History of Skates
EA SPORTS NHL 13 has announced its redesigned skating engine called True Performance Skating. This engine was built from the ground up entirely for NHL 13.
While we were revolutionizing skating in our game, we started thinking about what transformation skating has taken in the actual game of hockey. I mean, we here at EA SPORTS know that our first pair of skates was a far cry from the sleek, beautiful boots and blades we wear today. Though to be honest, we’ll take our Fisher Price pair over what the cavemen were wearing anytime. No really, historians’ best estimates of when the first skates were invented date back more than 5,000 years when the Finns first began to sharpen animal bone and strap them to their feel with thick leather to help them more efficiently move across the ice of the Finnish Lakeland while hunting. We’re sure they squeezed in a few slapshots while they were out there.
By the time Europeans began showing up in North America the skate was already evolving. The Dutch were using flat wooden platforms with flat iron bottoms as runners. The whole contraption was then bound to their feet using leather straps. Probably not the most efficient skates in the world, but considering they were only trying to outrun bears and the odd mountain lion we’re sure they did the trick.
When the native people and the European innovation of skates collided, bam, we got hockey. The Europeans brought their own stick and ball games – as well as the skates – and those combined with the Mi’kmaq ball game called tooadijik. The Canadian First Nation tribe added the physically aggressive aspects that we recognize in today’s game. And when things get aggressive the need for a faster skate becomes imperative.
Pennsylvania inventor E.V. Bushnell developed a clamping skate that eliminated the need for rope or leather to lash skates to the bottom of boots. By 1865 skates based off of an advancement of this design were being produced by the Dartmouth Nova Scotia based Starr Manufacturing Company called “spring skates.” The company would begin producing “Tube Skates” in the early 1900s, which were a combination of Starr’s blade attached to a boot made by the newly formed boot manufacturer Bauer.
By the time the National Hockey League outlawed all non-Tube Skates on September 24th 1927 Bauer was one of the biggest names in skate, soon to be joined by rival CCM. Both companies would later be bought with Bauer becoming a part of Nike and CCM being purchased by Reebok.
A caveman wouldn’t even recognize what call hockey skates. The newest ones are designed for a combination of lightness and durability with the boots being made from a combination of molded plastic, synthetic leather, and ballistic nylon. Speed, control and protection are the main goals in designing hockey skates and there’s some trade-offs between those three with most professional players sacrificing the protection of a molded plastic boot for more mobility.
Since skates can make or break your game, many players have strong superstitions regarding their skates. Speedy defenseman Paul Coffey, who played on the Edmonton Oilers during their 1980s Dynasty Years, wore skates that were up to four sizes smaller than his regular shoe size. Recognized as one of the fastest skaters in the NHL, he felt that the smaller skates gave him more control and more explosive speed. Ray Bourque would change his skate laces before every game and during every intermission. Since Borque played a total of 1,826 NHL games he went through nearly 5,500 pairs of laces during his professional career.
Photograph by Steven G. Johnson.
It’s the skate that makes hockey the fastest team sport in the world. It’s what separates it from similar games with nets and goals like soccer. Want to have some fun next time you hit the rink? Strap on a pair of the leather and bone skates and see what your caveman score line looks like.