Blades of Glory: Covid Edition

Off-island resident opens curbside skate sharpening service

With most businesses in Montreal closed in this new wave of lockdowns, skaters have few options if they’re looking to sharpen their blades. File Photo Esteban Cuevas

“The good ol’ hockey game, is the best game you can name, and the best game you can name, is the good ol’ hockey game.”

Ask just about any Canadian beyond the TikTok and Snapchat generation, and they should, at the very least, be able to recognize the aforementioned lyrics.

The Hockey Song by Stompin’ Tom Connors is a Canadian classic and an anthem that is interchangeable from the game itself: fast-paced, exciting and, uniquely, broken up into three periods. It represents Canadians' love of the game and is synonymous with the sport that has shaped part of Canada’s identity since the first puck-drop in 1875.

Ice hockey, although played internationally, is often traced back to its origin: Canada. Similar to what the United States has in a state like Florida, where golf is played year-round, Montreal’s climate allows for hockey to be played 12 months a year ­– but not just indoors.

According to the International Ice Hockey Federation, there are an estimated 5,000 outdoor skating rinks in Canada, over 200 of which are located in Montreal.

Skate blades carving into a freshly flooded sheet of ice and pucks ringing off the goalposts are the natural sounds of a Canadian winter. A not-so-natural sound, however, is the thump of someone blowing a tire and inadvertently meeting the surface of the ice. Oftentimes, this is a sign that it’s time to sharpen your skates.

But when your skate blades go dull in the midst of a pandemic that has forced the closure of all non-essential businesses, what do you do?

Mikael Duquette has your answer. 

Duquette, a 38-year-old, decided to open a small home-based skate sharpening service (MD Skate Sharpening+) from his garage in Saint-Lazare, Quebec. In his youth, he was always so meticulous about his skates, employing painstaking attention to detail to the edges of his blades. 

“As a hockey player, I was always looking for a place that does a good job because I’m very picky with my skates, like very picky,” said Duquette. “As soon as I lose an edge it drives me nuts. [I’ve] tried probably a dozen [places] over the years, but could never find one,” said Duquette.

In response, Duquette decided to explore some alternative options that would meet his personalized requirements. That is when he found the Sparx Skate Sharpener, a full-proof machine that, well, sharpens your skates. 

“It does a great job,” said Duquette. “Every time I had a hockey game, I would just put them on the machine to get the edge back. And also, with a boy in hockey, it helps out, I don’t need to drive everywhere.” 

Though an 8 p.m. curfew has put a burden on the bright lights shining over outdoor rinks far past sunset, you can rest assured Quebecers are getting their daily dose of vitamin D on the ice these days. 

With skate sharpening locations closed and ice rinks quickly rising in popularity, Duquette saw an opportunity arise and decided to expand his services beyond his immediate family.

“In this time a lot of stores are closed, so I help them (the public) out and get their edge back for outdoor rinks,” he said. “When the stores closed and COVID hit, that’s when people were looking to go skate more.”

Duquette–who, interestingly enough, built a rink in his own backyard–says his daily flow of skates varies according to the weather. While the mild weather stunted his business over the holidays, he can expect an increase moving forward with the 14-day forecast shaping up for some ideal skating weather. 

“In one day, I’ve done over 20 pairs of skates,” said Duquette. “It seems to come in waves; as soon as the outdoor rinks are nice, that’s when people decide ‘oh let’s check my skates; okay they need to be sharpened,’ and that’s when they contact me.”

For the time being, Duquette has used Facebook as his main medium of marketing, creating a page for his small business and posting on community groups. Anyone that is seeking a skate sharpening can simply message him online and drop off their skates. 

A front-door bin system ensures that all COVID protocols are met and prevents any immediate contact between Duquette and his customers. 

“There’s no contact whatsoever […] It’s just like any other restaurant, right? It’s a pick-up at the door, nobody comes in.” 

Duquette considers skate sharpening a hobby as opposed to a job and at the end of the day, says his goal is really just to help others. 

Skate by skate, blade by blade, he works diligently at restoring the cutting edge so that his kids, and many others can “storm the crease like bumblebees, and travel like a burning flame,” as the late Stompin’ Tom Connors would say.