There are legions of hockey players and fans that spend hours agonizing over their stick choices, their curves, the way they tape their socks, and — of course — their skates. They spend a ton of time researching and studying brands and their subtle differences, making sure every little thing is just right and to their tastes.
I am not one of those guys.
I never was. If playing in a cowboy hat with a tree branch meant I got to stay on the ice for another three minutes — well — I’d do it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a kick-ass pair of skates, or a nifty new stick. I just never put a whole lot of thought into things like that.
That’s why when MLX approached me, via our good friend Matt Saler, not only was I excited to put something so special like their ice hockey skates on my feet, I was a tiny bit nervous because while I know what I like (in the Eye Doctor test — Number 1 or Number 2 — kind of way), I wanted to make sure I took advantage of this incredible opportunity and gave a review that everyone — from players to equipment geeks — could learn from.
That’s why I enlisted the help of some friends before taking to the ice. I know a ton of hockey players (obviously) — some are now NHLers, others are beginners. I’ve made friends with lots of gear monkeys and folks who know brands inside and out. I asked everyone to send me a few things they’d like to know about skates before committing to buying a pair, and I hope that I’m able to deliver an honest and helpful synopsis of a pretty nifty pair of hockey skates.
BEFORE GETTING STARTED
From my first interaction with MLX, all the way up to today, my experience has been nothing short of awesome. They took the time to explain what they were hoping for and spent a lot of time getting my measurements just right. The sizes don’t necessarily work like your shoes or most other skate brands — and after measuring the length and width of my foot, it was determined that MLX would have to build a custom size for me, because (apparently) I have wide feet. That certainly explains the fits I’ve had in the past (more on that later), and it was pretty awesome to know that MLX cared about the feet that are going into their skates. It’s apparent when you pull the skates out of the box that their built to protect as well as perform, and I was anxious to put the steel onto ice to test that theory.
After you receive your skates, the very first thing you should do is head to MLX’s site and check out the various set-up videos. They’re extremely helpful in answering questions about the baking process to the fitting, and everything in between. I’m very impressed with how complete their tutorials are, and I used every single one of those videos to make sure I got the most out of the process as possible.
Despite playing at a fairly high level for a bunch of years, I never had a pair of skates that needed to be baked in an oven for the best fit. I always wanted to give it a try, and part of that is because I have oddly shaped feet — likely the result of various traumas suffered in the line of duty. Before the skates are in the oven, they’re a bit stiff, like any pair of skates would be, but eight minutes on each side really did wonders for loosening them up and making it easy to slide your foot into them.
When the skates come out of the oven, try real hard not to touch the eyelets, because whoa baby are they toasty. Once the insole was back in place and my foot was in, I tied the skates as I would if I were to hop over the boards and sat in them until they cooled off. They go back to being stiff again, but now they’re stiff in the shape of my foot, which is pretty darn neat. You can see on the inside where my foot needs a little more than it does in other places, and that my wide ankles carved themselves out a little home in the impressive padding. After the baking process, I’ve never had a pair of skates that fit half as well as the MLX skates do. I prefer to wear socks under my skates, but I know not everyone does — so I threw them on without socks, just to get a feel for the interior. They’re soft, yet strong, and the insole feels great — more like an orthotic insert than a traditional hockey boot.
One of my favorite features of the skates is the ability spin the tongue out of the boot completely. It allows access to the toe portion of the boot, where you can insert toe caps (which come in two sizes, are included in the MLX box, and are pictured below). I’ve broken nine different toes (a total of eleven breaks), and it usually wasn’t from the impact of a puck on the front of a skate — it was my toe slamming into the inside of the boot. Although I had skates that fit well, there are always instances where you jostle around a bit, and whether you’ve run into the boards or blocked a shot with your piggies, your foot’s going to jiggle. I can’t emphasize how wonderful it was having something soft at that part of the foot, as opposed to steel and molded plastic, just in case my toes went a-courtin’ with the front of the boot.
Before my junior season in college, I broke my ankle. And since then, it’s been a struggle to properly support it. Generally, I would wrap my laces around my ankle (which I still do, if I can) and then tape the hell out of it. Even still, I have a hard time stopping in that direction, because my ankle didn’t heal properly and it folds over internally, even if the boot is strong and doing its part. With the MLX boots, I liked having a high boot, and at no point did my ankle feel weak. I still can’t hockey stop in that direction, but that’s because I have damaged ligaments, and in no way is it an indictment on this particularly set of skates.
ON THE ICE
I was lucky enough to be given access to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ practice facility, the Coal Street Complex, on Easter Sunday. The building was just about empty and I could take about an hour to play around, shoot some pucks, and test the corners (also, crash into the boards while I got used to the feel of new skates, without having 400 children laugh at me).
Playing in college, I carved out a niche for myself — I’m not at all a big guy, so playing an overly physical game wasn’t going to end well. Instead, I took advantage of the skills that I did have — speed and agility — to contribute however I could: winning races to pucks, forechecking the hell out of the opposition, and making their lives miserable all over the ice in 45-second bursts to give our top lines a breather. I’m pretty quick coming around corners, and not losing any speed as I rounded the net was how I was able to make up any ground in case someone got by me. Not only does MLX have Mario Lemieux’s name attached to the brand, but they’ve been designed by Olympic speed skater David Cruickshank. If anyone knows anything about taking speed into a corner and coming out with just as much, it’s someone like him.
True to expectations, the skates were unbelievably fast. I don’t know the physics involved (and would prefer not to know, to be honest), but I felt a hair faster in these skates than my old pairs. In fact, I brought all three pairs of hockey skates I own so that I could swap in and out and feel the difference. Without naming brands, I will say that the MLX blades were a heck of a lot faster than one pair, and a touch faster than the other. I was able to make really tight turns, and there was even more snow in the hockey stop shower (for the flashy types… you know, like me). One thing that I didn’t like about the blade was how little it gives when you move laterally. It’s absolutely possible that they weren’t sharpened as nicely as I’d like them to be, but when I stepped side to side (as opposed to gliding along the blade), it was easy to get caught in the ice and take a header. Perhaps they were too sharp — I’ll let you know next time.
At no point did my ankles or toes hurt — two areas of concern for feet that have been through a bit too much. But after fifteen or twenty minutes of all-out skating, my arches were killing me. Now, I’m hoping that has something to do with having to break in the skates and that perhaps over time, I’ll be able to dig away at the insole, but man it was unpleasant. When I was skating — even skating hard — it didn’t bother me at all. It was when I came to a complete stop and was standing still or even sitting. I’m sure it’ll take some time to break that part of the skate in, but in the interest of full disclosure, the arches of my feet were on fire until I was able to untie the boots and take a break.
The only other thing that I prefer about my existing pair of skates, as opposed to the MLX skates, is the length of the blade. The pair I wore when I played in college has a slightly shorter steel blade, maybe an inch, and I found it easier to balance myself on those than on the slightly longer blades of the MLX (and a second personal pair I brought along). Obviously, that’s preferentially, and I’m sure I would get used to the longer blade if I wore them more often than the shorter bladed skates, but if we’re talking straight out of the box preference — I like a shorter blade.
My push off was impressive — there was a little more spring in my step than I get out of other boots, and I was able to take my quick strides without having to adjust for changes in the feel. In short, they’re a very fast set of skates. If I had one lap in which to take a run at Darren Helm’s footspeed, I’d pick the MLXs, no contest. If I had to play a game tomorrow night, without the ability to change in between period, I’d stick with my tried and true pair for now, until I know I can break past the painful arches.
Something that’s very cool about the MLX Skates is all the customization one could do with their skates. For instance, the skates come with a torque wrench for loosening (or removing) the blade, and re-aligning it to your preference. If you’d like to move the blades to the outside of the foot, you can. If you’d like them to be angled to the instep, you can do that, too. It’s pretty cool, and I’d love to learn how to gauge the best position of the blade for my stride, but I decided I’d give the first test run the factory “setting” and make adjustments from there. I’ll very likely play with the blades and see what feels different about the different settings as I keep trying them out.
First and foremost, I’m eternally grateful to MLX Skates for the opportunity to give these skates a test run. Huge thanks to Jason Jarecki of the Coal Street Ice Complex and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for giving me a fresh sheet to work with and for maintaining such an amazing facility for the community and the organization. Incredible hockey brains and equipment studs Brad Boswell, Mike Serven, and George Malik for their helpful input and insight. The beautiful and talented Andrea Janov for taking some awesome photos.
DISCLAIMER: We received a complimentary pair of MLX skates in exchange for a review on The Production Line.