Inside the NHL

LYNNWOOD — Julie Florendo pointed to a wall display of used skates she and her husband, John, have trouble keeping stocked.

Their local Play It Again Sports store sells second-hand hockey equipment for a fraction of new item prices. The skates, not surprisingly, are highly popular given they start at $30 compared to new models across the aisle topping out at $900.

“You get some parents saying, ‘I want my kid to have blah, blah, blah’ but for the most part, a lot of them go for the used stuff,’’ she said. “It’s just more practical because the kids outgrow them pretty fast.’’

The store also sells used sticks starting at $20 for kids and $60 for adults — running as high as a top-line CCM Pro 3 for $90 compared to the $300 retail price of new versions. Adult gloves, shoulder pads and pants run as low as $30 apiece, elbow pads $15 and shin guards $10, while youth versions start cheaper.

A front-page Seattle Times story two weeks noted hockey is among the nation’s costliest sports and equipping players in brand-new gear can run beyond $2,000. But one byproduct of such costs is the sport’s thriving used-equipment market.

While some cringe at wearing another player’s once-sweaty gloves or skates, it’s as ingrained in hockey’s culture as slapshots, kick saves and chugging from water bottles on the bench. By the 1990s, players wearing hand-me-down gear from older family members was taken further with the onset of stores dealing in used equipment.

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Online retailers like Pure Hockey have since made market inroads and also offer used gear. As does SidelineSwap — a photo-heavy online resale site of 100,000 users where athletes display equipment in virtual “lockers.”

Like all of their used equipment, the Florendos spray skates with an anti-bacterial agent and check for damage. While whatever they buy from players to resell might look worn, it has to work well or they won’t accept it.

“We have to make sure there’s enough blade life left,’’ John Florendo said, running his hand across the steel beneath one used skate. “Anything too low, we’re not going to take in.’’

Florendo said adults and teenagers do still buy the new $900 Bauer 2S Pro skates he sells, while even players younger than 10 get bought equivalent, child-sized bank-busters.

“We have parents that want their little Johnnie to have top-of-the-line skates for $300 – and that’s for a kid who’s going to use them for a year,’’ he said. “I’m not about to talk them out of it at the register. But there are cheaper options for those that prefer them.’’

Sure, some parents worry their kids will be mocked for wearing used gear.

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But Suman Chakrabarti, a Hockey USA instructor and former longtime coach with Sno-King, said players are likelier to receive snark for dressing too expensively unless they’ve got skills to match.

Chakrabarti discovered hockey as a youth in Pittsburgh, starting with hand-me-down equipment from neighbors and friends before buying used gear. Upon moving to Seattle for a job with Microsoft, he got his son, now 12, started in hockey at age 3. Though he could afford to keep him in new equipment, it made little sense given the level of play and his son’s lack of major growth spurts.

“We try to do a mix of old and new, depending on what we find,’’ he said.

Many purchases have been reused by his son over and over; an estimated two helmets since age 4, two pairs of hockey pants, three sets of shin guards and two sets of shoulder and elbow pads. The biggest changeover was nine pairs of skates, about 15 sticks and more mouthguards than he can count.

At one point, Chakrabarti bought his son a new, top-end youth-sized stick for $100 – only to find he preferred a cheaper $70 model.

“When they get their preferences, it doesn’t even matter what their brand is,’’ he said.

Likewise, player choices between used and new equipment similarly involve personal preferences. Other than helmets and face guards — with safety certification expiring every 6 1/2 years — there’s little protective difference with used gear. Expired helmets can be bought second-hand most places for $30, but only for adult recreational play as youth circuits require certified models tougher to find used.

Olympia resident Chris Maun said helmets and skates are things he didn’t skimp on when his son played eight years in the Tacoma Junior Hockey Association. But with his son’s feet continuously growing, he’d seek higher quality used skates “with low mileage on them” for half the cost of new ones.

Maun bought new gear in late-spring or summertime for deals on “last year’s models” while saving on pads, gloves and hockey pants by getting them used at the Elevate Sporting store in Tacoma. He’d eliminate any residual “hockey funk” smell by gentle-washing used items in a front-loading machine and electric drying on low heat.

“Remember,” he said, “that the washing machine is your friend.”

At Play it Again Sports, the Florendos estimate they can fully equip youth players in used gear — not including skates — starting about $150 and adults for $300.

They’ll be put to that challenge next Sunday during their annual “Hockey Day” sale offering storewide discounts. The couple expects demand for used equipment will keep growing with NHL Seattle’s expansion launch in October 2021.

“You’re going to have a lot of people trying hockey for the first time,” Julie Florendo said. “This is a great way to do it without spending a fortune.”