Even with things you think you learn at an early age, you never really stop learning. That’s the beauty of life, and within it that’s the beauty of skating in hockey.
Nothing is more fundamental to the sport than the ability to skate, and yet each level brings new things to add to the mix. Even NHL players are constantly working on their skating.
For 12U players, there are several skills upon which to build. Dan Jablonic, a regional manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model, has tips on how to do just that.
Ice and body awareness
Body contact must be a part of the curriculum at all age groups, but 12U especially. Ice and body awareness are critical at this stage of development, as skill levels and intensity ramp up in competition.
“It’s important to understand that there’s a reason you skate and take an angle to a puck. Ice awareness and body awareness are key,” Jablonic said. “The next phase, there is more body contact in the game, and as they progress, they need to understand proper puck retrieval.”
Working on those skills in small-area games that require adjustment to the puck and awareness of surroundings is a good start.
“That’s a cool thing about younger levels. Not every pass is on the tape, so you have to be able to skate to adjust your body,” Jablonic said. “Players need to adjust to more variables.”
Body awareness also extends to the idea that players at 12U could be going through growth spurts and about to enter a phase with big physical changes.
“As you go through the puberty phase, players may be in a state of constant adjustment while growing or adding muscle mass,” Jablonic said. “It may require an additional focus on your skating to reacquire previously developed skills.”
The art of deception
A key skating skill at 12U is learning the art of deception by changing gears and throttling speeds.
“Right now there’s a big initiative on how to have pace. Coming into the zone, starting up and then accelerating, using that deception and flow to your advantage,” Jablonic said. “That’s everywhere now. Full speed to three quarters, back to full on a dime.”
Being able to change gears with speed makes fast players even more dangerous and can make average skaters deceptively quick. Powering down, too, can allow skaters to turn corners at proper speeds. Just think of a car making a turn too fast and spinning out of control.
“More importantly, when you’re skating and coming out of the corner with the puck, you have to have the ability and confidence in your edges that you aren’t going to go down if you have some weight on you,” Jablonic said. “You go to a lot of rinks and you see coaches working out of the corners. Coaches want to know how kids come out of the corners with the puck.”
Learning to skate backwards is still a useful fundamental skill, but it’s not as elemental to the sport as it once was.
“Yes, there is backward skating but it’s more transitional,” Jablonic said. “It’s not kind of straight up and down hockey any more. It’s a more fluid game that you have to be able to go from forward to backward and transition from one leg to two legs. The game is so fast and so many things are going on. The old structure isn’t there.”
Jablonic says he saw the seeds of that while spending time in Sweden with a young Erik Karlsson – an NHL star defenseman and two-time Norris Trophy winner.
“The coaches had the foresight to let him do what he wanted to do. He hardly ever skated backward,” Jablonic said. “You look at the NHL now and how they let players play so free because they’re so skilled. The old days of defensemen getting into the zone and coming back into their lane are over.”
The extra 10 percent that turns a good skater to a great skater comes from work. And some of that work comes once everyone has left the rink, Jablonic says.
Working on age-appropriate dryland training such as Chaotic Hops, Hurdle Jumps Forward and 180 Jump with Chaotic Jog will go a long way to building explosiveness and agility.
“Doing the extra stuff, and the off-ice component with plyometrics and adding in the nutritional component, that all adds up to dynamic skating.”