ankle bone. The resulting triangular shape (as opposed to the normal rectangle) means I have a nearly impossible time finding a pair of blades that fit comfortable and provide real performance.

So I opted to have a pair custom ordered, since CCM no longer makes the 1152 Tacks (my favorite) I ended up with the RBK 9k - a glisteneing nearly all black unit with an annoyingly florescent pump - yes a pump ala air Jordans - the pump was quickly covered with a few strokes of a black sharpie to make them look less childish.

So after nearly 3 months waiting my new torture^H^H^H^H^H^H skates arrived and after a short bake in the fitting oven (a throughly bogus invention as far as I can tell) I started trying to 'break' them in. This is the process by which a skate is supposed to assume the shape of your foot - or in this case, your foot assume the shape of the skate. Also the skate becomes less stiff and begins to flex in a way specific to your skating motion.

Now a little digression - a hockey skate is made from a solid footbed (which anchors the blade and carrier), a protective plastic shell over the toe (toe cap), a high stiff back (tendon guard) and finally a boot which contains the previous two items plus the eyelets and toung which allow one to be laced into the skate. In the good old days before modern composite materials the boot was leather - when you got a new skate you had to break in the leather so that it would flex with your foot (the same process that a cowboy boot goes through) and folks would soak the skate in water and then walk around the house in them, or soak them in rubbing alcohol to avoid water stains.

The downside of leather - and this is a biggie - is that it tends to stretch and become lose strength over time if overused, and if it sits exposed without being treated (oiled) it becomes hard and brittle. To solve this issue skate manufacturers have changed from leather, and part-leather skates to all polymer and composite materials. In days past the material of choice was kevlar - a fine choice if you need bullet protection but a poor choice for skate logenvity. When kevlar is stressed it performs one of two ways - either it breaks or it doesnt - it barely stretches, which is why it is used in bullet proof vests. This is what happened to my old CCM 1152s, after 6 years nearly every fiber in the boot had broken somewhere reducing the integrity of the boot and thereby eliminating any skate provided performance.

The new models use different materials, a polycarbonate inner plastic shell covering most of the foot, and a carbon fiber (graphite) woven layer around the shell to make a traditional boot with eyelets and a toung. The result is a skate that becomes nearly a seamless structure - a huge improvement over my 1152s because there is no gap between the plastic toe cap and the rest of the boot - and hence no rough edges inside the boot to rip up my tender foot flesh. The downside is that this nearly flawless single structure is much - much - stiffer than even the 1152s were when first removed from the box.

Now the manufacturers like to say that the glues used in the boot are somewhat maleable - if you heat the skate just right these glues become loose and a warmed skate will then 'form' to the owner's foot. The problem is that your foot is made of somewhat compressible material! When the skate is warm and placed on the foot you must tighly lace the boot to force it to mold to your features. However your features also warp under the tightened laces.... Dohhhhhh...

Result - I'm laying in bed with an icepack on my big toes and giant caluses forming... ahhh for the love of the game.


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