Youth Hockey Skate Sharpening
How often? Where? And how much?
Some parents insist on weekly sharpenings but, c'mon, just like with the new versus used skate debate, we're talking about kids.
A freshly sharpened pair of blades will likely deter your little skater from enjoying the game more than it'll give them a competitive advantage.
Sometimes, if I notice my son looking a little lax out there during drills, I'll offer to have his skates sharpened after practice.
It's not because I think that'll help them physically, it's more of a mind game, you know, like a motivational tool for the next practice.
"Skate fast today! You've got super sharp skates on!"
Mind you, everytime I have my kids skates sharpened, they end up falling down everytime they do a hockey stop.
Yes, there is such a thing as too sharp which, thankfully, only lasts briefly.
And there's also a point where they're too dull.
It's that perfect spot in the middle that usually lasts 20-30 hours of ice time for us. Keep in mind that these are kids. At my weight, I'm not getting near that amount of time before sharpening.
As such, with my kids skating 2-3 times per week, I'd venture to say we get our skates sharpened 3-4 times per season.
Now, any adult skater will tell you, it matters where you have them sharpened.
But getting kids to explain to you how their skates "feel" on the ice or how much "bite" they're getting is a whole different story.
My best advice... NEVER use one of those coin-operated sharpening machines you see in some arenas. I'm not saying they don't do an okay job, I'm just saying that there's a 95% chance you're not securing the skate in the machine correctly.
Oh, and don't even consider breaking out that old electric knife sharpener that you're not even sure why you still have either. It won't work. It's not a good idea.
I also try to avoid "Sports Equipment" places in the United States (like Dick's or Modells) that offer sharpening as a service -- unless, of course, they're very hockey or figure skating oriented. Stores like this are essentially using the coin-op machine too if they're just locking your skates into a vice, closing a blast shield, and hitting the "on" button while the sparks fly for a couple of minutes.
The only advantage you're getting here is that the person that latched your skates into the machine is a little bit more in-the-know on how to line things up correctly.
Now, I'm not saying I wouldn't go to a place like this but don't expect a consistent job to be done. We were regulars at a place that did this until one time my skates were so sharp, it took nearly 6 months to wear them down to the "spot" I'm most comfortable.
Usually, it would've taken maybe 30-40 minutes on the ice to get them there.
So that leaves the skate sharpeners that hold the skate in their hand as they sharpen. Those are the guys and girls to keep an eye out for.
Extra bonus if it's the type of place that asks what "hollow" you want. Granted, some places that ask that are just blowing smoke but it's usually a good sign if they ask.
So now, when you're posed with the "hollow" question by your chosen sharpener, you don't need to have that deer in headlights look on your face.
A typical youth player will have a 3/8-inch to a 7/16-inch hollow. The smaller end (3/8 for those that still can't grasp fractions) gives the skate more bite. The larger "hollow" allows the skate to glide more.
While the difference between those two seems miniscule, the end result on the ice is *very* noticable for kids. It's a personal preference type of thing but I tend to go with the 3/8-inch hollow for my sons. They're a little "sharp" (meaning they have too much bite) the first time out -- noticable as they tip over with every hockey stop -- but after that, they're perfect.
Okay, so now we know where to get your child's skates sharpened and how often but how much should it cost?
I've seen skate sharpeners charge between $3.00 and $35.00.
As with many things, you often get what you pay for but unless you've got the next figure skating gold medalist riding in the back seat of your car each Saturday and Sunday morning before the sun even rises, you shouldn't be paying over $10 to have skates sharpened. Ever.
Figure skates (for *real* figure skating) and speed skates are a whole different animal and they, rightfully, cost more to be sharpened.
My usual place charges between $6 and $7 per pair.
I'm okay with that.
Addendum: Since writing this article, we've acquired a Sparx machine so we now sharpen our skates at home. A full review of the device is here.