Improving skating skills will sharpen your overall game, prevent injuries, and makes hockey more fun, said Rob Little, who has coached and developed adult league players for almost three decades.
“Improving skating skills should be a priority for several reasons,” said Little, operator of Rob Little Hockey in Bloomington, Minnesota. “The better you skate, the more likely you are to avoid injury. Many of the injuries I see in adult hockey result from a player not having the skills needed to navigate in confined spaces or moving in towards the boards. If you skate better, it’s easier to protect yourself and others from injury.”
Little’s love for hockey blossomed in 1971 when he played for a coach who had recently moved to Edina, Minnesota — legendary USA Hockey instructor Bob O’Connor. Today, many of Little’s personal coaching techniques come from “Coach O’C.”
“Each of us who play hockey wants to have some success on the ice and have the most fun we can,” Little said. “The better you skate, the more fun you will have.”
Let’s begin with the basics.
The best skaters work to develop excellent balance, power and edge control. This is a simple exercise, but one that leans heavily on form and posture.
1. Start with your knees bent, with two hands on the stick. You’ll know you’re bent far enough when you can’t see your toes.
2. Position your feet shoulder-width apart, and lean on your inside edges.
3. Lean slightly forward through the chest, and keep your butt low.
4. Jump as high as you can from the ready position, and land in the ready position again.
If you aren’t able to jump very high, that could indicate that you don’t have enough knee bend, which generates power. If you fall on the landing, your upper body is too far forward.
Once you’ve mastered the ready position, advance to the below.
1. Coast in ready position and jump over both blue lines and the red line at center ice.
2. Repeat as needed to increase your power to elevate and balance on landings.
While moving, work on lengthening and strengthening your stride.
“A correct skating stride requires both a push and pull,” Little said. “The push is the long, powerful stride, and the recovery is the pull. Skaters are striving for both a powerful push and a quick recovery.
“The goal is to perform as many quality strides as quickly as possible. Maintaining a full stride and complete recovery, in rhythm, is critical to skating at a fast pace.”
There are three primary components.
1. Deep knee bend: The lower you are, the longer your stride can be — and the more power your stride will generate. Don’t confuse bending at the waist and bending at the knees.
2. Weight shift: The majority of your weight should be on your striding foot, pushing into the ice at a 45-degree angle that forces your blade into the ice. This resistance is where you’ll get your power.
3. Stride foot recovery: After each completed stride, make sure you get your stride foot back under you as quickly as possible. This will allow you to be ready to make your next stride with the opposite foot forward.
“When skating, we want to eliminate side-to-side arm swing, which keeps the lower and upper body from working together,” Little said. “When striding forward, your hands, arms and stick should be moved out in front of your gliding leg. Doing so enables you to increase both balance and power.”
Little’s favorite drill for helping adult players harness the skating power generated from the waist down is the horse-and-buggy drill — an exercise that allows you to isolate which facets of your game (balance, stride, and/or recovery) need improvement.
1. Pair up with someone of a similar size and weight.
2. Decide who is the horse and who is the buggy. (Don’t worry, you’ll switch later.)
3. The buggy should kneel behind the horse and hold the end of their sticks.
4. The horse positions itself in front of the buggy, holding the other end of the sticks (one on each side of their body.)
5. Once in position, the horse should pull the buggy down the ice, making sure to maintain proper skating posture, take long strides, and ensure a full recovery.
Gaining an Edge
After practicing and getting stronger in ready position skills, Little recommends moving on to a series of edge control drills. During these drills, work to efficiently use both your inside and outside edges while maintaining a good body position.
Inside Edge Drills
1. Glide counter-clockwise on your right foot around a circle.
2. Take several strides to build momentum, then balance all the way around the circle on your right inside edge, with your stick on the ice in front of your gliding leg. Remember the importance of keeping your gliding knee in a deep bend.
3. Repeat the drill, but glide clockwise on your left skate.
Outside Edge Drills
Ready to take training to the next level? Try this same drill on your outside edges. Remember to keep your stick on the ice directly in front of your gliding foot.
1. Glide clockwise on your right skate. To maintain your balance during the glide, keep your gliding foot under your hip and knee.
2. Repeat the drill, but glide counter-clockwise on your left skate.
Five-Cone, Inside-Edge Drill
1. Place five cones three to four feet apart in a straight line.
2. Take a few strides to gain speed, then perform a right-foot, inside-edge glide outside the first cone, a left-foot, outside-edge glide at the second cone. Remember to maintain a deep knee bend throughout the drill, transferring your weight from one bent knee to the other at each cone.
3. Alternate at each cone, circling to repeat as often as needed.
“The first thing to go outside the cone should be the stick,” Little said. “The stick is like your steering wheel; wherever your stick goes, your body will follow.”
Above all, it’s important to remember that skating is a skill that you never master. What’s important is to simply keep at it, making an effort to get better every time you’re on the ice.
“NHL players work with their skating coaches every offseason,” he said. “If you’re not in my area, ask around to find instructors who are experts at seeing what you need to improve on, as well as those who will provide you with personalized feedback and drills to help you succeed by taking your skills and enjoyment of the game to the next level.”