Working on the Edges
(Photo by Brendan Sheridan/HS)
It all starts with a diamond chip being dragged slowly across the stone of a cutting wheel. That wheel is then drawn down the length of a steel blade, creating a groove, or a hollow. This creates two distinctive edges, one outside, and one inside. This is what makes skating possible. These two edges allow players to weave in and out of defenders, come to an abrupt stop, and spray snow shavings into the face of a goalie before finally putting the puck in the back of the net.
Ice hockey is the only professional sport that requires a prerequisite skill before ever learning the game successfully. It takes hours upon hours of lacing up the skates and getting out on the ice to learn how to skate well. You have to trust your edges and know how far you can lean before you ever think about chasing down a forward with the puck. You have to be confident in your ability to stop on a dime before you risk going into the corner with a big defenseman on your tail. It takes a freshly sharpened pair of blades to burn the opposition and score the game-winning breakaway goal. And no matter how far you make it in the hockey world, it takes daily practice to just maintain these skills.
During the NHL work stoppage, several members of the Washington Capitals who stayed in the D.C. area knew this was a hard and fast rule, so when they set up their player-led practices, skating was a top priority. They brought in skating coach Wendy Marco, a friend of former-Capital Jeff Halpern, to help out with their edge work and keep them all honest. “You can do everything you want, what you can, by yourself but when it comes down to it, you need someone to push you every once in a while to get you going on track,” said Capitals forward Jay Beagle. “You can always work on things; work on stride, work on edge work So when they said that she was willing to come out and work with us, I was pretty excited about it.” Beagle stayed in D.C. and skated at Kettler multiple times a week, along with defenseman John Carlson, forward Jason Chimera, and now-Ranger Jeff Halpern.
One of the main focuses for hockey players while skating are their edges, including leaning in a turn without tipping over, which edge to skate on at which point in the game, and transitioning from skating forward to skating backward. It often looks as though they are figure skaters doing figure-eights or pirouettes. They bob and weave from side to side, often gliding on only one skate at a time.
Marco worked on more than just drills with the players, which Beagle found challenging.“Obviously as a professional hockey player, when things challenge you, you’re like ‘Oh, this is different, this is hard.’ It was good. She came out and challenged us right away and gave us something else to think about, other than your stride,” he said. “I’ve even talked to her about trying to work with her during the year too, just once a month to touch up on stuff that you lose.”
While the basics of skating are the same, every player has his own style of skating. The challenge for the skating coaches is usually try to take the ‘right way’ of skating and apply it to each individual player’s own personal style of skating. “Everyone skates a certain way. She’ll tell Carly [John Carlson] different things than me. Everyone has little different elements to their stride that need to be tweaked.”
Now that the lockout is over and the players are back to playing they will be focusing much more on other things than on their skating, but ultimately, without the ability to skate at a high level, none of the rest of it would matter. So the next time you’re at your local rink for the Friday night skate-around, try testing your edges. Do some figure-eights. Find a new appreciation for another aspect of hockey that makes it the greatest game in the world.