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By Steve Mann, from Minnesota Hockey

While being the fastest player on the ice won’t necessarily make you the best player, there’s a reason the old adage “speed kills” is so prevalent, not just in hockey but in a variety of sports. If you’re able to beat your opponent from the corner to the front of the net, win a footrace for a 50-50 play at neutral ice, or accelerate behind the defence to create an odd-man rush, that extra burst of speed or quickness can change the outcome of a game and your overall development as a player.

The spring and summer months can be ideal for offseason training in this area. In fact, according to Josh Levine, assistant coach of the Bloomington Jefferson girls’ hockey team and founder of Fortis Academy, summer is the perfect time to get outside, have some fun and improve your skills.

“Everyone can get faster,” he said.

Speed and Quickness Defined

The first lesson to learn about speed and quickness is that there’s a difference between the two. Levine defines speed as to how fast you can go when you go as fast as you can over a specific distance (like a 50- or 100-yard dash). Quickness can be measured in the first three strides, i.e. how quickly you can get from “zero to 100.”

Bigger, longer-limbed athletes tend to have trouble getting their feet moving as quickly, but may score well in terms of speed due to longer strides. It’s often the reverse for some of the smaller players, who may generate more strides, but not as much power.

“In today’s game, quickness is so important,” said Levine. “Top speed is great. Guys like Connor McDavid can manipulate the game that way. But so much of the game happens along the boards, and in tight areas, so quickness tends to be a metric that is a little more impactful for most players in terms of measuring success.”

A former hockey player and track sprinter himself, who has trained athletes in all sports, including football, hockey, cheerleading, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, and rugby, Levine offered some age-appropriate offseason training tips for young skaters looking to come back faster next year.

Here are some examples of Lars Ehlers (Winnipeg Jets) on how he uses his speed.

Keys to Unlock Hockey Speed & Quickness

  • Athleticism – What most athletes, and parents searching for help on this matter, miss is that you can’t stride correctly if you lack the posterior strength to get low enough and push with a full extension. If your hip abductors and glutes are weak or do not sufficiently fire when striding, the athlete will cut the stride short and lack power. Most often, athletes need to retrain the posterior muscles because hockey players get very quad dominant.
  • Ankle dorsiflexion – The ability to dorsiflex the ankle (the ability to pull your toes up toward your shin) is incredibly important. If you can’t dorsiflex, then you can’t hit optimal glide on your edges and turns. If you have limited dorsiflexion, your quickstarts will lack explosive power.
  • Mobility – Proper skating requires sufficient mobility, in particular the ability to externally rotate the hip. A lot of youth athletes that are specializing are repeating the same stimulus year-round on the same muscles, leading to tightness, overuse injuries, etc.

Training Tips for any time, Anywhere

  • Play tag – Younger kids might be more amenable to playing tag, but truly any age athlete can do it. I have national teams playing variations of tag. It’s great because it not only incorporates speed, but also some reaction to it. You have to be quick to avoid getting tagged. It’s really the number one thing kids should be doing. It’s easy, you can get other kids from the neighbourhood involved and have some fun.
  • Sprint to the max – If you can find a patch of grass or a sidewalk or a street, you can do sprints. It should be around 20-40 yards for a hockey player so you can hit top velocity. Give max effort, followed by sufficient rest and then rinse-repeat. In between sprints, rest until you feel good enough to do it again. A player can time themselves, or have a parent or friend time them and try to record a personal best each time.
  • Get low – Getting low enough to generate stride power is a common issue people face. One thing you can do are squats – squat lower to skate faster. You can go rollerblading and do sprints, or intervals, where a kid can go for 45-seconds of exaggerated low skating and then rest and repeat. You’re training your body to get low.
  • Don’t worry too much about weights – When people think about strength, they tend to think about how much you can bench press in the weight room. But for a hockey player, it’s lower body, then core, then upper body. We’ve seen players at the NHL Combine struggle to do things like pull-ups. Well, the sport doesn’t require players to do pull-ups. Unilateral leg strength will translate best into on-ice skating performance and younger players don’t need to move weights to benefit. Players can do single-leg squats, striders, cross-under lunges and more to improve leg strength. It’s important to do everything on one leg, be intentional about pushing quickly on the way up and controlled on the way down because, in hockey, you don’t skate with both feet moving at the same time. You stride with one and hold with another.

How Parents Can Help

According to Levine, parents can help by creating an environment that’s conducive to the action. He advises hockey moms and dads to be supportive and encouraging, but not take their kids to the park and force them through a workout.

“Especially at the younger ages, take them to the park and let them play. They’ll naturally do things that will provide benefit,” he says. “Playing multiple sports, having unstructured outdoor play like monkey bars, climbing, jumping, having to navigate small areas on the playground. It will all help them to be more well-rounded athletically.”