Honest Hockey Review: CCM Vector U+Pro / U+Pro Reloaded Skates

upro

(UPDATE: the U+ Pro and many other skates are discussed at-length in the Reboot Hockey Off-Ice Training Manual.)

By Jack, Reboot Hockey

Full disclosure before we begin: I have strong attachment to the U+Pro. I wore a pair of original U+Pros for almost five years until I was no longer able to repair them. I subsequently shelved my original pair and purchased not one but two additional pairs of U+Pros, one pair of the 2009 Pro Reloaded boots and one of the original 2008 models. For fear of never finding a skate that fits me again, I am now hoarding all U+Pros with the selfish fervor of Daffy Duck while I try to find a boot made after 2010 that my feet will tolerate. But I digress.

In 2008, CCM reached the pinnacle of its mid-2000s Vector skates line with the release of the CCM Vector U+Pro. While the U+Pro had many properties similar to the skates that directly proceeded it, such as the Vector Pro and the Vector 10.0, the U+Pro remains a highpoint in CCM’s skate line due to the introduction of CCM’s U-Foam technology.

Responding to a number of critiques on the original U+Pro, in 2009 CCM released a second version of the skate called the CCM U+Pro Reloaded. The Pro Reloaded fits and skates in the same fundamental way as the original U+Pro, but CCM corrected a few issues that some people apparently had with durability. With the Pro Reloaded, CCM also removed the Rocket Runner blade attachment, a unique concept that theoretically allows for a longer, more powerful stride but was not particularly popular with consumers at the retail level. The Pro Reloaded also features a different tongue than the original U+Pro.

These minor adjustments aside, the 2009 Pro Reloaded and the 2008 U+Pro are fundamentally the same skate. These skates directly preceded CCM’s 2011 Crazy Light line, and represented the final skates released under the Vector imprint that began in 2005. Since discontinuing the Vector line, CCM has released the Crazy Light, the RBZ, and as of this writing has just released the 2014 Tacks line.

While the 2014 Tacks line – which as of this writing has been available to the general public for less than two weeks – may re-establish CCM as a dominant player in retail skate sales, CCM has lost traction to competitors in recent years. Despite this, the U+Pro remains a sought-after skate, and a strong entry in CCM’s historic line.

All Honest Hockey scores on the 1-10 scale, with 10 being “Must Buy” and 1 being “Avoid at All Costs”:

Basis of Comparison

As I wrote in my Honest Hockey Review of the CCM Crazy Light skates, I am a lifelong CCM skate-user. Prior to the U+Pro, I had been using the 2007 CCM Vector 10.0 skates, and I subsequently purchased both the Pro Reloaded (2009) and the Crazy Light (2011) models. Having used the prior and following year’s direct comparable, I believe I have a very strong Basis of Comparison.

I am currently using a pair of Reebok 11K skates, which as you can see from the pictures below are almost clones of the U+Pro:

014

013

The Pump feature on the Reebok 11K skates can really enhance the fit, particularly around the back of the foot. Due to the odd shape of my feet, I get a slightly stronger fit from the 11Ks, but the U-Foam in the U+Pros also provides a tremendous fit. The boots themselves are nearly identical, if that is not apparent from the pictures above. I would grade the 11K as being slightly stiffer than the 2009 U+Pro Reloaded.

As I have stated before, I used CCM skates almost exclusively until I began having fitting issues with the Crazy Light. My foot simply does not fit most Bauer skates well, so I cannot speak to how CCM skates compare to price-similar Bauer models. I can, however, in many cases speak to how a CCM or Reebok skate has evolved or regressed from the prior year’s model.

I have briefly used a number of higher-end skates such as the Easton Mako (2013) and the Graf 709 Texalite. While I did not care for those boots for one reason or another, I have had the opportunity to test 8-10 different skates on-ice within the last few years. I believe I am a dedicated-enough skater to be able to evaluate a given skate properly, and at this point I have used enough skates that I can distinguish between their respective strengths and weaknesses.

I covered the topic of skates at-length in my article, “How to Optimize Your Hockey Skates,” which can be seen elsewhere on this site. (UPDATE: “How to Optimize Your Hockey Skates” was woven into the Reboot Hockey Off-Ice Training Manual.)

Looks

I did not purchase the original U+Pro due to its looks (nor due to any marketing pitch). I purchased it because of my preference for and dedication to CCM skates at the time.

The skate had and continues to have a very distinct look, as was the case with most of the skates from CCM’s Vector era. I think the U+Pro/Pro Reloaded is the best-looking of the Vector-era skates, some of which toed the line of being gaudy. The U+Pro is predominantly silver with black and blue highlights, and contrasts very noticeably in the sea of mostly-black skates seen on most players.

Even as recently as the just-concluded 2013-14 NHL season, you can easily spot players such as Joe Thornton and Loui Eriksson continuing to use the U+Pro. When it was initially released, the U+Pro was seen on veteran players such as Jarome Iginla and Vinny Lecavalier, but was seen perhaps most-predominantly on Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin.

Washington Capitals v Florida Panthers

I will always associate the U+Pro with Ovi and the run-and-gun Capitals of 2008. The U+Pro has it’s place as a very memorable entry in the CCM line of skates, and in my opinion is a welcome departure from some of the current nondescript skates being released.

(UPDATE: as of 2015-16, I’ve seen the U+Pro on Joe Thornton, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Loui Eriksson, and the recently-retired Brenden Morrow. Comment if you know of any other NHL players still wearing the U+Pro.)

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I love the U+Pro for sentimental reasons, but I do not believe it is the most aesthetically-pleasing boot CCM has ever released. As I wrote in my Honest Hockey Review of the Crazy Light skate, I think the CL is a much-sharper looking boot. Still, the U+Pro is undeniably charismatic, as no one will ever confuse it with a Bauer or Easton entry from the same time period.

HH Rating: 8.0

Fit

Having had the opportunity to wear a Crazy Light on one foot and a Pro Reloaded on the other, I believe that the U-Grip Rebranded foam in the Crazy Light conforms like no other. My feet are extremely irregular, and the fit along the bottom of the foot/outsole that I get from the Crazy Light is just tremendous. The U-Foam used in both the U+Pro and the Pro Reloaded is very, very good, but CCM obviously perfected the art by the time the Crazy Light was released in 2011.

Having said that, as I wrote in the CL review, I got a stronger overall fit from both the U+Pro and the Pro Reloaded. I think the Crazy Light is composed of materials so stiff that they do not conform to the anatomy of every foot as well as the Pro/Pro Reloaded do, particularly in terms of Foot Wrap along the top of the foot.

Speaking personally, I did not have nearly the problems getting the U+Pro to fit my foot that I did with the CL. I think the Crazy Light’s rigidity along the eyelet cuff largely accounts for this. My view is that the original U+Pro hits a sweet spot between conformity and stiffness that the Crazy Light does not. Players with more-regular feet may greatly prefer the Crazy Light, but I prefer the U+Pro because I believe the boot itself is a bit more malleable.

After the break-in period, which is limited, the U+Pro fits your foot perfectly. If you have irregular or misshapen feet like I do, I cannot recommend the U+Pro strongly enough. The U-Foam takes the guesswork out of customized fitting, and the exterior of the boot is forgiving enough to allow the skater to achieve proper Foot Wrap. As I wrote in the CL review, I think the U+Pro is actually a stronger overall boot than the CL, even if the CL has better bells-and-whistles.

Just to cite a few examples of the amenities seen on the Crazy Light:

The U+Pro seems to have a slightly-thinner stock insole than the CL. I like the tongue on the Crazy Light better. The CL, in it’s standard black/red scheme, is simply better-looking than the silver/black U+Pro. The Crazy Light is a marketing department’s dream, because it looks like the hockey skate equivalent of a Ferrari:

cl2

But in terms of pure substance, I think the U+Pro just performs better, and some veteran NHL players who have refused to switch over to a Crazy Light or an RBZ (Joe Thornton, Brendan Morrow, Loui Eriksson) would seem to agree with me.

The Pro Reloaded has a few alterations from the original U+Pro that have a bearing on fit. For example, the plate has been removed from the tongue on the Pro Reloaded, and the tongue on the Pro Reloaded is a bit more plush. I actually preferred the thinner tongue, but this sort of thing is largely personal preference.

Both the U+Pro and the Pro Reloaded have a moderate-high depth, and appear to be slightly-narrow at the forefoot. Bizarrely, this cut fits my horrid feet well. My feet are as flat as a board, and the bones of my ankles greatly protrude. I had purchased a Graf 709 – just about the highest-volume boot available – to try to fix my fitting problems, but that boot provided a bit too much depth and left my foot swimming. The U+Pro provides depth without unnecessary width, and eventually conforms to the foot to a fantastic degree, largely solving a complex fitting issue such as mine.

The only boot that I have ever tried on that gives the skater better Foot Wrap is the Easton Mako, which is of course a one-of-a-kind boot. The trade-off, as you will read elsewhere, is that the suppleness of the Mako also leads to issues with durability. My view is that the U+Pro strikes the best balance of advanced custom fitting and durability that I have seen from a modern composite boot, again with the asterisk that my feet don’t cooperate with most Bauer skates.

HH Rating: 9.0

Durability

Skates are no longer meant to last for years and years, as longtime skaters will tell you. When skates were largely composed of leather, they would be repaired and restitched as needed and often kept for extended periods of time. As they say, they don’t make things like they used to, and modern composite boots are relatively disposable by comparison.

I got nearly five full years from the original U+Pro, from just after the New Year in 2009 until I finally retired them in late 2013. I had simply softened the boot to the point that it had become unresponsive, but all things considered, they were remarkably durable for a modern composite boot.

One of the main concerns with the original U+Pro seemed to be durability, which led to the release of the Pro Reloaded. Due to the wear on my original U+Pros, it’s not fair to compare the quarter package of my original U+Pros to my Pro Reloaded skates, but my opinion is that the quarter package of the Pro Reloaded seems to be more rigid – stiff, but not quite a “ski-boot”, as some modern boots have become. I also wore out the footbeds of my original U+Pros, but that was due to extremely-high usage rather than any kind of factory defect.

It should be noted that I was no longer playing college hockey by 2009, so I cannot personally say how the retail U+Pro/Pro Reloaded would hold against to college or professional-level shots and wear. I have never been nor never will be a shot-blocking specialist, but I think the U+Pro is reasonably-protective compared to price and time-similar skate models.

As mentioned above, I did a number of repairs on my original U+Pros, but I am a barefoot skater, a decent-sized guy, and someone who plays anywhere from 3-7 times per week. All things considered, I think the fact that I was able to use the original U+Pros continuously from their release until late last year says quite a bit about how well-constructed they are.

The U+Pro is not the thickest or most-protective skate available, but it also conforms to the foot better than many of the most-protective skates.

HH Rating: 8.5

Performance

The original U+Pro came out of the box with a factory radius of 10′ and CCM’s patented Rocket Runner:

rocketrunner

Like a lot of people, I disliked the Rocket Runner, and had it taken off of my U+Pro in short order. I suppose if your goal is pure speed than you may prefer the Rocket Runner, but I found it hampered my agility and edge work to a degree. My understanding is that the Rocket Runner also makes skate sharpening a major chore.

The U+Pro and Pro Reloaded both came with CCM’s E-Pro holder, which compares favorably to contemporaries such as the Bauer Lightspeed 2 and the Graf Cobra. CCM/Reebok’s retail skates come out of the factory at a radius of 10′, which you should take into account before evaluating performance.

I found that the U+Pro conformed to my foot very well and helped maximize performance. I certainly experienced no drop-off going from a Vector 10.0 up to the original U+Pro, and in fact the Rocket Runner did noticeably help with straightaway speed.

As written above, I believe the U+Pro is more sound overall than the Crazy Light due to superior performance. We hockey enthusiasts sometimes all get so caught up in advancements in technology that we lose sight of the important thing, which is how equipment helps us play on-ice. I simply skated much better in the U+Pro than I did in the Crazy Light, even accounting for break-in time and external factors like ice quality, conditioning levels, etc.

It again occurs to me that CCM maybe hit the sweet spot between technological advancement and maintaining natural fit with the U+Pro. There’s a great excerpt from skating coach Laura Stamm’s article “How Tight, How Stiff?” that occurs to me:

If you skate for many hours a day, under the same grueling conditions as do pros, ultra stiff skates could be in order. Pros break in (and down) their skates quickly. They need very stiff skates so that they won’t have to break in several pairs during one hockey season. But most players, youth through adult, skate moderately, anywhere from one to three times a week, in sessions lasting from one – two hours. Their boots, if as stiff as pros’, may take forever to break in, and in many cases, never break down.

Recently I have been pleasantly surprised to see one or two brands of skates that are less stiff, more pliable and forgiving of the human anatomy.

I read an article in the NY Times on Sunday, January 21, dealing with stress fractures and back/hip/knee injuries in elite figure skaters. I quote from this article. “Skaters land on the ice on a thin steel blade, cushioned only by several layers of hard, compressed leather. The ankles are provided with little mobility, reducing their ability to act as shock absorbers and transferring the impact of landing along to the tibia, knee, femur, hip and lower back. It’s almost like putting the kids into casts…. You have to change the skates.” The same is true in hockey. The stresses, though differently induced, create the same problems. Casts do not allow for mobility. They are designed to hold the feet upright! Skates must be supportive, of course, but at the same time must be pliable enough to respond to the lean of a player’s feet and legs while edging and executing complex skating maneuvers.

My opinion is reinforced when I watch videos of the great Bobby Orr speeding and weaving, turning and cutting, out maneuvering his opponents on his old time, “floppy” leather skates. Skates surely weren’t ultra stiff in the 1960’s and 70’s.

A happy medium of supportiveness and pliability is in order for young and/or recreational level players.

My opinion is that the U+Pro maintains a pliability that the Crazy Light does not, which may account for the performance disparity I experienced between the two.

You may have a different opinion entirely, but again I used both extensively and have no financial interest swaying my opinion. Without burying the Crazy Light, I think the U+Pro just skates more naturally.

HH Rating: 9.0

Personal Biases

I love the U+Pro. This obviously is going to account for some bias on my part.

I have a unique skating style, and the slightly less-stiff U+Pro could simply – even likely – be more conducive to my particular skating mechanics. There are probably people who dislike the U+Pro and Pro Reloaded because they do not believe either to be responsive or stiff enough.

I always have to write that I am a CCM skates guy. I have adjusted my view in more-recent times, but traditionally I have purchased CCM skates like clockwork. I am currently investigating the differences between price-comparable CCM/Reebok skates because I had assumed that the products would basically be clones of each other. I am starting to believe that in some cases there may be a noticeable quality difference between price-comparable CCM and Reebok products, even though both are produced by the same parent company.

Final Considerations

If you are looking at picking up a U+Pro, you are obviously looking at an aftermarket skate. This could mean that price is a major consideration, or it could mean that like me, you are dissatisfied with many of the current skates being offered today.

The biggest feather in the cap of the U+Pro is that like its sister skates, CCM’s U-Foam can be molded and remolded, ensuring a terrific fit. Whether you are considering a used or unused pair of U+Pro or Pro Reloaded skates, you can be confident in knowing that either should fit your foot better than most aftermarket skates.

If you are purchasing the original U+Pro, account for the Rocket Runner while evaluating the skate. If you are uncomfortable on the skate with the Rocket Runner on, have the attachment removed before re-evaluating them. Including the Rocket Runner makes a noticeable difference compared to the standard E-Pro holder without it.

At this point, the U+Pro is a different generation than CCM’s current lines. As I write this, CCM is about to release has released its 2014 Tacks line, which will post-date CCM’s 2013 RBZ line and of course the 2011 Crazy Light line. Your age may account for how much you like or dislike the U+Pro, as younger players accustomed to ultra-stiff boots may find the U+Pro somewhat soft.

If you are currently in the market for skate and set on the CCM family, I highly recommend you get your foot into an affordable pair of skates from the Tacks line before you make a purchasing decision, and a pair from the RBZ and Reebok CCM RibCor lines as well. I recommend you consider Reebok skates strongly, even if like me you have affection for the CCM brand. I have found some of the Reebok skates to fit a bit more like traditional CCMs, and it would be worth trying on as many pairs as possible in the interest of getting an optimal fit.

(UPDATE 5/14/2016: in the 18 months since I originally published this article, the entire Reebok equipment line has been rebranded as CCM, I have demoed and reviewed the CCM Jetspeed, and in July 2016 the CCM Super Tacks one-piece skate will be released. Obviously a lot has changed. But my thoughts about the U+Pro really have not. As of this writing, I still rotate the U+Pro with my 11Ks, and I’m very happy with both.)

Having said that, if you can pick up a old pair of U+Pros at a good value, I think you will be quite pleased. They’re certainly an all-time favorite of mine.

HH Overall Rating: 8.75

Jack

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2 thoughts on “Honest Hockey Review: CCM Vector U+Pro / U+Pro Reloaded Skates

  1. Pingback: Reboot Hockey | Honest Hockey Review: CCM Jetspeed Hockey Skates

  2. Pingback: Honest Hockey Review: CCM Super Tacks | Reboot Hockey

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