Skating is the foundation for every hockey skill. If you want to start playing and improve quickly, focus on improving your skating skills. Many players like to practice their shooting first and work on skating last. Practice and improve your skating and everything else will follow. The team with the fastest and most mobile skaters will usually win the game.
This chapter is divided between ice skating and in-line skating. The fundamentals are similar, but there are important differences. Both require good equipment, balance, and a lot of practice. They are different because ice “gives” and asphalt and concrete do not. Also there are some techniques that are unique to skating on blades versus wheels.
Before you begin skating it is important to feel comfortable on your skates. Walk around on your carpeting or on areas of the ice rink that have rubber mats. If you have never skated before, wear some protective equipment (knee pads, gloves or wrist guards and a helmet). Start along the boards of the rink until you have a decent sense of balance.
Placement of the heels together forms a ‘V’ shape which is known as the ‘V’ take-off. Lean forward (slightly) placing your body’s weight on the front portion of your feet and inside edges of your blades. The knees should be bent. Begin the first few skating strides by literally running on your toes. Do this until you are able to gain some momentum. Eventually you will be able to begin with short choppy strokes until you gain momentum and are able to make the transition to a more extended stride and skating movement. At that point, you should be cutting the ice on a 35-40 degree angle keeping the skate blades close to the ice for efficiency.
One of the keys to effective ice skating is leg extension. Extension of the leg on a 35 to 40 degree angle and as far back as you can comfortably push is an effective stride. It is important in skating to move your legs first and your upper body second. Many beginning skaters (and sometimes experienced skaters who have fallen into this habit) move their upper body first and then their legs. The upper body movement is unhelpful initially in making you move on ice skates.
Once you begin skating, the upper body does have a role. As in running or walking, the upper body movement can help counter balance the instability associated with your feet or in hockey, your skates leaving the ice. It also helps you gain momentum. Some players hinder their skating stride by keeping both hands on their stick and moving it side-to-side. This side-to-side movement can hinder forward progress because it takes more energy and it is unnecessary movement. A more efficient approach to skating while carrying a stick is to carry it in one hand. Skate as if you were running with a stick in your hand and pointing it out in front of you.
A turning action can be illustrated by the wheel and axle. Imagine that your skates are the edge of a wheel which is turning around the axle. To turn, a wheel needs to turn in a circular fashion or on an arc. On ice, your skates must turn in a curved motion. To turn left, you need to lean on your left skate’s outer edge and your right’s skate inner edge with your body leaning toward the middle of the imaginary wheel and your skates turning on the arc of the wheel. The beginning player or skater may need a fairly wide arc to make that turn and maintain balance.
It is important to practice this turn and to not be afraid to fall. Just as in learning to walk, you cannot improve your ability to skate without making mistakes, which means falls. Experiment with turning on the arc, leaning your legs into the circle. It is not necessary to lean your upper body into the turn. In fact, dipping your shoulder into the turn can create imbalance.
It is important that you feel the edges and truly understand in your mind that each skate is made up of these two edges. To help get this feel you can practice ‘swizzles.’ ‘Swizzles’ involve a forward or backward motion in which the skates are brought together on the inside edges and brought back out on the outside edges and back again on the inside edges.
Swizzling teaches you the feel and practical application of the edges and their role in skating. One of the mistakes that beginning players make is to fail to appreciate the edges and to consider the skate blade as a single edge. Many times they skate on the flats and seek to turn on the flats which can lead to a fall. It is inevitable. If you turn on the flats, your skates have no edge in which to grip the ice. It is the gripping of the ice by your edges that allows you to “hold the circle” and turn.
Stopping: The Snowplow
The easiest method of stopping is known as the ‘snow plow.’ Basically the snowplow involves pointing the toes of your skates toward each other as a skier might in snowplowing down a hill. The snowplow slows you down by utilizing either the flats or the inside edges of your skates. The harder you push and the tighter you point your toes together the more quickly you will stop using this method.
When skating backwards you can utilize the snowplow by reversing the forward snowplow. Rather than pointing the toes toward each other, the skates are spread apart so that the heels are fairly far apart causing the right and left inside edges to grip the ice and slow your momentum.
Two Skate Hockey Stop
A more effective stopping approach is utilizing what is known as the ‘hockey stop.’ The hockey stop can be achieved with one skate or both skates and on either your right or left side. Players need to become accomplished in stopping at both sides so that they do not have a weak side. The two skate hockey stop is the easiest method.
Let’s assume you are skating forward down the ice and want to stop on your left side. First, turn your body to your left facing perpendicular to your original line of travel. This is accomplished by shifting your weight and completing a quick turn to your left utilizing the methods described in turning. However, there is one difference; rather than turning on a circle you turn at a right angle to your left and dig in your left inside edge and your right outside edge to stop. The two skate hockey stop involves putting fairly equal pressure on both of those edges to stop. Stopping on your left side involves the same action but everything is in reverse.
Another choice while skating backward is the two skate hockey stop. It is accomplished in the same way except, rather than turning to your right or left on a ninety degree angle while skating forward you make that turn while skating backward and dig in the appropriate inside and outside edge. For example, if you are skating backward and want to stop on your right side, you shift to your right and dig in your left outside edge and your right inside edge.
One Skate Hockey Stop
Another stopping action is the ‘one skate hockey stop.’ This maneuver can be utilized when you seek to stop with one skate and then immediately change direction by stepping into a cross-over or pushing off to go in the opposite direction with your other skate.
Let’s illustrate. If you are skating forward and seek to use your left skate for a one skate hockey stop you turn at a ninety degree angle to your line of travel and dig in the inside (right) edge of your left skate and the right skate either doesn’t touch the ice or lightly touches or rests on the ice. In making this stopping action you can use your right skate to immediately cross-over to propel yourself in the opposite direction.
This stopping action can also be effective in tight situations along the boards or by the net. It is typically utilized when your stop is sharp and hard and you don’t have an opportunity or the time to dig in both skates. You typically see this stopping action performed by more experienced players. It is an action that is fun to practice and which with some effort can be accomplished by beginning players.
The best method of practicing stops is to work on it on the ice. One drill that is fun and helpful in practicing stopping is to skate from behind the net to the blue line and stop facing one direction. Next, go to the red line and stop facing that same direction and the same at the next blue line. Then skate to the other net and reverse course and skate/stop on your opposite side at the red line and blue lines. The one skate hockey stop and snow plow can also be practiced in this way. The snow plow doesn’t necessarily require practice. Beginning players will intuitively stop in this fashion, especially if they have had any experience on skis.
The next step in the skating process is to learn how to execute the cross-over. Cross-overs are important for several reasons. A cross-over allows you to turn and accelerate out of that turn. Imagine your automobile is heading for a turn (a sharp one) in the road. As your approach the turn you slow down and then you accelerate into and out of the curve. You know from your driving experience at what point in the turn that you need to accelerate to make the turn or curve in the road. While performing a cross-over you can also grip the ice in a propelling type motion which will enable you to accelerate at that point on the arc and through the curve. It is this acceleration that allows a defensive player to go behind the net with the puck with a forechecker on their hip, skate to the far post, quickly turn up ice and then accelerate on a cross-over past the net to safety.
A cross-over is accomplished by turning and pushing the inside skate behind the outside skate which “crosses over” the inside skate. For example, if a player were to skate behind their net (going from right to left as the skater views the net) and to come out on their left side, then their left skate (inside) skate would be positioned to push behind their right skate (outside) and their right skate crosses over in front of their left skate. In making this maneuver, the body’s weight is shifted to the heels of the skates and the player leans into the curve.
A cross-over can also be used to accelerate from a curve any where on the ice. It may be a turn or a curve that you manufacture as you are skating forward in order to accelerate.
We don’t recommend using cross-overs in this way. Many experienced skaters, including professionals, do so successfully. The problem with using the cross-over for acceleration is that it is difficult to maintain a straight line. As we all know, this is the shortest distance between two points. The most effective way to maintain a straight line in forward skating is to use your skates at a 45 degree angle, maintain leg extension and exercise rapid leg movements.
Cross-overs will increase your ability to maneuver and accelerate out of turns. Cross-overs are especially effective around the net, when play changes direction or in the corners where you need to go into the corner gather the puck and skate out. The cross-over will provide you with a burst of speed in this situation.
You may find that you are more accomplished at the cross-over in one direction compared to another. Many skaters find that their right cross-over (left skate goes behind right skate in which they are turning to their left using the right skate’s inside edge and the left skates outside edge) is their strongest cross-over. It is probably not coincidental that many ice rinks have an established skating pattern at open skating which is counter clock-wise. This favors your right cross-over.
It is important to become accomplished at both the right cross-over and the left cross-over. If you play tennis and constantly need to go to your forehand, you will end up with a weak backhand which limits your game. Likewise, the successful hockey player needs to be able to cross-over on both sides.
One way to practice cross-overs off the rink is when you walk around a corner. If you are walking down a hallway and you come to a 90 degree corner, practice a right turn putting your left foot over your right foot and pushing off your right foot behind your left foot. This gives you the idea of the cross-over while doing it off the rink. (If you do this at work, your co-workers will think you are weird and ask ‘what are you doing?’ Then you have an opportunity to recruit another adult player!).
Skating backward is the most challenging of the skating maneuvers. It is generally the weakest part of every hockey players’ skating repertoire. The best defensive players are able to skate backward almost as well as they are able to skate forward. Skating backward is essentially the same as skating forward except that everything is in reverse – almost. Unfortunately our bodies are not constructed to operate in a backward motion due to the position of our heads, feet and knees.
When it comes to backward skating, both the edges and cross-overs are the same with one important difference. In backward skating more of your weight is on the heel portion of the skate rather than the toe. You will notice as you skate forward that your body is tilted a bit forward with more of your weight on the front part of your skate blades. In backward skating the reverse is true. When crossing-over the weight should shift slightly to the rear of the skate blades. This will give you a firmer grip of the ice as you make your cross-over turns.
To begin backward skating, start with your feet in the same ‘V’ formation that you practiced when you began forward skating. Rather than pushing forward and out, the backward skating movement is a ‘C’ cut in which the right foot strokes a ‘C’, the letter from the top down and out. The same is true for the left foot. It strokes it down and out. When you get accomplished at the ‘C” cut, to gain speed, the skater needs to snap the skate as it traces from the top of the ‘C’ down. This snapping motion will help you accelerate. The ‘C’ cut is the predominant movement required in backward skating (Figures 5-14, 5-15). It also may be helpful for a beginning player to use their stick while practicing backward skating. This will give you a bit more balance in attempting this maneuver.
Backward skating may appear to look like a shaking or gyrating of one’s rear end when skating backward and there is some truth to that. The backward stride is not limited to simply giggling or rotating your hips back and forth to provide backward movement. It is more than that. As with forward skating, backward skating requires the ‘C’ cut, leg extension and rapid leg movement and the exertion of sufficient power on the edges of your skates as they cut the ice on a 45 degree angle.
Cross-overs during backward skating are again the opposite of forward skating. To attempt a cross-over skating backward you need to be moving on a slight arc. For example, you are skating backward and seek to attempt a cross-over so you could move your body to your right in making an adjustment as you skate backward. This is essentially the maneuver: First, you would skate on an arc to your right, then use the outside edge of your right skate to cut the ice and then cross-over with your left skate cutting the ice with its inside edge.
Skating: Practice Tips
Skating is the single most effective way to improve your ability to play hockey. Those that can skate fast and maneuver are generally the best players. If you want to work on any one aspect of your game it would not be passing or shooting, it would be skating. A book specific to ice skating, like Laura Stamm’s Power Skating will teach you many drills to enhance you skating ability.
One drill that is effective to improve your skating is to skate the circles. This drill involves skating from behind one net going to the right circle completing one rotation (counter clock-wise) then to the left circle skating in the opposite direction (clock-wise) practicing turns and cross-overs where appropriate. Next alternate by skating in the opposite skating direction at the center face-off circle and then to the right and left face-off circles and go behind the net. Then reverse direction skating the circles the opposite direction. This can be a fun way to utilize the entire skating surface for teams seeking to improve their skating ability.
If you are skating in an “open skating” situation where there are other skaters on the ice and it is not appropriate or practical to skate the circles, another drill is to follow the rink’s established pattern and skate cross-overs, first to your left then to your right alternating up and down the rink. Practice cross-overs behind the net area and work on skating the face-off circle in one of the corners. Practice your swizzles (forward and backward), practice stopping: snowplows, two skate and one skate stops; practice backward skating but be careful with small children and other novice skaters on the rink , this can be hazardous. Always check over your shoulder and be respectful of others when practicing backward skating on a rink shared with others.
One approach which can be helpful to a defensive player is to force your self to skate backward for an extended period of time. If the rink has fewer people on it, force yourself to skate backward for ten to fifteen minutes, turning, utilizing backward cross-overs. Forcing yourself into this type of challenge is the best approach to learning how to skate backward and to feel comfortable with it.
In Line Skating
Much of what was discussed in the ice skating portion of this chapter is applicable to in-line skating. The ’V’ start, cross-overs, backward skating and turning techniques are all very similar. The in-line skating description below is intended to highlight differences between ice skating and in-line skating techniques.
Put on your in-line skates and walk around on the grass or on carpeting to get the feel for being on wheels. Practice the stance in which the knees are slightly over the toes with the body’s weight kept forward (to avoid falling backward). The body’s weight is on the inside edges of the skates. It is our opinion that it is relatively easy to learn to in-line skate. The wheels are much wider than the edges on ice skates and so they provide a much more stable base for learning to skate.
Push to the side and back. Keep the strides short until you have achieved a comfort level with your balance and then lengthen the stride. Push with one skate then glide on the other and then alternate pushing and gliding. A common error among roller hockey players is flicking out the toe at the end of each skating stroke and not driving through all the wheels of the skate.
Next practice traversing which is skating by leaning and alternating the body’s weight from side to side like a skier on a slalom course. Gradually make the transition from traversing to a sharp turn which will bring you to a stop. This is one stopping method.
The snow plow is another stopping technique when moving forward and backward. The snow-plow is a good low speed and rolling stop. The weight is forward and pressure is applied to the inside edges of the skates.
The T-Stop is another low-speed and rolling stop. It is effective in speed control. The T-Stop involves turning one skate at 90 degrees with the toe pointing outward. Drag the trailing skate and applying pressure to the inside edge of the wheels until you slow down or stop. Most of the weight is on the front of the glide skate. More of the dragging pressure is on the heel than the toe.
Ice hockey players’ puzzle at this idea, but the in-line skate hockey stop is a very effective high speed stop, but it does require some practice to master. The hockey stop is very similar to the stop accomplished after traversing. The player begins this maneuver by starting a turn and while entering the turn swings the outside leg into a very tight ‘C’ cut. The player then shifts their weight from the inside skate to the outside skate resulting in pressure on the inside edge of the outside skate and stopping action (Figure 5-20). The first time we saw this stop on a video, we had to watch it like three times to understand what was taking place, but it indeed was a hockey stop.
Power Slide Stop
This is another hockey stop which should be practiced while standing still and then in slow motion before it should be attempted at full speed. To practice the power slide stop, stand with both skates together in the beginning stance, slightly extend the right foot forward then pivot the left foot in a tight ‘C’ cut until it is rolling backward then extend the right leg in the direction that you were skating. By applying light pressure on the inside edge you will stop. Imagine that you have ice skates on and that the right skate (extending leg) is shaving off some of the ice.
This stop, once accomplished, can be utilized at high speeds. It does have a tendency to wear the wheels down more quickly. Be careful to avoid catching the rink’s surface rather than sliding the wheels over it. This could pose problems on rougher surfaces or those that have more grip like asphalt.
Ice skates need to be wiped off after use so that they do not rust. When not on the ice surface walk only on rubber or wood.
In-line skates should avoid water at all costs. If forced to skate through it, let the bearings dry.
Skate to win
You can read all the books you like on skating, but you can’t really do it until you go out there and try. You will make mistakes and fall down. It is like any new skill. Anyone can skate, but to be a successful hockey skater it takes patience, practice and persistence.
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