Best Skates for 2006/2007
Recommend this product?
Yep, thats right. Im going out on a limb. Im going to encourage death threats from imbeciles (if youre looking in the dictionary to see what an imbecile is, try the mirror instead). But I need to say it. Graf simply has the best skate line on the market this season. No other brand even comes close.
You want to argue, fine. Let me try to discourage a little hate mail before I get into the heart of this one. The 2004/2005 Tacks line was fantastic. CCM dropped it. I dont know what they were thinking. The original skate that made the company is no more. Maybe Im the only one waxing nostalgic over the loss of the skate named for the guy who built the first hockey boot and blade combo (Gene Tackaberry). But it was a horrid business decision any way you look at it. RBK owns CCM and the two skates lines they make now are essentially they same skate line (with or without the air bladder). The Vector/RBK is a decent skate, but doesnt hold up to comparison with the venerable Graf line. Further curious is the fact that RBK/CCM moved themselves into a single last. They only fit one kind of foot shape now meaning they will fit less people. In a word, huh!?
Now, how about Nike/Bauer? Well, they still sell their retro, chrome tennis shoes for hockey like theres no tomorrow. The Vapor line is going strong. However, its probably because decent skaters need a new pair every year or so. Nike does still have 3 lines though. The Vapors, the Supreme and the Flexlites. Anyone who has read a few of my reviews knows that Im not a fan of the disposable Vapors. Maybe the XXXX is better, maybe it isnt. The Supreme line took something of a dumper from the excellent 2004/2005 models. They are probably still among the best skates that arent Grafs, but the main thing to remember is they arent Grafs. They just arent as durable as the previous line. Dont get me started on Nike skates either. Theyve never been great. Thats probably one of the reasons Nike has Bauer on the auction block and is retreating back to the sneaker industry. And before you lambaste me as a Bauer hater, I love my Bauer 8090 skates, best pair Ive ever owned.
Missions current line throws rivets from its too thin outsoles like a drunken septuagenarian playing skee ball. The boot isnt bad, the holder isnt bad, Mission just needs to get a little foundation between the two.
Easton is back to their, lets make everything out of carbon fiber philosophy. The skates are fantastic, very comfortable right out of the box. They still need a taller holder to keep people from dumping themselves when they bottom out the boot on a hard turn. But the real problem is that the boots break just like your fancy composite stick does. One day a year or two down the road there will be a crack and it will be time for a new pair of skates.
Thats about it for real competition. The reason that Graf comes out on top is simple too. While everyone else attempts to reinvent the skate every year or two, Graf just keeps pouring money into improving something that already worksthe skates theyve been making for years.
Lets just start by saying this isnt some sissy skate. The 707 isnt meant for the weak of ankle or the weak of heart. This is a boot made for the way that people skated twenty years ago, and the best skaters still skate today. Yes, I know almost everyone reading this is thinking, What in the name of Bob Hope is he talking about?
Let me back up and tell you about how most skates are before I get into how the 707 is different. Other skates today focus on a high level of stiffness in the ankles. These type of skates allow forward flex once they are broken in, but minimize lateral flex of the ankle. Essentially most skates today have eliminated Weak-ankle Willies reason to be embarrassed. You just dont see skaters ankles turning in on a modern pair of skates unless they have some serious problem (thats either the skates or the user).
While this is great for all of us Weak-ankle Willies on the ice, it has somewhat changed the dynamics of skating. Where players twenty years ago could accelerate explosively and cut hard using their ankles, most skaters today skate almost exclusively from their hips. Yes, there is still some level of ankle control. Without that you simply wouldnt be able to shift edges, turn or maneuver at all. However the focus of skating has moved from ankles to hips.
The Graf 707 has a pretty stiff ankle too. The big difference is that the ankle is an almost completely independent piece, attached to the skate only at the rear center. Essentially this creates a floating ankle support that allows full flexibility of the skaters ankle. Old school skaters (who can generally skate circles around most of the rest of us) are used to having a controlled amount of ankle support from skates like Daoust and Cooper made in the early eighties. The 707 is a modernized version of that old technology.
A brief history
However, the roots of the 707 are a little surprising. Graf didnt set out to make the ultimate experts skate. Originally the 707 was designed as a custom skate for pro hockey players rehabbing an injured ankle. The flexible ankle was designed to accommodate an ankle brace.
Skaters who used the skate often stayed in it even after the rehab. Eventually Graf decided that the rest of the world might be interested in a pair as well. The 707 became a member of the Graf line and is today one of the most unique skates that any company makes.
The meat and bones
Actually, Graf doesnt use meat or bones on this skate. They do use some leather though. The uppers on the 707 are made from a mixture of synthetic and real leather (real leather being something that you rarely see in skates anymore). Real leather form fits to the feet better than synthetic leather. However, it does take a little more time to break-in and if it isnt allowed to properly dry it wont last as long as some high-end synthetics might. Graf does use an excellent grade of leather and waterproofs them pretty well. If you do have a pair of leather skates that is starting to take on water, snow seal isnt a bad idea to keep them alive.
As mentioned the ankle support on the 707 isnt meant for beginners. While I might have frightened a few people with my description in the previous paragraph, you should know that Graf did an outstanding job designing this skate. While the ankles do have excellent freedom of motion, there is a fair amount of support as well. The entire eyestay is part of the boot but independent of the ankle. Its hard to imagine and hard to describe, but its there.
The lower portion of the boot is as stiff as any skate that Graf makes in the 700 series. The ankle itself is fairly stiff as well, but while stiff, it isnt restrictive. Forward flex is almost limitless and lateral flex has less limits than you will find in any other skate on the market. The only direction the ankle will not flex is backwards, which is probably a good thing unless you want to look like Charlie Chaplin water-skiing.
The outsole on the new version of the 707 is carbon fiber. For a long time Graf wasnt offering composite outsoles on most of their skates, now the 700 series outsole is finally on par with the rest of the world. Further, the issues that plagued the early G series outsoles have all been resolved. Graf has less chipping problems with their outsoles than any of the other major brands have been.
The toecap is bare plastic. I prefer a bare plastic cap to the fabric covered caps like those on my 8090s. With bare plastic there is no need to use protec-toe or worry about having shredded front bumpers on your skates.
The 707 has a god tongue. Ive been pretty happy with the tongue on both pair of Graf skates that Ive had. They have thick felt and heavy backing like a pro level tongue should. Ive been bothered with my first bout of lace bite recently in the 8090s and I can tell you it wasnt much fun (it started the day before a five game, three day tournament, argh!) I havent had any such issues with either pair of Graf skates.
Holder and Steel
The Cobra NT-3000 holder was one of the strengths and weaknesses of the Graf line. Its a solid holder that rarely breaks. Its one of the stiffer holders on the market, transferring energy more completely. It is tall enough for skaters to corner confidently without bottoming out. Perhaps most importantly, it puts skaters in a very athletic position, poised on the balls of their feet. Now, if you dont bend you knees, that isnt good for you, but if youre really trying to play hockey, trust me, its a great thing.
Graf did have one major issue with the NT-3000. The single screw that holds the steel runner in place did have a tendency to loosen up over time. It also could twist in the holder allowing the steel to come loose even if the screw seemed tight. This was the biggest failing of the holder. In fact, Ive replaced far more of these because players over-tightened the screw than because the broke from being struck by a puck.
Last year Graf introduced the UL-5000, which addressed the weakness of the older NT-3000 holders. The only obvious change beyond the graphics on the new holder is a little dimple at the rear. However, that dimple reinforces the area where the screw used to come loose, correcting the one issue with the 3000.
The runners on the Cobra are set to an 11-foot rocker. Some might argue that the 9-foot Nike/Bauer rocker on the TUUK offers more maneuverability. I however feel that the more athletic pitch of the Cobra more than makes up for the longer rocker. The TUUK holders are far too heel pitched to be responsive.
The steel itself is stainless as would be expected in a high-end skate. Stainless is always better than the softer carbon steel found in lower end skates. It holds an edge better and will give you a couple more sessions between sharpenings. However, not all stainless steel is created equal. Bauer seems to have the hardest steel these days, although it is likely a little more brittle as evidenced by breakage rates. Graf and CCM are pretty close to equal and I would rank them at second place.
Runners on all skates do break from time to time. Graf runners seems to be a decent blend of not too soft and not too brittle. Its fairly rare for me to see broken Graf runners, while CCM and Bauer are much more common in proportion to the number of skates I see from each brand daily. Easton is definitely bringing up the rear in durability. I had one customer break an Easton runner on consecutive sessions!
The 707 accommodates a moderately high instep. It isnt as deep as the 709, but is more on par with the Graf 705. This makes it a little deeper fitting than the Bauer Supremes, Easton and RBK/CCM lines. It is pretty comparable to Missions current line in instep height.
The boot is of average width, comparable to the current CCM Vector and RBK line in this aspect. One nice thing is that Graf makes the boot in three widths. Most skates are only available in D or EE widths (some brands or models come in D or E only). Graf doesnt use lettered widths though. They go with Narrow, Regular and Wide (dont confuse N for Normal, because there is no such thing as normal feet).
The 707 is also only available in senior sizes 5 through 12. So dont think youre going to put your mite AA player in a pair of these unless he has really big feet.
Like all of the major brands, the warranty on the boots is 90 days. The warranty on the runners and holders is a year. If your shop tries to tell you its shorter than that, punch them in the eye and call your lawyer. (Youll need the lawyer for the assault charge, youll likely be out of luck on getting the warranty replacement. But that schmuck behind the counter had it coming).
The 707 is a fantastic skate for excellent skaters who want more ankle flexibility. For many skaters, more ankle flex is going to result in more falls though. So its important to know your ability level. If you arent an excellent skater already, these arent going to make you one . . . in fact theyll make you worse.
© 2007 Scott Noble All rights reserved. Unauthorized use prohibited.
You might also enjoy my book on hockey, Hockey for Weekend Warriors. Click here to read the reviews.
A few of my other reviews that you might find helpful:
Hockey Skate buying demystified
How to Care for Skates
CCM Pro Tacks 2005 Skates
Easton Synergy Skates
Graf 735 Skates with T-Blades
Graf 609 Skates
Graf G3 Skates
Read all comments (2)