When you watch an NHL game today what stands out the most to you? Is it the passing, the individual puck handling skills, the skating, or shooting? I know all these skills are important, but to me, skating is the skill that trumps the rest.
The best skaters are not just the fastest or the quickest either. They have great edge control, they know how to glide properly, and they are efficient! If you can skate, it does not matter how tall or big you are in today’s game. If you can skate and continue to improve your skating, an opportunity to play this game will always be there.
There is something about a smooth skating player that is just pretty to watch. Maybe it is because I was not always the smoothest of players. I remember the first time someone broke down my skating on video for me to watch, man it was ugly. It was the summer before I was heading to play in the USHL for Cedar Rapids. I was 17 years old and had just got done playing in US Select Festival, my confidence was at an all-time high. I was at a skating school in Kelowna, BC run by former Philadelphia Flyers skating coach, David Roy. Let’s just say the video didn’t lie and they made it very clear I had to continue to work on my skating. I believe, just like any skill in hockey, you can always improve. You can never shoot a puck too hard and you can never be too good of a skater.
Players and parents, I know it isn’t the most enjoyable part of practice. However, when coaches are taking the time to teach proper skating fundamentals and techniques, it is very important to pay attention and learn the proper form. Skating drills at the beginning of practice are not races. It is time for the skater to focus in on proper movements and feel things out. Then, a player should take these feelings and reproduce them as often as they can throughout practice. It takes a lot of repetitions to perfect these moves.
If skating is the most important skill in hockey, why are we trying to teach people to play hockey before they can skate correctly? As a coach, how can we expect players to make split-second decisions and read the ice when players are still having to think about skating fundamentals? These fundamentals must become second nature. Only now have I started understanding why my mother made me take learn to skate lessons and why she taught me how to skate and not my dad. My mom taught figure skating and learn to skate at our local rink. I did not learn how to skate with a stick in my hand or hockey equipment on. I learned how to just skate. Then I would go to open skate and just skate. I understand things are a little different around here, but no matter your age or skill set you must spend time just focusing on your skating.
Jeff Skinner is one of the best skaters in the NHL today. He has a figure skating background. Some of the best players in the world are working with female skating coaches who have a figure skating background. I’m not saying that is the only way to become an efficient skater. Each player must find what way works best for them & learn these fundamentals.
How well do you glide? I know that sounds funny, but that is the first thing I look at when watching young players play. I can tell how efficient a skater they are by how much energy they are using to get around the ice. A lot of people can hit the fourth gear and really move. These are the players that glide and cover ice without really have to use that much energy. When players tire out as the game goes on, these players still have plenty left in the tank. I don’t care if you’re tall or small, you can learn to be an efficient skater. Yes, if you are smaller you might not be able to take as long as strides as a tall, lengthy player but that doesn’t mean short, choppy strides are the answer either.
Next time you are on the ice and your coach is having you do skating drills, focus on the fundamentals. There is a purpose behind it and its valuable time do those repetitions and create the muscle memory side of it. Even if your coach is old school and bag skates you at end of practice, focus on your fundamentals. Watch kids tire out quicker as you focus on being more efficient with longer strides and better gliding techniques.
I’ll leave you with this…everyone likes to score goals, but how many goals are scored by just standing still? You have to be able to skate well enough to get to the spot on the ice. It’s easier to learn these fundamentals now rather than later when you have to undo bad habits.