Even as a kid growing up in Sayabec, Quebec and cheering for the Nordiques, Pelletier followed the Oilers.
“If you grew up as a kid in the 80’s and not ended up finding some kind of soft spot in your heart for the Oilers then I’d say you were a bad hockey fan,” he said.
Now Pelletier gets an opportunity to work for the organization he respected so much growing up. The team announced on Wednesday that it had added Pelletier to their development team. He will take the title of Skating Coach and work closely with Director of Player Development Rick Carriere and Skills Coach Steve Serdachny.
Pelletier will travel to Oklahoma City and Bakersfield to work with Oilers prospects in the developmental leagues. He has worked with several professional and junior athletes, including members of the Canadian National Women’s team on power skating, although that is not a term he fully endorses.
“They call it ‘power skating’ because I truly believe they couldn’t find a better name for it. If you take the ‘power’ out of the equation, we’ll call it, skating.”
Pelletier knows a thing or two about skating. He is a three-time Canadian Champion, World Champion, Grand-Prix Final Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating. In 2002, Pelletier’s Olympic Gold Medal marked Canada’s first Olympic Gold in pairs figure skating in 42 years.
“My strengths are agility and edge work. To make a player achieve the NHL or achieve the next level, it’s a pie with many pieces. If I am a small piece that can make the difference for a player to reach the next level I will be more than happy to help.”
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But how does figure skating translate to hockey skating?
“There is a lack of sequence in hockey, which is nice for a change, Pelletier laughed. “If you take all sorts of skating, whether it’s speed skating, short-track speed skating, hockey or figure skating, I believe there are a lot of similarities in all of them, but also very different in many ways. It could be due to equipment or the nature of the sport. As far as figure skating goes for us, going from point A to point B in a straight line is something we don’t do. What our strengths are edge control and balance. If you want to be powerful you’ve got to know where your balance is, where your weight is. Body awareness is up there with the best athletes.
“What you’re asking yourself to do in a game where there is also contact is to remain balanced, remain powerful in a game where you also have to be quickly reactive to what’s going on. Sometimes you are planning where you want to go but you have to react to your opponent. To be able to be agile in a small space, to be able to create that power from the first two or three steps is where I believe I can make a difference.”
Several current Oilers players have approached the locally-based Pelletier for help with their skating. It was becoming a common occurrence when the Oilers eventually picked up the phone and lured the Olympian into their employ.
“I’ve gotten to know some of the players, working in the business for the past few years. I’ve had a chance to work with some of the prospects on an individual basis. Some of the players here in town would call me and ask if I would come and help them out. Slowly, I became more involved with other players and then the Oilers called me,” he said.
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It was exciting news for Pelletier. He gets to continue doing what he loves to do, which is helping athletes. One of the things Pelletier enjoys the most is taking apart a skill to put it back together again properly, building good habits.
“There is a process. What we usually do with a skill is break it down. Like anything else, whether it’s your golf swing or a baseball pitch, you’ve got to slow it down, break it down and then look at the puzzle, take all the pieces out and slowly re-connect it properly. In sports, if you want to excel there is no secret. It’s a repetition but it’s a repetition of good habits and you can repeat a wrong thing many times. It’s just to make sure that there is a biomechanical way to do things the right way and whether it is their stride or foot-speed, let’s slow it down, break it down and then re-do it the right way. Then slowly, but carefully, we speed things up. With patience and repetition, I believe you can achieve that.”
As an Olympian, Pelletier knows what it takes to be a high-performance athlete and what it takes to teach them.
“When you start talking to different Olympians or athletes or hockey players who have been successful, you quickly realize that you have more in common than you think. Being a high-performance athlete is not something that is a 9-5 job, it’s a 24-hour job. Then even your time off of the ice, I believe it is a 365 days of the year lifestyle… When you’re dealing with an athlete who wants it real bad, you have to know when to step off and let them figure it out.
“Great athletes will figure it out, but you just have to be the guide to help them get there as fast as you can. To know when to step off and when to step in is one thing. I’ve been lucky enough to work with high-performance athletes at Olympics and World Championships in figure skating, I’ve been lucky enough to compete at that level and to understand the mindset of a high-performance athlete. You’ve got to respect their space and you’ve got to know when to step in and step up and not be an over-presence or trying to over help.”
Now Pelletier has the opportunity to continue doing what he loves, but this time the Oilers are the beneficiaries.
“I can’t say it was a dream of mine to work in the NHL but when opportunity comes knocking (you take advantage). My goal, whether it’s a six-year-old kid or a guy who is close to knocking on the door to the NHL, is me trying to help someone and I love that part of my job.”