Not too many years ago, well rockered skates were considered a sign of a good skater. Actually, back then, what players were looking for was pinpoint turning ability to help maneuver in front and around the back of the net, a maneuver Gretzky made popular. In recent years, different skating techniques have been stressed to all skaters, and the bigger skaters are now moving with the same speed as the smaller skaters.
Thus speed is now more desirable then the ability to dance around the net. Instead, players are expected to stand their ground in front and behind the net, and forwards are looking for speed through the “slot” in front of the net. Flatter rockers are preferred today, at least on the back two thirds of the blade where the basic stride comes from.
For an extreme example of how flatter rockers produce more speed, look at speed skates. Long track speed skates are totally flat, distributing their weight over a larger space, thus keeping them on top of the ice, which means less drag or greater ease to maintain speed.
Only a slight increasing of the rocker at the heel is recommended for turning, but only 1or 1-1/2 inches (no more than 2) from the back of the blade. There are a couple of tricks that can be used at the toe of the blade to adjust a rocker to an individual player’s preference. For players that do a lot of speed starts one can flatten the front 2 or 3 inches of the blade, removing any high points that would keep the skater from rolling forward to the ball of the foot easily.
Inversely, leaving the steel on the blade at the toe and trying to maintain the same blade rocker as far forward as possible, will allow defenseman to skate more on the ball of their feet and get a better push on their backward stride. It is important for coaches to understand that when they are teaching skaters to settle back in their stride they are skating forward, but when going backwards they will spend more time on the balls of their feet.
I am not saying that a winger or center can not skate backwards, but that we can adjust the rocker of the blade to accentuate a certain aspect of a player’s game. Once again the mistake that most people make is assuming the new blade on a skate coming out of the box, is the rocker that that skater needs. More times then not, the rocker on one blade will not match the rocker on the other blade of the same pair of new skates, no matter how much you paid for them.
Spending time with a qualified skate technician is the best way to decide what rocker will help their game. In some cases, a little trial and error is necessary, so making small adjustments over a short period of time is the best way to make changes to a player’s rocker.