Jarret Reid: There’s Skating and Then There’s Skating. The Best Hockey Players Get It

Two Canadian hockey players fight for the puck

It sounds counterintuitive. Of course you can skate. Why else would you be putting on the uniform, pulling on the skates, and tearing up the ice during practice and games? But it’s the guys who Skate that the coaches are on the lookout for to advance to the pros.

And knowing how to skate has never been more important.

Wayne Gretzky may have epitomized the difference. He didn’t look like a great scorer, at 6 feet and weighing 185. He wasn’t particularly strong. He wasn’t the fastest on ice. But he was the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, who could hit his spot when he found an opening with uncanny skill. In describing the kind of acumen that it takes to be a Skater, he once said: “I go where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”

So here’s what it means.

There’s strength. There’s technique. There’s speed. There’s rhythm. There’s power. These are among the underlying characteristics of the Skaters (note the uppercase “s”) who are taking the game to the next level.

Let’s look at the components.

Strength. Of course, the common associations here are working out and bulking up to create muscle mass, but what players really need to focus on is building functional muscle, hockey muscles. After all, it takes muscles to move the joints. Building the right muscles and doing it right translates into not only greater overall strength, but improved range of motion. And it also helps prevent injuries.

Technique. There are numerous facets to hockey technique, but it starts with position. Being off when it comes to any aspect – whether it’s edges, leg drive and recovery or weight shifts will have a negative effect on balance, power and/or speed. When that happens, the player becomes just another skater.

Speed. Speed is all about how fast you can maneuver on the ice, getting from one point to another. But speed by itself can be clumsy and sometimes ineffective. It’s knowing when and how to use it – and having the skill to adjust on a dime.

Rhythm. You don’t hear much about this component of skating, but it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. There’s a rhythm to each game, the pace that’s set with actions that go from offensive to defensive – sometimes in a heartbeat, sometimes excruciatingly slowly. Skating to the rhythm of the game means you’ve honed the skills to adapt, whether through anticipation or improvisation, and act.

Power. Power is what’s created when strength and technique come together. “High performance” skating is how some describe it, but that doesn’t really cut it. Think of it instead from the scientific perspective: the amount of strength output (or force) multiplied by the speed of the action.

All of these elements are what players work to develop from the time they’re mites through high school, college and even professional hockey play. When players work to bring them all together, they develop the kind of practical skating acumen that it takes to be a Skater – the kind that stands out with NHL scouts.