The game has never been faster, and nothing drives the evolution so comprehensively as skating.
Where was “mohawk” skating before Sidney Crosby’s skills went viral, or when Kirill Kaprizov began inspiring young Minnesotans to test the limits of their edges?
Going back even further, Gordie Howe would boast that several of the forwards on some of his Stanley Cup-winning teams in the early 1950s could not skate backward.
It’s fundamental to hockey, but just how important is skating in relation to today’s game?
“Becoming the best skater you can become requires you to work on it until the day you are done playing,” says Rochester native Guy Gosselin, a two-time U.S. Olympian, former pro, UMD Bulldogs captain, and current USA Hockey Manager of Player Development. “NHL-caliber players are still working to refine their skating to become the most efficient they can be. It takes years and years, and you need to find out what works for you.
“That means getting the most out of your stride and being confident with your movements. Refinement means everything working together, all the moving parts working in conjunction on what you want to do out on the ice.”
Acceleration, deceleration, and lateral movement are all important ingredients in developing skaters, and ways of teaching it are changing within the framework of USA Hockey. Gosselin says the old days of weight training with bench and squats have evolved dramatically, with an emphasis on a myriad of training related to core strength. That’s made for better skaters as the years go on, as well as the replacement of the old and singular way of teaching.
Instruction has become individualized, and acceptance of different skating styles has been embraced. The old way of teaching a stride, “like a piston at a 45-degree angle,” Gosselin says, had been diversified.
Not all players are built the same, and skating styles amongst the world’s best look very different from one another. Cale Makar skates differently from Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, yet they are all at the pinnacle of the game.
“There are no exacts; there are so many ways to teach it,” Gosselin says. “Back in the day, we were striving for different things, but now there are so many different ways to teach it and deliver it that it’s almost like the game is going to be the teacher for the players. Everything changes.”
Physical literacy and learning by failing are two factors Gosselin stresses are important in development, with an onus on the player to practice the craft in a way to discover what works for them. How can “Player A” get the most efficient stride with how they are made and how their body moves? That comes through repetition and a focus on what he or she is trying to build upon.
How is it changing the game, this new increased attention on edgework?
“A big part is how we deliver it,” Gosselin says of the training, pointing to games like box tag played at the 8U/Mites level. “That involves jumping over obstacles, it requires balance, changing direction or using deception. That’s learning by doing.
“We can implement and teach these skills through a variety of means, such as drills or small-area games. We can play games the kids are going to be engaged in and find success that way.”
The process of failing to get better — how do you best teach that?
“It’s important (for players to understand) that you won’t get lambasted for making a mistake,” Gosselin says. “You have to try new things out there. It’s more of a facilitation of guiding the player to where they want to be versus telling them. We want to turn players on and engage in ways to understand that it’s OK to fail, and that’s part of the process.
“Once they begin to understand that it’s OK to make a mistake and learn from it, their confidence grows. That’s half the battle.”
The game is faster, but is full-tilt speed the most important factor?
“If you look at the analytics at the highest levels of hockey, there is a very small percentage of time when you reach full speed,” Gosselin says. “It’s a little bit of everything. Acceleration, deceleration, lateral movement, collision avoidance — and many other parts of it.
“Also, the game has become one of interchangeable parts,” he added. “You may line up as a forward, but it’s much more fluid than it has ever been. Maybe 30 or 40 years ago, there were labels like a ‘defensive defenseman’, or whatever. Today, there just aren’t any deficiencies, everyone has a super high skill set.”
“Every athlete is an experiment in one, and we need to be patient in our development,” Gosselin says. “It doesn’t happen overnight — it’s a long, long road, and there is a balance to everything.”