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A goalie skate's boot and blade are quite different from the boot and blade on a hockey player's skate, in how they're built, and in how they function. Read on to learn more about what distinguishes a goalie skate from a hockey skate.
The goalie skate boot is cut shorter at the ankle than a conventional hockey skate boot, with a shorter tongue and no tendon guard on the back; these modifications give the goalie a wider range of motion. While goalies don't require as much support as player skates provide, they need more protection, so goalie boots have either a cowling—a hardened plastic casing that protects the toe, ankle, and heel—or a heavy shell to absorb impacts from pucks, or both.
Goalie skate blades are longer and thicker than hockey skate blades—more steel making contact with the ice gives the player more surface area for pushing off, to slide side to side. The longer, flatter goalie skate blades are also more stable and made of thicker steel to withstand the impact of pucks screaming at them. A goalie doesn't need to be able to stop and turn as quickly as the other players, but must be able to hold position and move side to side quickly. Goalie skate blades must be sharpened frequently to provide a good bite for quick movements, and to smooth out blemishes from impacts against the posts.
Goalie skates have more and better protection than player skates. A cowling is a protective wrap on the boot that safeguards the foot and the toes from hard shots. Not all goalie skates today have cowlings, but without the cowling or other protection, the impact from a hard shot can break bones. In some newer goalie skates, protection is built into the boot, including its thicker toe cap, in lieu of a cowling.
If you plan to play goalie on any kind of routine basis, then yes—you absolutely need a pair of goalie skates. The boots and blades on goalie skates versus players' skates are different enough to matter to your performance in goal. On top of that, the protection goalie skates provide your feet against the puck can mean the difference between playing goalie and watching from the bench wearing a cast.