As teams are at about the midway point of the season habits become so critical. How can we get skaters to become better and continuing to improve? When I work with the pros in the summer there is so much attention to detail while working on skating. If younger skaters were able to learn and understand this concept, they would make great strides throughout the year. Granted, we are working on skating and skating specific drills in the summer, but the general idea always applies. Practice makes permanent, practice how you play, and make sure you focus on details each and every practice.
In all reality there are thousands of skaters beyond college that play at the next level (minor and European leagues included). There are so many pro leagues and there are so many good players. What are some of the traits that make the top players the top players? First, work ethic is a foregone conclusion. Everybody works hard. When doing the skating sessions in New York and Minnesota for the summer development camp everyone has an incredible work ethic. There are over 50 draft picks and free agents that attend these camps each summer and every NHL team has one. When players show up, they tend to find out quickly that there are tons of guys in their very same position. Everyone wants to get to the highest level. The difference when we look at skating is the player’s ability to have what I like to call “uberfocus”. The guys that understand and process what is being taught and are able to put it into action. It goes from their brain to their feet and they are able to execute the skating skill fluidly.
When looking at youth levels there can tend to be a “good enough” aspect to skating skills. Drills may be done, but are they done well? Are drills used as fillers or with a purpose? The biggest key when looking at drills is that there is an enormous difference between doing a skill and doing a skill well. Players can do skating skills, but can they focus on the details of every skill to make improvements? Details are what separates the great skaters from the good skaters. It is what allows skaters to make improvements as well as form good habits.
While working with the top-level skaters during the summer an hour is 60 minutes of WORK. There is no wasted time. Every minute counts, and it is how much energy and effort that is put into the specific time frame that is the key. It really comes down to what results come out of each and every session, 60- or 90-minute sessions are really just an arbitrary number. A wasted session is a wasted session regardless of time. When working with NHL skaters their time is at a premium so we better get the results we want out of the session.
Finally, results are results. Things today have definitely changed. Sometimes we feel as if we need to “wow” kids with drills when really sometimes good old “keeping it simple” drills are the key. I do like being creative, always trying to come up with new drills and different ways to teach the same skill. It is what keeps things fresh for coach and skater alike. With that said, always coming back to the basics seem to work the best. While recently rehabbing a number of skaters it always seems to come back to the fundamentals. Can you execute the fundamentals? That is the key to really any sport. One thing I noticed about the higher-level skaters is that their fundamentals are so much more consistent. For example, I was giving rims to Jared Spurgeon on the blue line for him to catch and shoot quickly. The key was that I was giving him bad passes; bouncing pucks, pucks in skates, pucks on the backhand. The thing was that it didn’t matter. The result was always a quality shot on net. If I did this same drill with a good youth player we would be lucky to get quality shots off on 50% of the pucks. We always stress quality repetition because that is where the improvement happens. Keep working and good luck
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.