In his second NHL season last year, as a 20-year-old, Connor McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy (league’s highest scorer with totals of 30-70--100), the Hart Memorial Trophy (league MVP) and the Ted Lindsay Memorial Trophy (league’s most outstanding player, selected by the NHL Players).
Is this success due to competitiveness, vision, anticipation, confidence, deception, creativity, stick skills, skating speed – or a once-in-a-lifetime combination of ALL of these qualities? Gretzky, Orr, Lemieux, Crosby on speed skates!
One debate that was put to rest at the NHL All-Star Skills Competition: McDavid is the fastest skater. For opponents who have been on the ice against him in games, it was never a question. Two months ago, a highlight play of the week showed him pick up the puck behind his goal line, skate straight down the boards without one fake, speed past all five defenders, cut in on the D and throw it in the net. No deception the entire play until he got to the goalie – just raw speed.
The Skills Competition race is one lap at speeds that approach the upper limit for elite skaters. Why is physics a limiting factor? Two answers: 1) At speeds (28-30 miles per hour) reached by these players, the super-high cornering forces (more than 450 pounds) require so much lean that the skate boot comes very close to the ice. This is like the lean of a motorcycle in a high speed race around corners. And 2) bending and extending one knee at a time as you cross over becomes extremely difficult with cornering forces this great.
Falling on the corners is a distinct possibility for even the best skaters in the world, so most competitors coast briefly on two skates, as seen on video. McDavid keeps his feet moving and tries to accelerate. His margin of victory was only one- or two-tenths of a second, and you might picture the tenths flying by on a digital stopwatch to appreciate how close the next competitors are.
Keep in mind he won the race two years in a row, and this shows a consistency that makes him a model for young players to study. 1) What does he do to attain super-fast top speeds? 2) Why is he unusually consistent, with balance and stability around the corners at high speed? 3) How can every skater improve acceleration at the start of the race and out of each corner?
High speeds can only be maintained with WIDE STRIDES. Watch McDavid on the straight-away and picture every speed skater. The same physics apply to a skater as to sailboats that go faster than the wind if they are traveling cross wind. The sail must be at an angle to the wind, just as the skate blade is NOT perpendicular to the direction of your leg force.
To improve knee bend on one leg to overcome high cornering forces? Commit to an intelligent program of leg strength off-ice. Acceleration? Add strength training and jumps off-ice, much of it one-legged and mostly in a skating range of motion. That means the hips abduct (push to the side), then rotate into extension (push straight back). More on this in future discussions.
Some models don’t encourage speed training and skating strength at every age, starting very young. Following that advice would be negligent if your child might ever want to be the fastest skater possible for his/her genetic potential. Along with other gross motor skills that promote athleticism, make up fun exercises that look and feel like skating, and sprint, sprint, sprint.
Study Connor McDavid’s skating at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvFBG-8intk.
Photo: Mike Thill