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.
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.