So the off-season is here, now what? We know we need to skate and train but what should we do? What should focus on?
The first thing that we have to understand is that after a long season certain things start to happen in our skating. The most common technique flaws that start to show their head after a full season is lack of knee bend, choppy stride, and a skater being bent over at the waist. The majority of practices in the winter are designed to work power play, breakouts, forecheck, D-zone, etc. As the off-season approaches we must get back to working on our individual skills such as shooting, puck-handling, passing, and of course skating.
What should we do first? As summer approaches we will have a number of pro and college skaters that will be doing privates and small groups. With these groups we will always start with edges and balance. Challenging edge and balance drills are the key. Getting the skater to build a strong base and have solid edges into the ice is the overall goal. The same applies with balance. We need to get the skater down low and get in a position in which they will eventually become comfortable lower than 90 degrees. Most of this can be done slowly focusing on just the technique. These skaters will not have to play competitively for a long time so getting back to the fundamentals is crucial. This will take some time and repetition, but it is key to begin building a strong skating foundation again.
We will then progressively work all of the skating skills through at a very slow speed. The whole idea is based around technique. Throughout a one hour lesson, I will typically focus on three skills at a time and work ceaselessly on technique. The skater must make sure the pushes are in the right direction, the upper body is under control, the edges are solid into the ice, and most importantly the knee bend is low enough. Skating skills should be worked on progressively. What this means is that you would not teach a stride and then go to back crossovers immediately after. Picking and matching skills is always a good idea when starting to work technique. Continue doing this slow until the skater is really getting comfortable with his/her form and technique. Remember, working on a skill incorrectly fast is only reinforcing bad habits. I use the analogy of a golf drive. Anyone can go out and swing a golf club as hard as they can over and over but if their technique is horrible, nothing is going to change and then you are only reinforcing a horrible golf swing. Practicing only makes permanent so make sure you are doing the skills properly.
After I see that the skater’s technique is strong and efficientm we will then begin to start doing some overspeed. Overspeed has been a buzz word of late and is a fantastic tool if done properly. If you are doing “overspeed” you are skating out of your comfort zone. The idea is that eventually you will build a new comfort zone that is even faster and quicker. For example, if you are doing crossovers at full speed, you are trying to get your feet moving so fast that you may fall or lose the puck (if you are carrying one). The repetition of doing these skills will get you faster, but again, make sure technique stays sound at this speed.
Finally, we will do what is called over-load. Over-load is similar to technique work but the drills that are done are longer in duration with a few different skating skills implemented in one drill. With the older skaters we will add a weight vest (in the photo) to make sure the knees stay bent and focus on strengthening the skater’s legs. These drills typically last about 30 seconds; the skater is always striving to be at 90 degrees with their knee flex and exaggerating every push from their edge. At the end of the drill the skater will get about a 60-90 second rest depending on the number of skaters. This is how we alway finish our practice. We always save about 15-18 minutes at the end to do this, again a great way to work the skater at the end.
Now you can have an idea of what skaters can and should do to improve their skating in the summer. Now is the time to work and really focus on getting better. Remember, all people are created with an equal opportunity to become unequal. The hard work will pay off.
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.