Friday, April 6, 2012

Skating: The Often Overlooked, Most Important Part of the Game

Unlike any other sport, in hockey you must master the art of skating before becoming an elite player. A good stride can make the difference between an NHL'er and someone who just fell short. Blaine native Brandon Bochenski was a college hockey superstar. Many argued in his high school and college playing days that his skating would keep him from advancing. While he has played in 156 NHL games and scored 68 points, he has bounced around between 6 NHL teams int he 4 years he played in the NHL, now playing in the KHL. That being said, Bochenski is a goal scorer, but his skating isn't great, which could be why he wasn't an elite NHL'er as he was as a college player at UND.
      When I was a kid, my parents put me in skating schools in squirts that I couldn't stand going to. A camp where you skate 2-3 hours a week with no pucks, where's the fun in that? But I have to admit, it greatly improved my game learning how to properly take a stride, using my legs to push out to the side and back, instead of practically running on skates. I'd be the first to admit I was never much of a goal scorer past bantams, but I was always a great skater, and one of the faster players on the ice. My role was to be a grinder, but with speed would occasionally create some scoring opportunities. I'm not saying a player shouldn't work on other parts of the game because players should absolutely work on their shots, hands, checking, passing, etc. However, I think to form a great player, they must be taught as early as possible how to skate correctly, before they form a habit of skating the way they started to.
     With a proper stride, players will be faster, more agile, more adept to receiving a check as opposed to skating upright, and will get more out out of their entire game. Also one of the most important things I believe, is for defenseman to be the best skaters on the team. I have heard the expression "Your goalie should be the best skater on the team," but in all reality, I truly think defenceman need to be graceful skaters in order to succeed. Patrick Daly, former Benilde St. Margarets defenceman and now Wisconsin Badger, was not a high scoring defenceman, but he was a phenomenal skater and puck mover which made him an elite player. Elite forwards also need to be great skaters, but can get away with a rough stride if they are goal scorers (to a certain point, like Bochenski). If a defenceman is slow-footed and not a great skater, they can easily be beaten off the rush by a forward who is a good skater.
    When kids start out skating, teach them proper strides, skating backwards, how to use their inside/outside edges, proper stops and starts, power turns, crossovers (crucial especially for defenceman),  and transitioning (by squirts). This won't necessarily turn your child into a hockey prodigy, but it can definitely help them in their over all game and become a better player.

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