When Terry Pegula purchased the Buffalo Sabres last February, he talked openly about providing General Manager Darcy Regier with whatever tools it would take to make the team into a championship contender.
Pegula delivered in the summer with the acquisitions of Robyn Regehr
, Ville Leino
and Christian Ehrhoff
. But he’s also come through off the ice as well, adding former Sabre Teppo Numminen to the coaching staff. The Sabres have also brought in a skating coach this season, hiring renowned high performance technical power skating instructor Dawn Braid.
Braid brings more than 20 years of teaching experience to the Sabres, and previously worked in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 2005-08. She has a laundry list of professional and amateur players that have benefited from her dynamic instruction including former Sabre Michael Peca, along with New York Islanders forwards John Tavares and Matt Moulson.
Tavares has been working with Braid since he was 13 years old. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Tavares said his work with Braid has made him a more efficient skater and he’s now able to generate more power because of a change in his body and knee positions, while better utilizing the weight transfer on his edges to maintain balance.
Regier said that Braid will work with the Sabres on Mondays, and then travel with Rochester to work with the Amerks players on Tuesdays. He explained the basics of Braid’s role with the team.
“She will focus on skating techniques to improve the players’ mobility, and utilizes drills that she passes on to our coaching staff as well.”
Braid, who began her career as a figure skater, uses extensive video analysis when starting to work with each player. She is primarily studying the forward stride for forwards, and the backward stride of a defenseman. Braid says a player’s power and speed can be affected by a poor forward stride, as will improper body alignment and angle.
The video allows her to learn the basics of each individual’s technique, in order to form a base of where to begin making improvements.
“After the initial session, I will break down that tape for at least six hours trying to find out where the certain weaknesses may lie,” she explains. “Whether it’s biomechanical body alignment, angles of their stride or just the certain things that might affect their power and speed. A lot of this is basically body alignment and balance, and getting them to distribute their weight properly to give them maximum power, a stronger stride and quicker recovery. Sometimes it just means lengthening or widening their stride. We do that by going through extensive edge work to get their alignment and balance.”
Some of Braid’s most frequent pupils in Buffalo so far have been young blueliners Mike Weber
and Marc-Andre Gragnani, along with newly appointed captain Jason Pominville
. In watching Braid work with the players, it’s almost shocking to see them struggle with some of the drills. She says it will take up to three months for a player to get used to new techniques, but it can also happen in as quickly as five weeks.
“Each player is different. For Marc-Andre, it’s improving his backward skating. For another player it might just be his first few steps, getting them quicker off the mark.”
Even for a seven-year veteran like Pominville, Braid says there is still some room for improvement.
“What I saw initially is that Jason is a very quick skater, with a very fast cycle to his legs – we don’t want to change that. What we do want to do is bring his upper body up to give him even better vision and a more powerful stride. He has a little bit of a narrow stride which might affect the power he has on his push. What we’re trying to do there is make that stride a little more powerful in terms of using a better width.”
Braid says she has received nothing but positive feedback from the players since joining the Sabres this fall.
“The guys have been really great to work with. Sometimes they feel awkward and uncomfortable during the initial sessions, because they don’t want to come out there and not be able to do a drill. But all the guys I’ve worked with so far have been very receptive. Generally they develop a respect because they are starting to see improvement in their skating.”
Weber will be the first to admit that he never expected to be taking power skating lessons as a 23-year-old NHL player. But he realizes that every little bit counts, especially at the professional level.
“She’s been a real positive help with my backward skating and gap control,” he explains. “It’s been a lot of little stuff with stride and technique. If that can get me to the puck a half second quicker, then it helps the team and helps us break out faster. The margin of error in this game is so small now, the better technique I can have can only help me and the team.
Weber adds: “The game has evolved to the point where you are never too old to pick up new things. I didn’t start lifting weights until I was 14 or 15. Nowadays you’ve got 10-year-old kids with their own personal skating coach, video coach, and goal scoring coach … in addition to their own team coaches.”
Braid says her role is similar to a swing coach in golf, and realizes that she is just another piece in the puzzle of a player’s development.
“It’s like anything you do: you do it a certain way and your stuck with that habit. I’m here to break some bad habits. They’re going to be put in some uncomfortable positions in terms of not being used to skating a certain way. I’m not here to tell them how to play the game. Do I understand the game? Yes, 100 per cent. But most importantly, I understand the skating they need to play the game better than they already do.”