When we watch skaters from the stands or at ice level, it is pretty easy to identify when a skater is starting to fatigue. Be it in a practice or a game, the traits of a skater fatiguing are always the same.
First, as the skater’s legs start to burn out, you will notice the skater will go straight-legged and his/her back will start to pike (bend at the waist). You will notice that a skater will then start to push “back” instead of “out,” similar to a horse kicking motion. You will also notice, and this happens all the time (see the photo), a skater’s head will drop and look straight towards the ice.
So we have a skater out of gas, standing straight-legged, bent over at the waist. What could possibly go wrong? In a game, that is usually when you get hemmed in your own zone and get scored on or take a penalty.
Earlier in the month while in Des Moines working with some prospects, some of the players were doing skating conditioning at the end. From the photos, you can tell when a skater “burns out.” Typically when this happens, the player reverts to “survival mode” as I like to call it. They are doing whatever they can to finish the drill at all costs. Technique tends to go out the door and the mindset is just to finish.
As I filmed this skater, I had talked to him after about the importance in trying to keep your technique sound. Easier said than done, but we always want to try to build good habits, especially when we are tired. This is why it is important to be able to have “quality repetition.” Especially when doing conditioning, you’re not worried about the puck, you’re not worried about making a play, you are just trying to go from point A to B.
I would suggest as youth coaches we should really stress habits during conditioning. Becoming stronger in that skating position is the key. You may have heard how exhausting Bruce Boudreau’s notorious conditioning test is. The main thing I have noticed is that every good skater, with good technique is able to pass. They tend not to break down as the drill gets longer and harder. They are able to keep consistent technique throughout. That is the key. Once good habits are formed and repeated, they make skating much easier, even as they fatigue.
Andy Ness is the head skating and skill coach for the Minnesota Wild. He has also been an assistant skating instructor for the New Jersey Devils, the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.