ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Former University of Minnesota Golden Gopher and Minnesota Ms. Hockey winner Erica McKenzie stopped the girls in the middle of a dryland hockey drill to provide a little tip when passing the golf ball with a hockey stick.
“Soft hands,” McKenzie said. “You’ve got to be soft with it.”
That was just one of the tips she offered a group of 10U girls hockey players as she led the dryland drills. They rotated between through five different stations on the main concourse level of the Xcel Energy Center to work on things like stick handling, passing and ladder drills.
It was all part of the second annual Girls Hockey Weekend Dec. 16-17 presented by the Minnesota Wild, Schwan’s Home Service Inc., Minnesota Hockey, USA Hockey, the WCHA and the Minnesota Whitecaps.
About 300 girls in 8U, 10U and 12U programs participated in the on-ice clinic, dryland training and a pizza party afterward.
“I think they enjoy having the older girls out there that have played before and see that they’ve played and had success and played at a high level,” said Brian Lawler, coach of the 10U Chaska/Chanhassen girls team.
To kick-off the weekend festivities, former Gopher and U.S. Olympian Krissy Wendell practiced with the Minnesota Wild on Friday. Wendell and her three daughters also gave the traditional “Let’s Play Hockey!” announcement before the Wild game against Edmonton on Saturday.
Plenty of weekend activities and game elements were a tribute to girls and women’s hockey. Former Gopher Rachel Ramsey contributed water to the ice prior to the game as part of this year’s This Is Our Ice campaign for the Wild. Before the starting lineups were announced, a girls starting lineup skated onto the ice.
McKenzie, a senior manager for customer service and retention for the Minnesota Wild, used to practice with a tennis ball outside to help improve her hockey skills, “because that thing bounced everywhere; it was so hard to keep flat,” she said.
They used golf balls for the dryland drills for a reason — they’re not easy to stick handle. Then it’s so much easier to control a puck on the ice.
“I think the biggest thing is being able to bring these drills back and do them at their house,” McKenzie said. “I mean, that’s when people really make strides and get better, is when they commit to doing these activities on their own.”
Maybe it’s in the garage, stick handling or doing a figure 8 move. Or on the driveway, trying to keep the tennis ball from going into the street by using soft hands.
And all these dryland drills are things the girls can do on their own for free in order to get better and improve their games.
“Well, you can’t always have ice, right? Ice is expensive,” McKenzie said.
Dryland is something coaches can get behind, too.
“I like having this [dryland] because they see what they should be doing, even the ones that aren’t doing it,” Lawler said.
Lawler had eight of his players at the event for a first-time experience. For his team, they schedule separate times outside of practice to work on dryland skills.
“It works together, the skating and the stick handling,” Lawler said. “That stuff is harder to work on on the ice a lot of times than it is on dry land.”
Addy McLay, 9, of Hastings, and Jemma McAlexander, 9, of Minnetonka, were both excited to get out onto the same sheet of ice where they watch their favorite Wild players skate. First though, they participated in the dryland training.
McLay, who’s played hockey since she was 3 years old, liked the ladder drill the best, a skill to work on agility and balance. McLay also knows the importance of the dryland drills.
“I think it helps because if you’re not good at stick handling, you can always practice more at home,” McLay said.
McAlexander really enjoyed the passing drill in a circle, the one McKenzie led. McAlexander said she liked passing to her friend, doing a backhand and then following her pass. She also learned a new drill to add to her bag of tricks for practicing: The backhand toedrag, which was fun, she said. McAlexander also knows the benefits of stick handling and shooting well once players hit the ice.
She was also pretty excited to skate in the big arena and excited about the event in general.
“Oh, this is a great advantage for me,” McAlexander said.
Once the 10U girls finished their dryland drills Saturday evening and before they went on their way to the on-ice activities, McKenzie asked them what they had learned that day. They worked on agility drills, stick handling, quick feet and soft hands.
“All these things help you become better hockey players,” McKenzie said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.