In this week’s “This Old Hockey Bag,” I want to throw it back to 1995 and the Nike “Zoom Air Skates”. The world of hockey had just been flipped upside down. After the lockout, Nike had acquired Bauer Hockey for $395 million. Bauer was run as an independent brand while Nike worked to create what we knew as Nike Hockey. Nike wanted to make a big impact, and the NHL became its main target. As part of its effort, Nike signed NHL stars such as Jeremy Roenick, Mats Sundin, and Cam Neely to major endorsement deals. The main man at Nike, however, was a flashy Russian kid who went by the name of Feds. Sergei Fedorov quickly became the Nike poster boy; the first non-North American spokesman and face of the NHL. He was covered head to toe in Nike gear and apparel, appearing in TV commercials and print ads; he did it all. “The White Russian” was phenomenal, his blazing speed destroyed defensemen unlike any other we have seen since the early 1980’s.
“The White Russian” & Nike Zoom Air Skates
Fedorov’s deal with Nike was the perfect marriage. Nike was an enormous company that had global aspirations and Fedorov was a Russian hockey star who was ripe for changing the NHL. I don’t want to sell this short – Fedorov was one of the greatest players of all time, and the Hockey Hall of Fame agrees. His speed, scoring, and amazing moves put him in a class unlike any other we haven’t seen since The Great One. It was Nike, though, that put him in the mainstream media.
What I really want to focus on though, are his hockey skates. The all white, Nike “Zoom Air skates”: a true throwback to 1971 and the California Golden Seals. If you don’t know or remember this story, I will give you the abridged version. In 1971, Charles O. Finley decided that his baseball team, the Oakland A’s, looked good in white cleats, so he figured that his hockey team would also look really good if the players were outfitted in white skates. Both teams wore similar colors. While this did not sit well with players or fans, it cross-marketed all three of his professional franchises and created a buzz in the NHL and on TV screens across North America. Anyways, the Nike Air Accel Elite hockey skates, aka the “Zoom Airs,” flossed an all white outer sole, white toe cap, and looked more like a baseball cleat than a hockey skate. The Bauer composite skate mold and technology infused into the Nike skates, coupled with one of the best skaters in the NHL definitely created a buzz. Fedorov helped the product development teams create the bold design (as outrageous as it was perceived to be at the time) that was equally fitting for Nike and Fedorov’s flashy, groundbreaking playing style. Nike actually branded sneakers that looked just like his skates. Fedorov’s signature shoe, the Nike Air Street Express, was designed for street hockey and looked just as flashy as his ice skates.
The “White Russian” Effect
This new look started a new wave as young players began looking to Nike for quality skates. Whether it was for the look or the desire to skate like Feds, Nike had made the impact it wanted. Product lines such as Quest, Ignite, and V all followed, each bringing new technology and lightweight materials to the market. Even The Great One, Mr. Gretzky, ended up in the Nike Zoom Air skates. The truth behind it was that the Air Accel Elites were hard to find and expensive. Most kids ended up with the lower, heavier version called the Air Speed Plus. Although Nike bowed out of hockey in 2008, Bauer lives on. To see the latest 2016 skate models including the brand new Bauer 1s, click here.