There’s a trend in hockey that continues to gain momentum. Players of all ages and abilities, from beginners to professionals, are spending more time developing their skating skills and technique. In recent years the playing pace of an NHL game has increased exponentially. While this fact can be partially attributed to rule changes and tighter officiating, the reality is that the majority of players in the league are elite skaters capable of playing at incredible speeds. This wasn’t the case even ten years ago, when players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were just making their debut in the league. When you consider the three most recent winners of the Hart Memorial Trophy (Most Valuable Player – Taylor Hall, Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane) it’s their ability to skate and play at high speeds, both with and without the puck, that separate them from the competition. The same trend is certainly true of defenseman. The days of the ‘Stay at Home’ D-man are long gone, as NHL rearguards are the ones tasked with both containing the aforementioned speedsters, as well as getting that offensive speed generated on the breakout.
For youth players who aspire to play at the professional level some day, because of this fast growing trend, the importance of working on ones skating ability can’t be overstated. Having the proper skating foundation is absolutely critical to finding early and lasting success in the game. While this is obvious at the youngest age levels, when the most dominant player on the ice is the one who can out-skate the others to the puck, the game eventually becomes primarily about who is able to be the most deceptive at speed and while also being as strong on ones skates as possible. As players get older, naturally they grow and there becomes less space on the ice. With less space comes the importance of being able to quickly change directions, as well as have the ability to protect the puck. Without a proper understanding of how the edges of the blades work, and how best to utilize them in certain game situations, a player’s potential for success will be extremely limited in these categories.
An understanding of how the blades work and the four different actions (cutting, thrusting, gliding and shaving) a player can make with them is just the beginning of the process. Skating is a full body exercise that requires an immense amount of dexterity, power output and body control, which is why hockey players are some of the most well rounded athletes. Also realizing that skating is not a natural movement, but a learned technique that requires body awareness and muscle activation not used in most other sports played off the ice. This fact is why both figure skaters and speed skaters spend such an inordinate amount of time on their technical abilities. If hockey players spent even a fifth of the time that the other ice skating athletes do on mastering skating technique and honing their physical abilities as a result of that process, they’d find the rest of the game becomes that much easier as a result.
When we see a great skater, we often say, they “make it look easy” or “effortless”. Though this concept certainly could pertain to other sports, the essence of what makes skating unique – the ability to move without moving (gliding) – and mastering all the facets of this skill through proper technical acquisition has become paramount in the game of hockey today. At all levels, hockey has become focused on cultivating a game of skillful speed. Spending time to develop the most necessary ability will open the door for success; because if you can’t skate, you can’t play.
About Christian Grunnah:
A native of Chicago, Christian Grunnah culminated his amateur hockey career at the highly acclaimed college preparatory school Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota. Having learned to skate from his father, a three-time U.S. National Champion speed skater, Christian’s approach to hockey has always been unique to that of his peers. Since he was never the biggest player on the ice, he utilized his ability to skate quickly, effectively and efficiently to be a high impact player. Using what he has learned from in-game experience, Christian has applied these techniques—as well as techniques from figure skating, biomechanics and downhill ice cross—to all of his coaching and instructing. With a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from the Moscow Art Theatre in Russia, with a focus on ensemble, acrobatic and movement training techniques analogous to those used by the famous Red Army hockey program, Christian also brings a unique perspective on performance to his on-ice teachings. He has trained and played with NHL-level players both on and off the ice, and has coached internationally in Slovakia, Germany, Austria, and England. Check him out at at grunnahpowerskating.com.