When you think about hockey you think about a player with a stick and a puck moving on the ice. But the singular skill of skating remains a foundational element of the game.
To strengthen that essential ability, at the Blue Jackets Development Camp, Jackets prospects have the opportunity to work with skating consultant, Lee Harris.
"If you look at the great players in the game their number one skill is skating," Harris said. "(The game of hockey) starts with the feet. Any time a player has good edges, and a good upper body that's not throwing a player over their toes, and you have control of your blades, then your body can do what it needs to do."
Harris is going into his fourth season working with the Blue Jackets organization. After putting on his first skates at age three, Harris played hockey and participated in figure skating simultaneously through age 18.
While he put away his hockey stick after playing in Junior C hockey in Canada, Harris continued to skate competitively and was a 2002 Junior Pair National Champion. He also toured for five years as a professional skater.
As his personal training brought him in contact with hockey programs, he began to translate his blend of skating abilities into a coaching role and once in Columbus, a meeting with development coach Chris Clark laid the foundation for the relationship with the Blue Jackets.
"The organization had heard what I was doing around town," Harris said. "Chris called me down and we had a meeting. After that, he asked if I had my gear and asked me to put him through a session. Five minutes in he said, 'I wish I'd have been doing this in my career.'"
From there, Harris began working with players at all levels in the organization. Currently he spends a lot of time working with the Jackets' AHL team in Cleveland, and he'll also help rehabilitating players at the NHL level return to the game after injury.
And players don't have to be forced to work with Harris. One of the first Jackets that the coach worked with was Boone Jenner during the off-season between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Jenner returned to pre-season camp with a lot more speed on the ice.
"It was my first year (as a coach with the Jackets)," Harris said. "As with anything new, once somebody has success in it players start asking 'what did you do in the off season that you got quicker?' I got a lot of texts after asking 'can I get on the ice with you?'"
Now Harris gets texts from players after games celebrating when they've employed a technique that the coach has taught them. And with seven newly drafted Blue Jackets players, the number of those texts may someday increase.
Harris has integrated elements of skating skill work into both days of on-ice work during Development Camp thus far. His trick to get players to understand the importance of skating drills is to demonstrate a skill before having the players try it and realize these moves are much harder than they look.
A "happy feet" drill that had players propelling laterally across the ice crisscrossing their feet, and 180-degree two-feet turns are some moves that quickly come to mind.
From there, repetition of a drill day after day shows the players they are quickly mastering moves. Additionally, Harris' understanding of the game of hockey translates for the players how each different technique can help their game.
"I'm at the forefront (of this kind of coaching)," Harris said. "A few teams are starting to pick up on it, but I'm lucky that the Blue Jackets see the need for it. The game is getting faster and there is way more skill. These players are saying they want to get better, they want to get stronger and they are looking for any edge they can get.
"It's been fun for me to go from the skating and hockey world, and now working with these guys who eat it up and improve."
- Vitaly Abramov (illness) did not participate in Tuesday's skate.
- The prospects will participate in a charity event Tuesday afternoon, a salute to the commitment of the Blue Jackets organization to not just be in the community but to be part of the community.
- Wednesday's Camp will include a trip to Cleveland. The group will visit Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Monsters, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and participate in batting practice at Progressive Field before taking in the Indians-Rangers game.