February 14, 2005 -- by Robby Glantz
(Published in USA Hockey Magazine, 02/05)
Quick starts are a vital element in Ice Hockey. Whenever I work with pro players, from the Los Angeles Kings to the Atlanta Thrashers, inevitably the skating skill they like to work on the most… is the explosive start. Professionals are constantly trying to improve their starts because at that level they realize the importance of being first to the puck, to the net, etc.
There is a big difference between being fast and being quick. Quickness in ice hockey can loosely be defined as the ability to beat another player off the line or in short distances. Being fast is more associated with top speed… both types of speed are extremely important and both can be improved with proper techniques and lots of practice and hard work (on-ice and off-ice).
The difference between the two types of speed is tangible and quite often can have a lot to do with a player’s physiology (body type). For example, a bulkier player with very large legs and thicker ankles might be incredibly powerful and fast once they reach top speed, but they may have a little more trouble getting started… and vice versa.
Wayne Gretzky was fast of course, but his quickness was astonishing. His ex-teammate Mark Messier, was probably faster once he reached top speed, but it’s very doubtful he ever could have beaten Gretzky in the first 30 to 40 feet.
Quick starts in ice hockey (when forward skating) are executed facing forward or while facing sideways. It is very important that you try to improve both types of starts. You will generally use the quick sideways crossover start when changing directions after stopping. In comparison, the quick forward start is used when changing speeds, and accelerating in the same direction.
In either case, you should attempt to get up on your toes and jump or spring in the direction you want to skate, using rapid fire legs for explosive starts.
In my last Coaches Playbook for American Hockey Magazine (August, 2003), we provided you tips for how to skate faster. In this issue, we will give you pointers for how to improve the quick forward start mentioned above… using the same on-ice techniques that we teach to the pros and at our hockey schools throughout the USA.
QUICK FORWARD STARTS (FRONT)
Note: Do not stand in the "V" Position in games... it's only a reference point!
Start with excellent and powerful knee bend, as you will need your muscles firing to get the explosive start.
Make sure you bring your skates back under your body forming the letter "V" ¾ heels together and knees turned outward.
Use the ball of your foot to spring from… getting on the inside edge of the toe or front part of your skate blade.
Keep the foot turned as far outward as you can when jumping and landing, so the skate is perpendicular to the direction you are going.
Maintain a narrow base and diamond shape of the lower body throughout the start (if your feet get too wide and outside your body you will come off the balls of your feet and lose quickness).
Thrust your body forward, not upward by applying 100% of your body weight to the jumping foot (see Visualization Video on www.robbyglantz.com for more info).
Land on the other foot on the front part of the inside edge (again, with this skate directly under your body) and then explode off of this landing foot even further forward.
Use quick feet, but also try to get distance and cover as much ice as you can.
Try to get at least the first 3 to 4 up on the toes, before you return to your normal stride… This will give you that explosive running motion that you often see of quickest players in Pro and College.
Visualization: Picture in your mind what a sprinter looks like when the gun goes off. The sprinter is trying to thrust forward, maintaining an excellent forward lean. Their initial strides come from the ball of the foot, they use rapid fire legs, and try to cover as much distance as they can, etc. It is all to gain that extra advantage at the start...sound familiar?
Drill: “Slow Walking on Toes”: The ability to get up on the 'toes' of your skates is the first step in improving your starts. An excellent drill to improve this skill is one I call "The Duck Walk".
To start the exercise, place your feet in the "V" position, bending your knees deeply and turning them outward. Then, attempt to lift your heels off the ice so that you are standing only on the toes of your inside edges.
Once you get the proper balance, begin to WALK SLOWLY WHILE TRYING TO COVER MORE DISTANCE WITH EACH STEP across the ice while only on the toes of your skates. Try to stay on the inside edge of the toes for at least 4 to 5 steps (and try more as you get better).
Once you feel confident with the walking motion on the toes then add some speed to the drill. Again, begin by walking slowly on the toes of your inside edges for about 4 to 5 steps. But this time, do the next 3 to 4 as quick as you can while sprinting across the ice. Remember to apply the same techniques you used when walking through the drill.
And always exaggerate every movement when practicing so you do not have to think about the techniques in the games (muscle memory).
A FINAL THOUGHT… BE PATIENT!
Don’t get discouraged or lose your confidence if you have trouble applying some of the techniques right away. This is doubly important when practicing quick starts. We have Professionals who return to us frequently to work specifically on their quickness.
So, be patient, and never be afraid to fall down or make mistakes. In fact, falling flat on your face when practicing your starts only means you are attempting to improve and to break out of your comfort zone.