Nor­man sharp­ens his last skates

Matthew French set to take over busi­ness

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER nmercer@cbn­com­pass.ca

Vet­eran skate sharp­ener Eric Nor­man put stone to blade for the fi­nal time last week, as he is step­ping away from the busi­ness af­ter close to 30 years. Matthew French is step­ping in to take over the busi­ness and is be­ing hailed as a quick study in the craft of skate sharp­en­ing.

Eric Nor­man’s last day sharp­en­ing skates started like any other at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts.

Open­ing the door to Eric’s Sharp­en­ing Ser­vices and flick­ing the light switch, a pair of male hockey skates lie on the counter top. This pair he fin­ished the pre­vi­ous evening, but it isn’t un­usual to find a couple of pairs wait­ing for Nor­man’s ex­per­tise.

Mo­ments af­ter rais­ing the blinds on his of­fice win­dow, a cus­tomer breezes through the door. She’s look­ing to have her daugh­ter’s skates sharp­ened. They were done in town, but she trusts Nor­man.

Flip­ping a switch, the ma­chine roars to life and Nor­man pre­pares to do some­thing he’s done for the past 30 years.

Last week he re­tired from the skate-sharp­en­ing busi­ness af­ter close to 30 years. Chances are if you’ve had your skates sharp­ened in the bay, Nor­man was the man who gave you an edge.

Eye­ing the blade of the fig­ure skate, Nor­man places it in the clamp and gets to work. Fig­ure skaters need to have a level edge, and Nor­man ad­justs his ma­chine to ac­com­plish this.

A couple of passes with the grinder does the trick. A quick rub­down of the blade with a stone and they’re ready for use.

There have been some changes in the time since Nor­man started.

“When I got started, it was tube skates. I had all of the old parts for them,” said Nor­man. “You used your blade straight­ener a lot then be­cause they used to curve.”

It wasn’t only the skates that have changed in the past three decades. The ma­chine used for sharp­en­ing skates changed too.

Fab­ri­ca­tors al­tered the de­sign and made away with a time-con­sum­ing clamp­ing mech­a­nism, re­plac­ing it with an eas­ier sys­tem that sped up the process.

“It was so much eas­ier. Where you could do 15 pairs in an hour, you could dou­ble it or bet­ter with this,” said Nor­man. Late night skate runs Nor­man got his start sharp­en­ing blades at the Bay Arena shortly af­ter the sta­dium opened in 1985. It was in 1987 that he started the busi­ness.

Back then, he was work­ing where the el­e­va­tor is now. Af­ter a couple years there, the op­er­a­tion moved up­stairs. There was a bal­cony then, and a group of of­fices.

That op­er­a­tion proved to be prob­lem­atic. The high traf­fic area wasn’t ideal for sharp­en­ing skates.

“I had to sus­pend the mo­tor with bungee cords be­cause it kept bounc­ing be­cause of the peo­ple walk­ing around,” said Nor­man.

The op­er­a­tion then moved to the base­ment of his home. There he did skates in the evenings af­ter re­turn­ing from his day job. He’d sharpen skates till the wee hours of the morn­ing, making sev­eral trips to Ul­tra­mar where cus­tomers could pick them up.

“Of all the pairs that I’ve done, I’ve never lost a pair of skates,” said Nor­man.

The fi­nal years were spent at the Bay Arena.

New own­er­ship

When the door to what used to be Eric’s Sharp­en­ing Ser­vices opens in the New Year, there will be a dif­fer­ent face greet­ing them on the in­side.

Matthew French, well known around th­ese parts for his in­volve­ment in the game, bought the busi­ness from Nor­man. The sale was all set to be fi­nal­ized Fri­day.

“I’ve al­ways been a rink rat. I’ve al­ways wanted to be around the rink. If I know there is a game on, I’m usu­ally here,” said French. “Even when I was the tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor (with the Bay Arena), it wasn’t about get­ting paid. It was about be­ing around the rink. “This seemed like a nat­u­ral fit.” French was the last ap­pren­tice taken by the ex­pe­ri­enced skate sharp­ener.

“I think he’ll do al­right with it,” said Nor­man. “He’s been a good stu­dent.”

In a twist of fate, French has had plenty of skates sharp­ened by Nor­man over the years. When he played hockey on the main­land, French made sure to sign a framed pic­ture for Nor­man with the in­scrip­tion: “To Eric, thanks for ev­ery­thing.”

He smiles think­ing of the mem­ory.

“I hope one day some­one thinks enough of me to give me a pic­ture to put on the wall,” said French.

Ex­pand­ing ser­vices

While Nor­man fo­cused pri­mar­ily on skates at the tail end of his ca­reer, there was a time when he dab­bled in equip­ment, sticks and other pieces of hockey para­pher­na­lia.

It’s some­thing French is look­ing to get back into. He wants to make it more of a pro shop then just a skate sharp­en­ing ser­vice.

He’s al­ready or­dered a ma­chine that cleans equip­ment and has played with the idea of bring­ing in a skate oven.

“I’d rather have it here and no one use it than have some­one come in and I don’t have it,” said French.

There have been plenty of pic­tures over the years. Play­ers thank­ing Eric for ev­ery­thing he’s done for them.

“I can re­mem­ber them com­ing in and barely be­ing able to see them over the counter,” said Nor­man. “Now, they’re bring­ing their own kids in to have their skates sharp­ened.”

The pic­tures will hang in his garage for now, along with plaques from the St. John’s Ju­nior Hockey League and pic­tures of teams that he coached.

“I’ll be sad to see it go,” Nor­man said with his eyes on the space where the pic­tures hung.

Thurs­day evening marked the last night for Nor­man. Af­ter a couple of last pairs, long­time friend Glenn Littlejohn strolled through the door. He had the fi­nal game of the evening.

“We started to­gether, so it only makes sense you’re my last pair of skates,” Nor­man told Littlejohn.

PHO­TOS BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER/THE COM­PASS

Eric Nor­man rubs a stone over the blade of freshly sharp­ened pair of fig­ure skates.

Matthew French (left) will be tak­ing over the skate sharp­en­ing busi­ness from Eric Nor­man.

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