This past weekend I spent a lot of time on LiveBarn watching the Rocky Mountain Districted Evaluation Camp, the camp that determines who will make the USA Hockey National Development camp. One of the most exciting games was the final gave between the top 2007 teams.
Ending in a regulation tie, the game immediately went to a three-round shootout. I sat and watched, predictably, as each kid threw their best dangle at the goalie. And predictably, not a single one scored – not until the final shooter of the third round on the red team skated wide, crossing laterally towards the net, took a shot at the top of the hash marks and scored. The combination of speed and a quick shot, in a much better scoring location than the previous shooters, led to the only shootout goal.
Even at the highest levels, where kids presumably have worked on all aspects of the game, the emphasis is too often on the wrong skills at the wrong time. Don’t get me wrong – having good hands is critical for a high-level hockey career. However, sacrificing other elements of your game, such as speed development — during a time where such development is crucial — may be the reason your career doesn’t advance to the level you desire.
Skating is perhaps the most recognized but least understood skill in hockey. We marvel at players like Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid, sending our kids when they’re young to power skating clinics, Figure skating coaches, and other skills coaches in an attempt to prefect edges, increase agility, and get more powerful strides. As they get older we tend to think their skating skills are satisfactory enough, and we let skating fall by the wayside in lieu of shooting lessons, stick and puck sessions and even games and leagues in the off-season. When skaters enter my spring speed and power skating camps, they are often actually slower because there simply isn’t time (or desire) to work on speed and stride in the season.
However, especially for boys, it is during these teenage years where players can make the most speed gains, and should be a primary focus.
Taken from USA Hockey, this informational graphic shows the second window of speed development:
(for more on trainability windows, see the USA Hockey AMD at: https://www.admkids.com/page/show/990393-w-windows-of-trainability)
As you can see, the second speed window for males is between 13-16 (give or take, depending on individual physical development). This is why each year, the largest age group I work with is the 15-O or high school freshmen and sophomores. While edge work and agility is still important, the fact remains that if you don’t train your body correctly, you simply won’t reach your full speed potential. The USA Hockey American Development Model is great for teaching game skills but the limited room does not encourage pure speed development. You may have noticed that the girls speed window is much earlier, so attention to their speed development presents its own challenges, as it must be addressed earlier.
That’s not to say if you’re chronologically and physically older than 16 that you can’t make huge gains. Last year, I had a kid attending an academy on the East Coast come to me on his 18th birthday to work on speed. While he had been an average AAA player, he quickly became the fastest skater on his team. Last year, he was the top rookie and second leading points getter on his junior team. Unfortunately, he missed out on his opportunity to get noticed by an NCAA D1 team earlier in his career, but his late speed development and skill will earn him a D3 opportunity, something he never imagined was possible a year ago. In this year’s Speed and Strength Camp, two 17 year olds improve .75 seconds in their one-lap time in just 5 weeks, jumping to a low 13 second lap. That’s NHL speed.
This is possible because despite all the advances in strength and conditioning, and our understanding of aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, the tried and true way that speed skaters have recognized as the best way to become faster has not changed. Simulating situations requiring game speed and putting in the reps all with specific technique has proven to be the fastest, most effective way to gain speed. Full-ice drills that push your edges at an uncomfortable speed is something we as short track speed skaters know is the best way to prefect technique while gaining speed-endurance and quickness — all at the same time. Add in game-like scenarios that require speed and agility, and you gain not only continued strength and mobility, but you also gain the hockey knowledge that is needed to incorporate your speed and give you options in fast-paced situations. Quick stopping, starting, transitioning, backward skating and escapes, combined with constant technique correction and fine tuning, are all part of developing a holistic skating game.
And, as I like to remind my skaters, that at the higher levels, a beautiful, fast skater will get selected in tryouts before an averaged speed, shifty dangler. That speed and precision will stand out as the differencing factor because remember, hockey is 90% skating.