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The Secret to Skill Development

By Touchpoint Media, 10/28/14, 11:00AM CDT

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Want to score more goals? Work on your skating. Want to play better defensively? Work on skating. Want to fight through more checks and be stronger on the puck? Skate, skate, skate.

The one skill that lays the foundation for a better hockey player is skating. Passing, shooting and stickhandling are all key skills – and ones that should be continually worked on – but without strong skating, your other skills will never reach their full potential.

In today’s game, skating has never been more important. In college hockey, we see the enigmatic skill set of Gophers All-American defenseman Mike Reilly (Chaska Chanhassen Hockey Association) shine because he’s such a high-end skater. We see Dom Toninato’s (Duluth Amateur Hockey Association) world-class speed allow him to score goals for Minnesota-Duluth.

“Skating is so important that all NHL teams have a skating coach,” said Christian Koelling, Minnesota Hockey District Coach-in-Chief. “Skating is at the very core of skill development in hockey. Skating ability determines the ability threshold for puck handling, passing, body contact and shooting. It is important that young players focus on learning the proper skating fundamentals, and that skating is continually worked on as a player progresses.”

A Point of Emphasis

Dartmouth sophomore forward Grant Opperman (Wayzata Youth Hockey Association) participated in this summer’s Minnesota Wild Development Camp, where prospects trained and gathered development tips from the Wild coaching staff, including skating consultant Barry Karn.

“The things I’ll take away the most from here is some of the skating drills and techniques,” Opperman said of the Wild Development Camp experience. “Just remembering those, practicing those and incorporating those into everyday routines when I get on the ice.

“We’re doing things out there with Barry where I’ll go through a drill and I can’t even do it.”

That’s not a knock on Opperman. It’s a testament to how important skating is to a hockey player’s skill set, even at the elite levels of the game.

“There’s always an emphasis on skating,” says Opperman. “A lot of the younger kids think that all your moves are in your hands and in your wrists, but a lot of the things you need to do is incorporate your skating. You can make a guy look pretty bad just with your feet. Skating is important and it has definitely been emphasized here.”

Goalies Need to Skate, Too

It’s no secret that goalies need to be the best skaters on the team, explained Steve Carroll, USA Hockey’s Minnesota District Goalie Coach-in-Chief.

“If they are not able to skate very well, goalies will have a hard time getting their body in the proper position to stop the puck,” Carroll said.

For youth hockey coaches, goalie development needs to be a priority instead of an afterthought.

Carroll encourages head coaches to assign someone on their staff to be their team’s goalie coach. It can be a former goalie, but it’s not a requirement.

The head coach needs to schedule 15-20 minutes of each practice for goalie-specific skating and movement drills. It’s important that head coaches write this down as part of their practice plan, otherwise they tend to forget about it. At that point, “goalie development” typically becomes a shootout.

The goalie coach should reinforce the proper skating and movement techniques. It’s about repetition and building confidence. Move with power, precision and a sense of urgency.

Goalie drills should include forwards and backwards skating using the C-cut technique (heels to go forward, toes to go backwards). They should also work on their lateral movement skills, including shuffles (short distances), T-pushes (longer distances) and butterfly slides with full recovery to the skates. The drills can be done in the crease area or anywhere on the ice.

Goalies should work hard at improving their skating skills during every practice. Skating matters. Make it matter for the goalies on your team this year, too.

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