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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
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This is the time of year when tens of thousands of hockey players will be buying new skates, so who better for advice on purchasing the right pair than Pittsburgh Penguins Equipment Manager Dana Heinze? Dana, what is the first consideration in purchasing and fitting skates?

Heinze:  As a parent buying skates for a player at any level, take into consideration that there are a lot of brands and you are concerned with how that skate will perform for you. The key is what fits you best. There are so many good pairs of skates out there that it's a matter of personal preference.

The most important thing is fit. In today's economy, we see a trend on the part of parents to buy a pair of skates that are too big to try to get two seasons out of them. Let's be honest: Skates are not cheap. But that is the worst thing that you can do to a kid.

You're better off trying to buy a used pair of skates if cost is a factor. You're putting the player at a disadvantage right off the bat putting him into skates that are too large.

The next-most important consideration is to buy skates where there is a staff that is knowledgeable about fitting skates, people who can help the skater determine the proper size in terms of length and width. Every player has his or her quirks about how they want their skates to fit.

Sidney Crosby, for example, doesn't tie his skates very tight at the top. Other players tie them very tight.

Everyone's feet are different. Some players require custom-fitted skates. Some people have wider feet that require custom skates. The common size is a "D."

The professionals have an advantage because the manufacturers' representatives come in and size them and make custom-fitted skates for them. When you're dealing with kids, hopefully you have a place near you where the staff is knowledgeable enough that they can help point those kids in the right direction. Paul Coffey used to scrunch his feet into skates two sizes too small. Peter Forsberg wore wide skates laced only halfway up. There are individual preferences, but what is the standard? Do you recommend, for instance, that the toes be no closer than an eighth of an inch from the front of the boot?

Heinze: A rule of thumb for a kid might be that if the toes are touching the front of the boot that you should go a half-size bigger. We have some players that wear thick socks and others who wear thin socks or no socks. With a thick sock, your foot is a little tighter in the skate. Some players want their toes right against the toe cap. We have a few players like that. Other players, if they feel the toe cap, then they think something's wrong.
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The right answer to that question is what is your personal preference? Say you like the first pair you try. Should you keep looking at other skates or buy the first pair that you like?

Heinze: Keep looking, absolutely. The way skates have evolved, they are lighter and sometimes more durable, but the foam and plastic are made to mold to your feet. Hopefully, your skate shop has an oven that you can customize the skate after you purchase it. In the old days, skates were heavy and players hated to break in new skates. Now, you can put a skate on a player's foot, bake it, let it cool and play in it comfortably right away. So look for a skate that fits well, has good protection and support, and get it custom-fitted. In terms of width, how wide apart should the laces be and will they gradually get closer as the skate gets older?

Heinze: The laces are what keep you in the skate. You don't want your eyelets coming together. If that's the case, your foot is too narrow. If you're wearing a sock and the laces are close, you need to drop down to a narrower width. If the tongue is showing, you have a wider foot and perhaps we need to put you in an "E" width. Should players wear different skates depending on what position they play? Are there skates that are better for defensemen and skates that are better for forwards?

Heinze: No, but as you get better, get to a higher level, there are things that come into play, like profiling the skate blade. We start seeing at the junior level players who have started rockering and "radiusing" their skates, those types of things. The professionals have the advantage of having equipment managers who know how to properly look at blades and skates, and suggest things to players that will help them be better. What is the proper way to break in a pair of skates?

Heinze: We fitted Matt Cooke this morning for a new pair of skates. He wore his previous skates for a long time. We had him custom-fitted, baked his skates for 2 1/2 minutes and then put them on his feet. At that time, we want the player to pull outward, not upward, on the laces because the boot is soft and there is a chance that you can pull the eyelets out if you pull upward.

Dana Heinze's claim to fame isn't that four-minute shift he played in net for his hometown Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL in 1989 when he was the team's equipment manager and the goalie got hurt. No, Heinze is proudest of helping the 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup through his work as the team's equipment manager. Heinze also was the assistant equipment manager for the Tampa Bay Lightning when they won the Stanley Cup in 2004.

Heinze is in his fourth season with Pittsburgh after spending six years with the Lightning. His biggest challenge was outfitting the Penguins for the first Winter Classic game, Jan. 1, 2008, against the Sabres in Buffalo.

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