Skating Profiles

I’ve always been a fan of skating technique, or what’s commonly known in the hockey world as « powerskating ». In today’s youth hockey development- from MAGH through Pee-Wee, there is a big emphasis placed on skating and that’s because it’s really the foundation of our sport. A good skater moves around with ease and can press an opponent or be first to the puck. In my personal case, I was always considered a good skater with an advanced glide profile, however I didn’t identify as such. I saw myself as a skater who was always leaning too far forward, which is often characterized by the explosive profile and I had a hard time imagining how other players could skate more upright or conversely in a deeper stance.

Fast forward and for the past 15 years I have been coaching at the elite youth levels, either with teams, at hockey schools or giving private lessons. I find that often in today’s training model we’ll see coaches asking their players to perform a “one type fits all” skating technique, which isn’t necessarily suited to that individual’s biomechanics. For this reason, I wanted to seriously evaluate the possibility that there are different skating profiles across players. So, I dove into a study on skating styles by filming and carefully observing many of my player’s skating tendencies, in order to define their different preferences. I looked at the way they positioned themselves and how they pushed off on from their edges. I made sure to add slight tweaks to specific exercises so I could get feedback on what they were experiencing, their level of comfort and their confidence on being able to master a certain movement. Following this I began analyzing game footage of the players and many professionals that I train. I was specifically looking at their body positioning tendencies, their stride patterns, their stances, but also the locomotion of their arms.

Without delving into my specific evaluation techniques and data compilation, below is a chart that I developed for 9 different skating profiles, identified during my study. The evaluation of skating profiles consisted of players ranging from no younger than 14 years old to seasoned professionals. Over the next few months I will be picking skating profiles from this chart and using short video clips of players to highlight the differences amongst them.

Skating Profile
Skating Profile

For today’s article I have selected Nathan Gerbe and Clayton Keller. Gerbe falls under the “Quick Acceleration” profile, while Keller fits the “Explosive” skating profile.

Nathan Gerbe Quick Acceleration

Players with the « Quick Acceleration » skating profile are generally very quick on both their starts and stops over short distances. Their hips open easily, and they can lean into the front part of their edges, which upon starts, gives them good power and nice contact with the ice. These are players who often tire quickly, as they exert a lot of energy.

With players who fall into the quick acceleration category we will often see them with an exaggerated forward lean as they take off. Their tendency towards a forward lean creates a tilted starting position but it helps to facilitate powerful, fast first strides. After take-off, we would notice a very short but deep skate rut down on the ice due to the nature of their start. A player like Nathan Gerbe is low to the ice. Naturally, he is somebody who would most likely walk with his weight on his heels and the same would be true when he is on skates too. When it comes to identifying a skating profile like Nathan Gerbe’s, it is quite easily identifiable.

Players with this skating style have very quick bursts while their stride gait is often wide. They tend to skate with both hands on the stick. This type of profile will see almost no glide in between strides. In most cases, this type of skater likes a deep concavity for their skate sharpening. They like feeling the responsiveness from their sharp edges and the firm contact points with the ice. They are very good in “Stop & Start” scenarios.

With skating profiles like Nathan Gerbe’s, the skater is comfortable with keeping both hands on the stick, but they also exhibit decent use of their arms. The locomotion of their arms is centered around the waistline. You won’t see them reaching far and high out front.

Clayton Keller Explosive

Players with the « Explosive » skating profile are also generally very quick on both their starts and stops over short distances. Their hips open easily, and they can lean into that front part of their edges, which upon starts, gives them good power and nice contact with the ice. One of the biggest differences is noticed when the player is performing crossovers. They give the impression that they are jumping while crossing over to gain speed (see video). The crossovers are very short and succinct.

What allows us to differentiate the skating profile of those I call « Explosive » is that that they stand up quickly once in the glide phase. They aren’t comfortable performing all movements when in a low skating position, in other words- close to the ice.

These types of skaters have difficulty doing many laps of the ice while remaining efficient in their strides. They have wide stances and never use their outside edges when skating, which severely limits their glide potential. Their weight remains centered down the middle of their body. This means they don’t efficiently transfer weight from left to right when skating. When it comes to their arms, the locomotion is short, and the axis is horizontal. Their stride rate is so short and frequent that their arms move quickly but it leads to a lack of efficiency.

I should note that my skating profiles are not set in stone- but my objective is that they serve to facilitate an identification of common tendencies in certain skating styles. At the speed the game is played today- we should always be seeking to optimize our skating and if we can address the nuances in each player’s specific profiles, we’re giving ourselves a huge advantage on the ice- both while training and in game situations.

Balancing Act

Stride after stride, whether we’re conscious of it or not, we’re always making sure that our skates come back to the starting position under our body. Depending on the type of skater we are and the corresponding cadence, we should remember that, while actively skating we are only on 1 leg at a time. This means that, albeit temporarily, all our body weight is being carried on one leg…repeatedly going from left to right. What I am saying is not high science, but it’s important to note that regardless of whether we are carrying the puck or not, we are relying on balancing our whole body on 1/8th” of steel! So, let’s look into becoming as effective as we can on such a small surface area.

PROPULSION

Our acceleration from a static position can be improved by self-evaluating each step’s mechanics during take-off. It’s necessary to focus directly on the quality of the support leg’s blade contact with the ice (in front third of blade) and the skater’s forward lean.

In this video: The HockeyShot Speed Deke (3 x 16”) is used in low mode. The placement is subject to player’s regular stride range. While doing this drill, remember:

  • Release weight from the front third of the blade on your dynamic push (lift your toes in your skates) Example: Lifting foot from break pedal in a car!
  • To identify proper balance, you’ll need to use your legs to help you fully complete your weight shift and to generate power. 30% of your speed and power comes from using your arms efficiently.
  • The extension of your stride should be on your heel line if compared with your other skate. Too many players finish with their toes behind their heel line. You have to generate speed with your natural body weight while keeping a good balance which is tightly related to your stride.


Tip:Exaggerate each leap and “stick” your landing. As your balance improves, add a partner who will give you a slight shove at the moment you land your jumps. This will increase the degree of difficulty and challenge you to work on your optimal blade contact with the ice.

It Starts At The Ice

When we watch a player’s skating style, the main things most observers will often notice are aspects of the skater’s stride, their level of explosiveness and their glide-ability (err’ being smooth!). Although it would be easy to lump all body sizes into their historical stereotypes, it just wouldn’t represent the reality of what it means to skate well or efficiently. A good skater is a site to behold, and a poor skater is as crunchy on the eyes…as they sound! With that said, there is always room to improve your skating. Let’s start at the ice.

DYNAMIC EDGES

Edge work is crucial for all areas of skating- but especially for creating separation in small area play. In this video: The HockeyShot Speed Deke Pro (36”) are used as short-distance markers/hurdles to encourage the players to focus on 3 key points:

  • Mastery of both inside and outside edges on small radius turns
  • 3 first strides coming out of dynamic edges
  • Using natural body weight to generate speed out of turn

Tip: Perform this sequence at high speed without a puck. As you gain confidence and real power from your edges, you may bring in a partner to work on passes at different points in the drill.

Pavel Barber’s Top 10 Training Tips

  1. Listen: It may sound simple, but those who listen and pay attention to the small details will get better faster. When a coach is trying to help you, they can only do that if you’re listening to them. 
  2. Focus: Be 100% in the present moment. This is a very difficult mental practice, but it is one of the greatest skill advantages you can give yourself. If you’re on the ice for an hour, don’t allow your mind to wander off and think about homework or Fortnite or anything else. Be in the moment and get a full hour of training in. Not 45 minutes. Not 30 minutes. But 60 minutes of focussed practice. 
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  4. Get out of your comfort zone:
    The only way to get better is to take our current abilities and push past them. It’s very easy to get caught staying in the comfort zone because it’s exactly that, comfortable! But comfort is the enemy when it comes to development. Identify your current level, and push just to the edge of what you can already do. We don’t want to go too fast because we need to be able to process the information in order to get feedback from our failures and successes.  
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  6. Redefine failure: Failure is an awful word. In school, an F means we flunked, and we need to go to summer school. However, there is positive failure, and negative failure. Positive failure is failure that we can learn from and build on. Where we listen, work hard, and focus deeply, and make a mistake, identify the area we made the mistake, and address it. Then there is negative failure where we are either not listening or not focussed, and we make a mistake. The issue here is we don’t get much if any feedback if the focus and effort isn’t there.  A good way to look at positive failure to redefine it in a way that contributes to development is: I didn’t fail 9 times out of 10, I found 9 ways that didn’t work.  
  7. Use slow motion video capture: I can’t overstate how important slow motion video capture is. I would have killed to have this technology on my phone as a kid. Slow motion picks up on things that we often overlook when we look at video in real time. It is a great tool to offer awareness in areas where we are often moving very quickly. Especially in skills where we are working on a very small detail in a skill set we’re trying to attain. 
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  9. Put in the work off the ice: These hours add up. And you don’t need much. Whether it’s a carpet floor and a golf ball, a backyard stickhandling zone, a driveway, and outdoor rink or a parking lot… you can get a lot done off the ice to supplement your on-ice skills. I didn’t have much money growing up, and the only way for me to get my hours of deep focussed practice in was to stickhandle at home, and stickhandle at an outdoor rink near my house. In your shoes is great, but adding rollerblades is a great way to take your skills and challenge them at speed and with edge work.  
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  11. Read: There are so many books to compliment your development and help make you aware of all the competitive advantages you can use to gain skill faster. You’ll notice most of my advice above is about mental skill rather than physical. This is because the quality of the physical skill you perform will be influenced by the mindset you have going into that training session. A few great reads are: “The Talent Code”, “Mind Gym”, “The Power of Now”, “The Cellestine Prophecy” and “The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari.”  
  12. Have fun: This point is painfully overlooked. When we’re training there is a lot of pressure. There’s a lot of expectations. When it comes down to it, we want to be the best we can be and do the best with what we have. In order to put in the ungodly amount of deep, focussed hours needed to be the best we can be, we have to fall in love with the game. Over and over. We need to have a positive relationship with training. It needs to be fun. We all love fun. When we have free time, we seek fun activities to do. When we enjoy it, it’s easier to stay in the present moment for longer, and we will undoubtedly train more if we love doing it.  
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  14. Focus on yourself: It’s easy to get distracted by what others are doing, especially when they are better than us. Sometimes that leads to us feeling insecure, and that’s ok. We all learn at different paces, and we need to understand that the only way to get better at the fastest rate possible is to focus on ourselves. We are constantly in competition with our former selves. That means we aren’t looking at how fast someone beside us in line is going through a drill and trying to go as fast as them even if it means disregarding the skill we are working on. What you’ll find is that when learning a new skill, going slower will actually get you to learn the skill faster. Focus on your own development. Use every tool at your disposal, and do your very best with what you have.   
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  16. Use a notebook: Those with more awareness will build skill at a faster rate. We all know those moments where we’ve been working so hard on a skill, and we make one small tweak and it finally clicks. I would get so excited as a kid when these moments happened that I would need to write down the details in a notebook. This way I would never forget that small point which made me successful with that skill when I struggled next. To get truly great at something you have to immerse yourself in the trial and error process. The failures and the disappointment will actually be the glue that will allow these points to stick so you won’t forget. Capture these moments, enjoy them, and continue to build.