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Prospects Improve Skating At Development Camp

by Ron Knabenbauer / Colorado Avalanche

CENTENNIAL, Colo.—Hockey is a sport meant to be played with a puck. So it might seem a bit strange to be on the ice with just skates and sticks.

That was what the Colorado Avalanche prospects were dealing with for the first two days of their morning power skating sessions at the team's development camp at Family Sports Center. But on the third and final day of working with skating consultant Tracy Tutton, they finally got to "play" with the little piece of vulcanized rubber.

It's part of the process for Tutton.

"Development camp is about teaching proper technique and what they need to do over the summer to come back to main camp feeling strong, fast and skating well," said Tutton.

"On the third day, which is today, we add pucks and put the whole format together with speed, explosive power, stops, starts, tight turns, edges. We kind of came up with a set of progressions that built through the session where at the end of the session, they did everything while carrying a puck."

On the first day, the players worked with Tutton on quick starts and their forward and backward strides. Day 2 saw defensemen working on backward skating, 'C' cuts and pivoting while the forwards focused on edges, glides and balancing on their blade. The final skating practice on Friday put a nice bow on everything to help the players in their offseason training.

"When we first start, we base everything on effortless glide, learn how to glide well, long, powerful pushes," Tutton said. "We still teach explosiveness and speed and acceleration, that's always a component, but in order to get them to do the things that their bodies want to do, you need to train it. Sometimes guys don't get it quickly the first time so that has to be a process. You slow it down a little bit, then you get speed added. Eventually they get it faster, faster and faster, and then we add a puck."

The repetition is key so that when the players are in the heat of competition, they don't necessarily need to think about their stride or edges.

"They just can't do it for a couple of days and never do it again," said Tutton, who is based in the Toronto, Ontario, area. "They are going to need to practice a lot of stuff on and off the ice in order to improve balance, body alignment, weight distribution, knee bend—there are certain components that every guy has strength and weaknesses on that they are going to have to focus on over the summer with their trainers off the ice and skating coach off the ice."

This is Tutton's second year at the Avalanche's development camp and a lot of the prospects who took part in the training last summer benefited from her tutelage this past season.

"I took a lot of stuff from her last year. It's improved my game very, very much," said Sergei Boikov, a 2015 draft pick of Colorado that signed an entry-level contract in May.

"She's a great coach and she's shown a lot of great things for defensemen, especially backwards skating. I think it will be helpful for [my] game."

The goaltenders went through the same training as the other skaters, with around 50 pounds of padding on. And though their stride may not look as pretty on the eyes as their forward and defensive companions, the benefits are just the same.

"I think it is pretty much the same stuff, the edges and opening up the hips," said netminder Spencer Martin, who played his first season of professional hockey last year with Colorado's minor-league affiliates in San Antonio (AHL) and Fort Wayne (ECHL). "Growing up, I made sure that I was in power skating. My parents put me in with the players so it is nothing new. I think no matter what position you're playing, if you're a better skater you're going to be a better player."

Tutton's job is easy with the Avs prospects. She said every player is eager to learn and, "there is no one here that hasn't taken it seriously."

"It's fun because these are elite athletes that I'm dealing with," Tutton continued. "It's never an issue with them wanting to get better, and it's never an issue with them not training. They train, they train hard, they're fit, they're great athletes. They're mechanically inclined."

"Each one of these guys is a high-end guy. None of them are entitled. None of them are arrogant. They are all great, hardworking kids. They draft well here. I think they've built not only hardworking character, they're talented as well. I have a great base of guys to work with. It's very fun for me. It makes my job easy."

The third day of development camp mirrored the first two days, with the players going over to the Broncos practice facility after power skating for learning sessions and training before returning to Family Sports Center for an on-ice skill development practice.

Saturday marks the final day of development camp and the players will finally get to compete against one another in more of a game format. After a practice at 9 a.m., the players will take part in a 3-on-3 double-elimination tournament at 10 o'clock before closing the camp with a skills competition at roughly 10:30 a.m.

"We don't get too much competition like that over the summer, so it's going to be fun, looking forward to it," Martin said of Saturday's on-ice activities. "Some of the coaches were joking, I think they had a draft today and were picking the teams. It's going to be competitive. There are lots of competitive guys here, including myself. It's going to be fun."

Martin already knows he's on a team that will be coached by former Avs great and current development consultant Adam Foote.

"I think Footer said he drafted me. He said don't let me down," Martin said with a laugh. "So that's on my shoulders already."

Saturday morning's on-ice sessions are free and open to the public.

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