Can Figure Skaters Really Teach Hockey Players?
In the first part of this series, I wondered about the ability of a person trained as a figure skater to teach a hockey player all of the elements necessary to be a great skater for hockey.
Now this has been going on for quite a while. There have been many (mostly female) figure skaters that run hockey schools and been hired by NHL teams and individual NHL players for skating instruction.
For certain, there are cross-over elements for these skating techniques; however I believe there are significant differences as well and there are specific reasons for these differences. The reason for the differences quite simply are a result of the end objective. In figure skating, the objective for the skater is to put on a great show in order to win a medal and win the competition. The movements must be pleasing to the eye, graceful and look effortless. This means that the “body lines” created during the performance are of tremendous importance. There are other elements of differences in these techniques and I will deal with those in the future, but for now this is the point I want to illustrate.
A Personal Experience That I Always Remember
Back when I was actively working for a hockey school here in Toronto, there was a player that I worked with during weekly team skills sessions. His name is Jimmie Lodge and he was born in Pennsylvania, but his family aspired for Jimmy to have a career in hockey and hopefully in the NHL. Believing that the best experience and development for Jimmy was to play in the GTHL; the biggest and most competitive minor hockey league in the world. Now Jimmy had initially started as a figure skater in his very early youth and the habits developed during that training were still evident when I watched him during our weekly team sessions.
I found one habit quite amusing. One thing we did a lot of was drills requiring quite hard and fast transitions and change of direction; something that is not normally a requirement in figure skating. So lets see if I can describe the difference adequately. In hockey if you are going to completely change direction quickly (in other words if you’re skating south to north and you want to stop as quickly as possible, change direction and go north to south) you would start with a typical 2 footed hockey stop. Say in doing this the stop is to the left side. In this 2 footed skating stop the skater would be using the outside edge on the left skate and the inside edge on the right skate. Just before coming to a complete stop the skater would lift the right foot and turn his body to the new direction. As the stop is completed the skater would push-off the outside edge of the left skate as the right foot hits the ice and be moving in the new direction as quickly and efficiently as possible. Now writing about this move and thinking about conveying it has been painful, but I hope I got it right.
Now good old Jimmy; because of his old figure skating habits would just use the outside edge of his left skate which is the way figure skaters frequently stop in the need for a showy presentation. I was certain Jimmy was always just a split second slower in these transitions because of this habit.
One More Example
I had occasion to be at a Toronto Maple Leafs a few years ago and there was a new feature that I hadn’t seen before. During a time-out break for a TV commercial they had a team of girls come out to clean the scraped up snow from the ice. I was amused at the obvious difference in the skating style of the girls. Some had clearly played hockey and others came from a figure skating back ground and the difference in style was obvious.
Watch the following film clip and I’m sure you’ll see the differences. It’s most clear at the beginning. Watch the row of girls closest to the camera and watch the first girl in the line. She skates like a hockey player. Notice the bend of the knee, the tilt of the upper body, the push to the side in the stride and the pretty clear weight shift form side to side. Now watch the 3rd girl in that line. Notice that she is more upright with less knee bend, less tilt of the upper body, more of a push to the rear to start each stride, and the straight point of the of the leg after finishing a stride to create a pleasing body line for show. This one is obviously a figure skater.
In Part 3 I’ll outline some of the cross-over similarities between figure skating and skating for hockey as well as some of the differences.
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