When looking at what makes a good skater, sometimes attributes we see may be subjective. After all, if we sink a putt or make a basket, we get the immediate feedback of doing something correctly. How do you tell a good skater from a weak skater? We can do simple timing speed tests, but that just scratches the surface on how good a skater actually is. Is the skater efficient? Does the skater corner with speed? Is the skater agile? Does the skater have good balance and is strong on their skates?
When evaluating any skating skill, whether it be forward crossovers, quick starts or backwards skating, there will always be four main key components to every skill. For each skating skill to be proficient, all of these skills must be present and executed properly, so let’s look at all four.
The first component in skating is having a proper knee bend. Why is knee bend so important? First, all of our power is generated from having our knees bent. When your knees are in the proper position, each push should be powerful and explosive. Second, when the knees are bent, every push is going to reach full extension. Power and extension are obviously very important to gain speed as well as becoming a good skater.
It’s not just enough to bend at the knees. The hips and glutes must also come down along with the knee bend. Along with proper knee bend, the skater must also have a forward flex to the ankle. This will give the skater proper forward position and aid the skater in giving a “downhill feel” to their skating.
When the skater is in the proper position, they should feel a good burn in their legs. This is the time when it is very easy for a skater to stand up. The skater must stay down and understand that they are building functional strength in their skating. As you look at the pictures above, notice that each skater has their knees bent, hips lowered and ankles flexed forward.
The next component is core control. Being able to control your core helps position your upper body as well as helping maintain proper balance. So many balance issues with skaters on the ice are a result of a weak core. Being able to control your movements, especially at high speeds, is the result of having exceptional core strength.
The skater must also have a good body lean. By leaning properly, a skater is shrinking the angle from his/her body to the ice that in turn will create more speed. Having a good body lean should not be confused with bending at the waist or back. In order for a skater to have a good body lean, he/she must have a strong outside edge. In order for a skater to build speed out of a corner, he/she must have a good body lean. It all goes hand in hand.
The last component would be blade positioning. What part of the blade the skater is on is the key to every different skating skill. A skater will be on a different part of the blade while moving forward as opposed to moving backward. If you can picture a boat and how the motor is in the back propelling the boat forward, it is much like skating. While executing a forward swizzle, the push will come from the middle back portion of the blade. While doing a backward swizzle, the push will come from the middle front. Each skill will have different blade positions as well as being on different edges. It is just a matter of understanding what part of the blade a skater needs to be on during each skating skill.
It is important to remember and look for these four skating attributes in each player. Some components will be stronger than others depending on the individual. As you can see in the photos, good skating can be seen from a good lean doing a power turn, to good knee bend during a stride, to Jake Gardiner doing a forward to backward transition. The key, as always, is improvement and following these tips should help accomplish that. 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.