After struggling for many years to find a pair of roller hockey skates I could truly appreciate, I finally decided to convert an old pair of CCM V08 ice skates. While that project was fun, and gave new life to a great pair of skates, it took less than a year before the rivets popped out. This catastrophe left me, once again, searching for the perfect pair of inline skates.
While I have had tremendous success with various ice skates over the years, the last really great pair of roller hockey skates I used was a pair of old Mission RM roller hockey skates released in 2002. The boot is worn down and flexible, providing little support compared to some of today’s top end models, but the fit for my foot could be described as almost perfect.
But rather than continue to use my trusted old skates, I picked up a pair of Alkali CA7 roller hockey skates after hearing several good things about the new company. Rather than celebrating the new skates, however, it’s unfortunate to share that I still am on the lookout for the perfect pair of new roller hockey skates.
Design & Construction:
The Alkali CA7 hockey skates offer a very simple look compared to other roller hockey skates. The skates aren’t overwhelmed with logos and are plainly designed as well. The black boot, black laces, and black felt tongue give way to various areas of a green accent which matches the Labeda Dynasty wheels very well. The all 80mm Alkali frame is also black, using more green accents as well as having “Alkali” written in white across the outside of the frame. The inside portion of the frame is plain and unmarked, much like you see on many other roller hockey skates.
Immediately after opening the box, I pulled out one of the skates and began to squeeze the boot together between hands. After dealing with several skates that lost their rigidity very quickly, I wanted to make sure the CA7’s were fairly stiff right out of the box. For a $400 pair of roller hockey skates, I was disappointed to find I could pretty easily squeeze the boot together. This is something I would expect out of a boot that has been worn a while, such as my Mission RM skates, but not on a brand new, high level skate. Wanting to know how the Mission T6 skates would compare, as we were also reviewing those, I performed the same procedure. To my surprise, the $200 T6 skates had more stiffness out of the box than my Alkali Ca7 skates. That would not be the only area where Mission’s T6 skates would outperform either.
In terms of skate components, however, I think Alkali did a better job competing. The CA7 skates come with the Labeda Dynasty wheels, as I mentioned earlier, which are only a step below Labeda’s top wheel – the Addiction. The Dynasty wheels in the CA7 also spin on Swiss Lite 608 sized bearings. To compare, Mission’s T8 skates at the same price point come with Rink Rat Hornet wheels, and Swiss LE bearings. Bauer’s XR5 skates come with the Dynasty wheels as well, and Swiss LE bearings. Reebok on the other hand, can only offer Labeda Millenium wheels and Abec 7 bearings on their $350 skate. In other words, Alkali didn’t skimp on some of the important features to a roller hockey player such as wheels and bearings.
Wearing a 9.5 skate in almost every other brand, with some toe room to spare, I figured I would be okay picking up the CA7’s in a 9.5 as well. Trying them on right out of the box concerned me a bit as my toes feathered the toe cap a bit too much. I wasn’t too concerned, however, as I knew baking the skates would move my foot back into the heel pocket more. As I proceeded with my baking, I was happy to feel my toes no longer hit the toe cap. My foot had settled into place, just as expected, and the boots felt comfortable on my feet. If you’ve heard anything about Alkali skates, it may have been that their skates are extremely heat moldable, offering a nine minute bake time to truly customize the fit to your foot. Knowing this, and feeling how great the skates now fit while baking, I was excited to get them onto the rink.
My excitement quickly turned to an uncomfortable feeling on the night of my first skate with the Alkali CA7’s. Instead of having skates that fit my foot comfortably like they did during baking, I had skates that again made my toes jam into the toe box. I was extremely surprised by this, especially after getting a good feeling during baking.
As I continued during warm-ups and into the game, I noticed more and more why my toes were jammed in. With each stride that I would take, my heel would slip and slide around in the boot, refusing to truly lock into place in the heel pocket. In an attempt to resolve this, I went to the bench and re-tied my skates as tight as I could get them. This essentially eliminated all forward flex I could get when skating, and made playing extremely difficult. But in the end, it was either sacrifice pain in the toes with heel slippage or lose the forward flex. I chose forward flex and saved my toes a bit of pain throughout the night.
Upon the recommendation of Justin Hoffman, co-founder of Alkali Hockey, I re-baked my skates and tied them as tight as I could during baking. Again, the skates felt great during baking as my heel sat all the way back. Unfortunately, after even after a re-bake and trading my socks for a pair of thinner ones, I still ran into problems with my heel not remaining where it should be.
Beyond these issues, I also compared the footbed of the Alkali CA7 skates to my CCM ice skates of the exact same size. The footbed on the CA7 is indeed smaller, meaning the Alkali skates run a bit smaller than CCM. Had I been wearing a size 10, perhaps my toes would not have been as cramped. But the issue of no heel lock would still, as not even a second bake could help keep my foot in the proper position.
While the skates otherwise felt good during games, and do offer a nine minute bake for heat molding to your foot, I was again disappointed after taking my skates off. The width seemed to be a perfect fit while I was wearing the skates, but after games I would take each boot off and have an extremely sore foot and arch. It felt as though my foot was being squeezed and cramped into a boot which wasn’t wide enough. During games, I wouldn’t have thought this at all, but the feeling afterward is something I have never experienced with skates before. Perhaps exchanging the footbed with Yellow Superfeet could have solved this issue, as the stock footbed seemed awful – much like that of the Mission T6.
With the components the CA7 skates have, I definitely expected to be really pleased with the skates performance, and I was to a certain extent. The Labeda Dynasty wheels and Swiss Lite bearings were fast, and kept on rolling too. I generally consider myself a fast skater, and these wheels and bearings did nothing to slow me down. The Dynasty wheels did take a game or two to break in, but by my third game I was stopping on a dime and had definitely become comfortable on them.
Despite skating on a Labeda all 80mm chassis previously, the Alkali 80mm chassis and set up took a bit of getting used to due to the pitch. Oddly enough, the forward pitch on the CA7 is meant to mimic a hi-lo style system, but I often found myself feeling too far back on my heels. There were several times throughout game play that I lost my balance making a deke or carrying the puck. These are not the times when you want think about the skates on your feet, but unfortunately it did happen. I think skating in them more consistently would have eliminated the balance issues, but again, it’s not something you expect to or want to deal with.
As I noted earlier in my review, the boot construction felt soft to me as I could squeeze it together with relative ease. Fortunately, the boots did have some great performance in them. They felt solidly constructed on my feet and I was comfortable making sharp cuts and stops. My concern would be that since these boots are a bit softer out of the box, they will break down much quicker than products from another brand.
The quarter package and toe cap did provide a great amount of protection, however. Through my first three games using the CA7 skates, I somehow managed to block several shots with both components. I was pleased each time to not have felt a thing, and simply watched the puck ricochet off in another direction. Several times I had the shooter come up to me after wondering if I was okay, and I could simply shrug it off and say I didn’t feel a thing.
Moving inside of the boot, to the brushed microfiber lining, is probably where I experienced the most disappointment. After my first game wearing the CA7 skates, I took off the boot and felt that the liner was soaking wet. It was so bad that I could press a few fingers against the liner, and pull them away and have drops of sweat on them. I could have squeezed sweat out of this liner like a wet t-shirt or towel. Again, we compared this to the Mission T6 skates and found that they were completely dry. I was amazed by this as even my 10 year old Mission RM skates, or any other skate I have used for that matter, has stayed drier than the CA7 skates. The liner is described as being anti-microbial and moisture wicking, but what seems to be left out is that they wick moisture away from your foot but the liner itself hangs on to all that moisture. Skates from other manufacturers will not only wick that moisture away, but will be quick drying as well and not hold on to it.
For a $400 pair of roller hockey skates, I don’t think I am very pleased with what I got. Despite a well performing boot, I’m not confident the quarter package can maintain the stiffness it does have, and I would have preferred more stiffness out of the box at that price point. The liner was a huge disappointment, and after each game I’m still amazed that it holds on to as much sweat as it does. Heel lock also seems to be an area which Alkali should address with these skates. I don’t think a player should have to sacrifice forward flex so that they can tie their skates as tight as it takes to minimize, but still not eliminate, heel slippage.
We all know Alkali is a newer company to the game, but the founders have been around the game for a while. In fact, they probably had a hand in creating the Mission RM skates I will be going back to and the last pair of roller hockey skates I’ve been truly happy with. And while the Alkali CA7 skates didn’t live up to the expectations I had set for them, others have been pleased with the result. That was the whole reason I purchased them in the first place. Still others, however, have shared experiences similar to mine, noticing a softer boot that just doesn’t seem to cut it.
With this being their first product line release, we don’t truly know how much time was spent on research and development. The company has developed a bit of a following though, and should be able to stick around for a while. Hopefully over time they can focus on some of these problem areas and use R&D to build a truly great skate for roller hockey players. It just doesn’t seem they’ve done it quite yet.