His name is Wayne Doucet. And he isn't called The Skate Doctor for nothing.
"Here's the mentality," he says, pulling down his respirator halfway through sharpening a pair of nicely worn-in but not worn-out black Bauers: "What idiot can't sharpen skates?"
Doucet's brother and business partner Howard pipes up. "They say this must be a real art, because not everyone can do it."
But here's the crucial distinction---at least for Wayne and Howard Doucet: There are those who sharpen. And there are those who sharpen well.
"The best analogy I can draw?" says Wayne. "A lady goes to a hairdresser and she wants that one hairdresser. You can go to 10 different locations and find one guy who sharpens your skates right."
Right, for Doucet, means proper contouring, carefully squaring the blade and not forgetting to hone the blade at the end. Doucet can sharpen using the traditional "radius of hollow" technique or the newfangled "form dressing flat bottom" way, neither of which are explainable without me being beside you to draw little pictures on a napkin.
Here's where the art comes in: not everyone can even be trained to sharpen the way it's done at The Four Seasons Skate Doctor, which will have been open on the Windsor Street side of the Halifax Forum for two years come April, though its nook-and-crannyness and the singular dedication of the Doucets make it feel like its been there a century.
Some folks? "They can't get onto it," Doucet says. "It seemed to be natural for me."
Sparks zing off the blade of a size eight Reebok Volt as Doucet starts on the next pair. He has clamped the skate onto a holder and, after "dressing" a grinding stone with a diamond-tipped quill (based on a measurement he keeps secret), he slides the length across the revolving stone. The exercise is to ever-so-slightly hollow out the centre of the blade.
Did you ever think of it that way? The balance you feel standing on skates comes from an imperceptible concave on the blade bottoms. But remember: not only does there have to be a concave, the sides must be even lengths too.
Doucet slaps a metal level on the blade. "That wouldn't even be close to our standards," he says of an off-kilteredness I can't see.
He adjusts the clamp and again presses the blade to the stone. This step is called squaring.
"You're going to look for a thinner spark pattern," he says. "See it? See how thin the line was?"
"See it getting thicker?"
In seven minutes, Doucet's done. He gives a god's-in-the-details smile.
I hate to ask but...do people actually notice all this fussing?
Poorly sharpened skates, Doucet says, feel dull. Worse is when the blades aren't squared; it causes skipping when a skater stops.
"A guy came in here," starts one of Doucet's stories. "He looked rather disgruntled...." The guy's wife had taken his skates to the mall to get sharpened.
"And he said, 'I got on the ice. I skated from the bench to the end. And I skated back and come off the ice and took my skates off.' He said, 'I went home and said to my wife: 'Did you take the skates to The Skate Doctor!?' She says, 'Can you really tell!?'"
Don't even get Doucet going on those automatic skate-sharpening machines.
Doucet's $20K Blademaster is fire-engine red and dominates one corner of the shop. It's got two systems for dressing, a granite work surface and a built-in exhaust system. It buzzes without break nine hours a day, seven-days-a-week from October through April.
Today, the queue for sharpening is 10 pairs long. It doesn't get shorter; customers saunter in apace and rarely with only one pair. Most want while-you-wait service, or, when Doucet sucks in his breath through his teeth and gestures to the line-up, suggest coming back in an hour, or after they've gone to Tim Horton's.
"Can you imagine going in to get your winter tires put on and saying 'Nah..I'll just wait?'" says Doucet.
The shop is open three days a week in the off-season, but few winter skaters seem to take advantage. Then again, many are repeat customers who get their skates done every four to six times they are on the ice, as prescribed.
"Thing is, we have guys coming in telling us they get eight, 10 games in on our sharpening," says Doucet. "And we say, I guess we must be doing something wrong."
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