The specific skating characteristics of fast hockey players

Mike Bracko

Mike Bracko is a skating coach, skating researcher, strength & conditioning coach, and fitness educator. He holds a Doctorate degree in Exercise Science and Biomechanics and is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Coach through the NSCA. He played hockey in the AJHL, BCHL and NCAA (University of Illinois-Chicago). He does skating clinics with 300–400 hockey players every year specializing in 1-on-1, small group, and team skating with male and female players ranging in age from 8 years old to pro players.  He is also the strength & conditioning coach for the USA Men’s Deaflympic hockey team. www.hockeyinstitute.org  [email protected]

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The best ones have these things in common.
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If you were asked what the characteristics of fast hockey players are, what would you say?

Some coaches might say “edge work,” “deep knee bend,” or “balance on one skate.”

Interestingly, we have known what the skating characteristics of fast hockey players are since 1975. Former NHL coach Pierre Page did a research study for his master’s thesis at Dalhousie University to compare the differences in skating biomechanics between fast and slow hockey players. It is a brilliant study and has direct practical application to this day.

Since 1975, many researchers have done similar research as Page and found the same, plus other characteristics that can be used to design drills to improve skating performance. Don’t get freaked out by the suggestion we use research to improve the skating performance. When training athletes, we want to be objective to eliminate guessing about our work.

What the research says

Since Page’s research, many people have found similar results.

In the last 45 years, we have found that when comparing fast to slow hockey players, the fast skaters have the following characteristics:

  • Wider strides
  • Quicker recovery after push-off
  • Quickly getting on the inside edge of the skate blade to start the next push-off
  • High stride rate: more strides (push-off forces) over a given distance
  • Alot of knee flexion prior to push-off
  • Significant forward lean when skating fast
  • Arms moving side-to-side in equal and opposite action/reaction to the movement of the legs

Practical application

For practical application, let’s look at how fast players skate. We will start with Mathew Barzal, winner of the NHL’s Fastest Skater Competition at the 2020 All Star Game:

Watch the video in slow-motion to get a clear idea of how Barzal moves his legs and arms. Pay attention to the movement of his skates/legs/arms at 9-11 second mark and the 15-16 second mark in the video.

The best ones have these things in common . . .

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