Skating is the first skill you need to master in order to play
By Rodney McKenna
Battles on the ice are almost always won by the strongest of skaters. While most players think they are skating to their full potential, the truth is that we can all improve upon this essential component of the game. For those who didn’t grow up on skates, the act may seem a bit counterintuitive: we run on land in an upright stance with our feet pointed ahead, swinging our arms upward as if we’re throwing an uppercut. Our movements on ice sharply contrast with those on land, and skaters who acknowledge and practice proper form are at a tremendous advantage come game time.
To start, make sure your skate laces are tight, but not so much that you cut off your circulation. Once you’re out on the ice, check to make sure you’re in the proper stance. Ideally, your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle to the ice. As you age this gets tougher and tougher, but keep in mind that the lower you are to the ice, the greater the balance you’ll have on your skates. Just as important, this will allow for a longer, more powerful stride. Your back should be bent just enough so that your shoulders hang over your (bent) knees; any more or less and you will likely find yourself off balance. Though oftentimes your first instinct is to hunch your back over when reaching for a stray puck or pass, you will be much more effective out there if you get in the habit of crouching low and pushing off with your legs to reach for the puck.
The term flat-footed applies on the ice as much as on land. In the boot of your skate, your foot should be tensed in an arc shape. This will give you much greater control of your edges, minimize the movement of your foot in the boot, and allow for greater balance.
Strong skating starts with a strong start. Your toes should be pointed slightly outward as you begin your stride. You may have heard of the “V” or “T” start, which is done by touching your heels together with your knees bent and your toes pointed outward. The “Toe Start” is another technique that is commonly taught in speed- and power-skating clinics. This refers to accelerating in quick, running strides by digging the toes of your blades into the ice. While extremely effective, these moves require a great deal of practice and athleticism to master.
Beginner-to-intermediate skaters should focus on the proper stance and footwork in order to accelerate. With each stride, your leg should be fully extended, pushing back and outward in a diagonal motion. Your strides should propel you forward diagonally in the opposite direction of the leg that is pushing off. Be sure to keep this in mind during practice and warm-ups. Proper stance and leg extension will not only increase your on-ice speed, but you’ll also conserve energy by taking fewer strides.
While in motion, your arms should be working to balance your strides. Generally speaking, as your left leg pushes off your right arm should be raised in order to apply a greater downward force from your skate to the ice. When you push off with the right leg, your right arm should swing back toward the center of your body while the left swings up, transferring your weight to the right foot.
To dissect the movement, watch your favorite pro players in slow motion when accelerating to full stride. While there are no guarantees you will ever skate like them, every rec player can improve upon their skating.
Practice these techniques and apply them on ice. You’ll be surprised at how much proper skating improves your overall game.
Rodney McKenna lives to play hockey. He makes his home in Burlington, Vt.