Newton’s third law of physics states, “To every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.” Applying this law to hockey, if you push down on the ice with the edges of your skate blades, the ice pushes back with equal force. How do you harness the power of this law? “It’s more about core strength and the position of your body rather than how sharp your blades are,” says Carrie Keil, power skating coach for the U.S. National Team Development Program. So quit sweating the local skate sharpener about your skate blades, and learn how to properly use your edges on the ice.
STACK: How do the edges of skate blades influence on-ice speed?
Keil: In terms of speed, there are very few blade issues. The blade itself doesn’t play a huge role into quickness or speed or speed development.
When [some players] stride, especially when they’re in a sprint-stride, [they] tend to have a little bit of a heel kick. That’s when the blade comes into play—when you’re in skates and the hamstring action of kicking the heel produces no speed on the ice. We consider that a wasted motion. When the heel kicks up, the foot comes straight down and the toe kind of bangs into the ice first. This could be something that inhibits speed development.
STACK: What’s the role of the edges of the skate blades?
Keil: Edges are for turning and cutting. Hockey players need to have exceptional balance on their edges.
Your ability to cut and turn and still maintain speed actually comes from the laws of physics and how that works on a frictionless surface.
In terms of the upper body, cutting and turning should be something you learn when you’re 10 years old and have locked in to your muscle memory.
STACK: In the “Laws of Turning,” you discuss the proper form and technique for maximizing the efficiency of your edges. How does that differ between skating forward and backward?
Keil: There’s a common misconception that backward skating is much more difficult, and that’s because it’s more difficult to learn. Our brains are not hard-wired for backward motion. We don’t ride bikes backward, and we don’t go upstairs backward.
When you skate forward, you ride mid-back on the blade. When you skate backward, you ride mid-front. The tendency is to lean forward, so it actually makes backward skating better if you’re a little out of position and lean forward a little too much.
You can get away with having less correct form moving backward and still produce good speed and good power.
STACK: What do you recommend for improving backward skating skills?
Keil: Repetition after repetition after repetition. If I have a player that’s having trouble skating backward, I’ll throw a multitude of drills at him. Sometimes it’s through verbal interaction with me that he finds out what he’s doing right or wrong. Sometimes I’ll record him on video and then play it back so he can see himself, and I can point things out, which is [a] most powerful [way] to learn.
There are thousands of drills that you can do to get better. The point is you have to put in your time. You just can’t do it enough, because hockey players aren’t on the ice enough to begin with. Skating is not what you do 18 hours out of every day, like running or walking; it’s not like playing soccer or baseball, where anybody can just go do it. It’s very time-extensive.