There is one skill that should be consistently worked on throughout one’s hockey career…the same skill is worked on in mini-mites, high school, college and even the NHL/NWHL. Can you guess what it is?
Time and time again college coaches tell me that the number one thing that separates the kids that will play at the next level from those that just don’t have “it” is their skating. Skating skills are so seemingly basic but the fact is- if you’re not constantly working on improving your stride, your edges and your speed, you may struggle trying to find a spot on a team at the next level.
You might think that your ‘sick nasty dangles’ or your ability to muck-and-grind will set you apart and maybe they will but if you’re a poor skater you will not be able to compete…and remember, there are only so many spots up for grabs. If you’re not working, someone else is and they’ll take your spot.
So how do you improve your skating?
In my mind there are three main areas to focus on: stride, edges and speed/agility.
When I talk about working on your stride, I’m referring to the actual technical form.
The mechanics of your stride have several different components. These are shoulder/toe alignment, arm extension, knee bend, hip/leg extension, stride length and recovery (see image 1).
A good way for coaches to work on these components with their players is to have them form six lines across the goal line. Skaters will always skate from goal line to goal line focusing on their form- not speed. This should be at about 25% speed.
For the first down & back, have your players get into hockey position- extend their right leg and push -and recover their leg back underneath by dragging their toe and finishing with clicking the toe of their skate to their heel. Then repeat with the same leg all the way down the length of the ice. Repeat (down and back) with both legs individually.
Once the skaters have practiced both legs individually, have them do the exact same exercise except switch from doing one leg at a time to doing both.
Things to look for:
Next- depending on the comprehension and skill level of your players- you can graduate onto removing the toe drag but still doing the exact same stride and recovery. Gradually, you can have the players increase their speed while focusing on keeping the exact same form.
Have your players go 25% speed to the blue line, 50% to the red line and 75% speed in to the goal line.
Things to look for:
I would recommend doing this with your players 1-2 times during the winter season and daily during the off-season. I’ve done this exact exercise with players as young as 8 years old up to college-aged athletes and have seen it lead to huge improvements at every age level.
Similar to stride work, edgework is practiced by college athletes and in the professional leagues. Contrary to popular belief, there are actually three types of edges (not two): the inside edge, outside edge and flat edge. There are so many drills that can focus on edgework. A good way for coaches to help players work on their edges is to have them get in six lines across the goal line. (I prefer six lines across the goal line-as opposed to everyone in one line- because you have more kids going at once which is more efficient use of the ice and time. Plus, kids are less likely to get bored if there is less down time).
On the first skate, have them make a “C” like cut with their inside edge, alternating skates. This should be at about 25% speed. Teach your kids that when working on their edges, it is okay to fall! In fact, I enjoy seeing kids pushing themselves to the point where they’re uncomfortable and fall. They will never improve their edgework if they only do movements that they are comfortable with.
Things to look for:
On the next skate, have players make a “C” like cut with their outside edge, alternating skates. This should be at about 25% speed. Players are usually more uncomfortable with their outside edges than with their inside edges. Side note: a lot of hockey clinics will teach players to swing that outside leg around (the one that is not on the ice) and do a cross over before alternating legs. In order for players to fully work on their edges, they need to hold the edge for as long as they can and ride the outside edge until they meet their flat edge. When they are allowed to crossover, that leg is used for balance and players set it down the second they get uncomfortable. Getting players out of their comfort zone is what it’s all about.
Things to look for:
These are just two basic exercises that you can work on with your players. USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have a wealth of information available online that you can incorporate with your players. I would recommend working on edges with your players at bare minimum 1-2 times per week during the winter season and daily during the off-season.
Speed and agility are last on the list because without proper form and good edgework, speed and agility are kind of ‘lost’. For example, a player could consistently work on sprinting and increasing their speed but without fixing issues with their form, they likely won’t see as much improvement. Nonetheless, speed and agility are important and can help draw the line between college athletes and the ones that won’t make it. Speed and agility can be largely improved off-ice so there is no excuse as to why any player cannot improve.
Focusing on exercises that mimic the power and explosiveness used in skating will help improve your speed. Exercises that players can do during off-ice training or at home are:
Athletes can be fast without being agile. Athletes can be agile without being fast. Athletes that are both fast and agile are hard to find. Having good edgework will allow players to be agile on the ice. Athletes may be extremely agile off the ice but if their on-ice skating skills cannot keep up, their agility won’t be shown on the ice. Exercises that players can do during off-ice or at home to improve agility:
For players that wish to increase their speed and agility to reach the next level, I would recommend adding 3-4 exercises from each group above to their workouts 3 times a week. During the off-season, I would recommend doing 4-5 speed/agility exercises 5 days per week.
Coaches and players, if there is one thing that you takeaway from this article have it be to work on your skating. High school coaches, tier 1 programs, college coaches, junior coaches, NHL/NWHL coaches are all looking for players that are fantastic skaters.
Players, work on your skating every single day.
Coaches, do at least one drill where the players are able to drop the puck and focus on their form every single day.
Image 1: www.vitalhockeyskills.com
Image 2: www.wikipedia.com