On good vs bad skating, and how NHLers use side-by-side pictures to create better habits
AKA, how Christian Fischer needs to make his butt look more like Dylan Larkin's on ice
I’ve been thinking a lot about “good” vs. “bad” skating lately.
Part of this is in my personal life, where my 5-year-old recently passed another level of learn-to-skate, and I remarked the other day that soon she’ll be a better skater than her dad — she loved that idea.
It’s also obviously a common discussion point in my professional life as a hockey writer.
About three weeks ago I wrote about Dallas Stars skating coach Luke Chilcott, who said the following about using skating mechanics to find an extra edge in-season.
“With the big team, it’s a lot of watching plays and analyzing,” Chilcott said. “Pointing out things to a player like, ‘this where you could have cut back,’ and we can work on that footwork. Or finding a spot where I think D-men could be limiting unnecessary footwork that avoids them from betting crossed over by attacking players. It’s more strategic.”
Since that conversation with Chilcott, I’ve been watching skating mechanics closer. And I’ve had the privilege of doing so at various levels from watching my 5-year-old learning, to spending time around prospects and NHL players, in theory, the best skaters on the planet.
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Which is why I hyper-focused on the 15 minutes before Detroit Red Wings practice last week, when a group of players was were doing extra skating work and reviewing something on an iPad with skating coach Brodie Tutton.
Christian Fischer then spent extra time working with the skating coach, reviewing something on the iPad, running a drill, reviewing something, and then doing it again.
“It’s looking at form, and there are some really good skaters on our team, and Dylan Larkin is probably the best skater on our team, so a lot of the stuff they are showing out there is a side-by-side comparison of me and Larks,” Fischer said. “It’s a side-by-side of where our knees are and our spine is.”
“Like today, it was all about our first three steps,” Fischer continued. “Like for me my problem skating, to put it simple, is I put my butt back too much. Larks’ butt is all the way forward. So it’s more so little pictures that help you visualize it.”
Fischer said it’s a repetition thing, during a game he’s not thinking about glute position, but it’s something that with reminders he continues to work on trying to turn into a better habit.
“It’s like the skill work you do with anything else stick handling or something like that,” Fischer said. “Hopefully over time it becomes a second nature habit that comes out in a game.”
Fischer spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Arizona Coyotes, and said one-on-one skating lessons and coaches are now common practice in the NHL.
“As a player you need to stay in at least the middle of the pack as a skater now, especially in my role (as a depth forward),” Fischer said. “Otherwise with how the game is going, you’ll be left behind because it’s all about skating now, you have to keep improving to stay slightly above average to stay in the NHL.”
There are exceptions, but those exceptions tend to be the players with innate offensive ability who also get the leeway in other areas of the game. The top-six uber talents, who’s ability to shoot a puck make their skating stride less of a concern.
The definition of what a “bad skater” is also pretty laughable now.
“Just think about what a bad skater was in the 90s, it was guys running on ice,” Fischer said. “The ‘bad skaters,’ now that are entering the league at 20 years old, the 18-year-old prospect, most of them can already skate circles around 90 percent of guys in the NHL. That’s how good skating has become and how technically sound young guys are coming in.”