Back to the Basics is NHL.com's multipart series focusing on youth hockey skill development. During the coming months, NHL.com will feature a slate of guest coaches who will share their expertise on skill development.
Bryce Cockburn is the founder and coach of Next Level Training in Campbell River, B.C. Cockburn's hockey career started in Campbell River, where he played his minor hockey, before joining the Nanaimo Clippers of the British Columbia Hockey League. He played in the ECHL and AHL after spending four seasons with the Northern Michigan Wildcats.
He's s stickler for fundamentals when it comes to skating.
"The first thing I do in my camps is go over proper posture and skating stance so that you are starting things off right," Cockburn told NHL.com.
Proper hockey posture is the building block for virtually every other hockey skill. Not only does a proper stance propel your shot or determine passing accuracy, it can give a player twice the power on every stride. Start every ice session with a review of proper hockey stance and use Cockburn's mental checklist to help:
· Knees bent at about 90 degrees.
· Feet are under the hips. They should be roughly shoulder-width apart, forming a box shape between the ankles and the knees rather than a triangle from too wide of a stance.
· Hips are low and butt is out.
· Shoulders are back, not hunched over.
· Head up, eyes up -- younger players tend to look down, which causes them to fall forward.
"It's just like you're sitting at your chair in the classroom -- pretty much that's your hockey stance," Cockburn said. "Your knees are bent at a 90 [degree angle] pretty much, your back is straight, your head's looking forward, your chin is up, your chest is out, your butt's out and your knees are bent."
This proper stance is essential to hockey because it's important to stay low. Staying low helps a player have a better center of gravity and better balance; it also helps to give full extension on a skating stride.
"It's all knee bend," Cockburn said. "If you have your legs straight, you can only push pretty much not even half of your full stride and you want to get your full stride out.
"Get nice and low so you can get your full leg extension and then you can get a toe-flick at the end of your stride. You can't even get your toe-flick unless you do your full extension. So get your full push and get nice and low and get your full recovery, which is coming back to where your feet are under your hips. Try to get your leg at least back under your hips, maybe more, that way on your next stride with that leg you are pushing that much harder."
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Cockburn also pointed out that while skating, a player's head should be still -- not bobbing up and down. This is essential because it ensures that the skater is staying low throughout his or her strides. This also applies to tight turns, where many young players have the tendency to pop up as they come out of the turn and stop skating because their knees are straight. However, if they stay low through the turn they can push through it and keep skating.
"That's how you will beat most of your defenders, if you stay nice and low and keep striding through your turn," Cockburn said.
When striding, it’s also important for a player to keep his or her arm motion going forward and backward, not side to side, just like track sprinters do; otherwise the player will slow down.
Players need to avoid pushing straight back when they stride, and instead push at an angle. According to Cockburn, many young skaters fall into this trap, which doesn't allow their skate edges to dig onto the ice when they push -- this wastes energy. Pushing slightly to the side utilizes the full skate blade, but that's possible only if the player starts in the proper hockey stance with a nice, low knee bend.
Here's some advice for any player looking to apply this skill to his or her routine.
Coaches: Develop drills that require players to return to the hockey stance over and over. For example, have the players line up on the goal line and each time you blow the whistle have them progress to the next line and do a hockey stop where they return to the hockey stance while they wait for the next whistle. Spend ample time on skating drills that involve repetition and facilitate proper striding.
Players: Constantly remind yourself to return to the hockey stance during practice. If possible, look at your reflection in the boards as you skate by or have a parent film you so you can see how low you get. Look for weak spots during practice where you tend to pop back up or have straight legs and work on eliminating those spots. At home do squats, lunges and other leg-centric drills in order to build up the leg strength needed to maintain proper a hockey stance when skating.