The modern game of hockey requires players to be proficient in many different skillsets. Shooting, passing, skating, stick handling, hitting, and even positional play. There can be no argument however that Speed has been playing an increasing role in the game over the last decade, as players with speed never before seen are absolutely dominating the game.
Speed is critical in today’s game whether you are a defense man or a forward. How many times have you seen the likes of Connor McDavid, Mathew Barzal, or Erik Karlsson on the nightly highlights absolutely wheeling through the opposing team? Players like Drew Doughty, Brent Seabrook, or Milan Lucic were dominant players in the mid 2010’s are now either heavy in the minus category or relegated to 3rd and 4th lines. The reason for this? Speed!!
Now overall speed can effectively be broken down into two categories. Top speed is one of them and we have a separate article covering that. Acceleration is the other critical piece of the puzzle and we will be going over techniques and training methods to help you increase it! Read on below for our guide and let us know what you think!
Increasing Hockey Acceleration
Acceleration can be defined as ‘The rate of change of velocity per unit of time.’ What does this mean in layman terms? It means how quickly your velocity (speed) increases! If you have a definitive acceleration advantage over someone you are racing to a puck, even if their top speed is slightly higher, you will likely win that race.
Have you ever seen a motorbike race a high powered sports car? The race usually appears over in a matter of seconds. While many cars may have higher top speeds, the motorcycles higher power / weight ratio allows it to accelerate faster, leaving a massive gap between itself and the pursuing car. This is how you need to envision yourself as a skater.
There are two major keys to hockey acceleration –
1. Explosiveness and Power to Weight ratio – Look at top NFL wide receivers, or Olympic sprinters. What do they have? Explosive starts and not one ounce of fat on their body
2. Skating Technique – All the power in the world won’t matter if you are not efficiently transferring it to the ice. There are several things you can do to increase your skating efficiency and help you get from a stop to top speed faster!
Stack made an article with one great tip for increasing hockey acceleration that you can definitely incorporate into your game quickly and easily!
Training To Improve Acceleration
Now that you know the two areas we need to focus on, lets get to the first – Training to Increase your acceleration.
Two things will help you in this area. Foot speed, and Power / Strength. Have you ever seen Zdeno Chara skate? Although he is still an amazing player and is north of 40, he isn’t much of a speed demon. How can that be when he likely has one of the most powerful strides in the game? It’s the same reason that players like Johnny Gaudreau can catch so many people flat footed despite being very small in stature – Foot speed!
Check out the highlight video below of Johnny from the 2018/19 season and pay attention to his skating
One thing I notice when I watch is that Johnny often springs out ahead of defenders on breakaways, and at the very end you can see the defenders catching him, but by then it is too late. This is because Johnny accelerates so much faster and opens that gap up. The defenders simply don’t have enough time for their longer, stronger legs with slower foot speed to make up the distance.
Training To Improve Explosiveness
Whether you pull away from an opponent will be decided in the first 4-6 strides. Your ‘first step’ explosiveness must be trained. Here are two awesome exercises to train that first step
1. Box Depth Jumps Into Broad Leap
This drill is critical for training that first step. By doing this you create a strong neural link between your brain and body for explosiveness. You start out on a box (~2-3 feet off the ground), drop down landing on two feet, and instead of jumping up as many depth jumpers do, jump forward. Make sure you focus on minimizing your time on the ground, and jumping forward as explosively as possible. A good starting point would be three sets of eight reps (3×8) but ensure that once you notice you are slowing down or becoming less explosive to stop. Check out the short video below for technique!
2. Banded One Leg Lunge
For this exercise, you will wrap a band around a stationary object (A pole or a heavy dumbell) and wrap the other end around your foot. Start with your feet inside shoulder width in a half squat position (think of crouching on skates). What you will now do is as explosively as possible, drive your banded foot directly forward. Reset, and repeat 10 times per leg. To train the opposite movement, simply turn around and do a reverse lunge. This way you will train both the explosiveness of reaching out with your skate, as well as increase your power pushing backwards. This will help train that first stride and really help increase your explosiveness into it!
Drills To Improve Foot Speed
While you need to be explosive and powerful in your acceleration strides, you also need good foot speed. It is common to see the fastest players in many ground sports (Football, Soccer, Rugby) training with an agility ladder. While dryland agility ladders obviously do not transfer directly to hockey, the muscle mind connection you are training will carry over.
1. Quick Feet Inside Ladder to Sprint
This drill will be performed by laying your agility ladder out in front of you to start with. Next, you will put either your left or right foot in the square, followed by the other as fast as you can. Continue to do this down the length of the ladder, and when you finish the ladder, explode into a ~50 yard sprint. This will simulate your acceleration into a top speed stride.
1. Lateral Shuffle into Sprint
For this exercise you will line up with the ladder to either your left or right (do reps for each side). You will put your closest foot in the ladder, and then crossover with your other foot. Continue this all the way down and explode out of the ladder into a full on sprint, again for ~50 yards. This has the added benefit of simulating a crossover, which any speedster knows is the new key to speed in hockey as displayed constantly by players like Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon.
If you are looking for more ladder and foot drill activities, check out this youtube video for 13 different variations you can put into practice!
Jeremy at HowToHockey has a great article on some techniques to improve skating acceleration on his site. Add that onto our tips and you will be set for explosiveness!
These four different drills should put you on the path to faster footspeed and better explosiveness. Now that you understand the movement patterns required, the world is truly your oyster with the amount of excellent content you can find on google or youtube. Get creative and train in all different types of patterns and stances!
Hockey Acceleration Skating Technique
Now for the second piece of the puzzle. Even if you had the explosiveness of Usain Bolt, if you cannot put that power to the ice it will all be for nothing. You have to be efficient and mindful of how you skate or all your hours in the gym or on the track will be wasted.
Starting Stance – There are two main types of starting stances. Open hip – Where your skates are parallel and facing diagonal to where you are going, The second is a crossover style where your first stride is a massive crossover. They are both amazing ways to start skating, but I wouldn’t worry too too much since most of your acceleration will not be from a dead stop. If I was forced to choose one or the other i’d use a crossover style start as that is what Connor McDavid has used at all-star skating competitions.
Forward Lean – The quickest skaters all have on thing in common – they have an extreme forward lean when they start skating. They are at nearly a 45 degree angle with the ice and if they had no momentum would surely fall flat on their face. By doing this you are allowing your body to be at a better angle for your strides to transfer power to the ice. Think about it for a second, if you are standing straight up and down, how much power will you be able to use to push yourself forwards? Its critical that you learn to accelerate with a forward lean in order to maximize your power transfer.
Skate Angle – This is something I didn’t learn until much later in my career and wish I had learned earlier. Check out this video of Nathan Mackinnon beating an olympic speed skater in a short acceleration race. Fast forward to about 1:30 and put the video on 1/4 speed playback
What did you see? Three things stand out to me
1) Mackinnon’s angle between his leg and skate each time he takes a stride. His leg to skate is not completely straight when pushing off. In order to do this you Must have movement in your skate boot. How can you achieve this? Play around with leaving more of your lace eyelets undone. This will increase your ankle mobility. It might not feel natural off the start, but learn to play like that and you will surely see acceleration gains.
2) Look at how close the toe of Mackinnon is to the ice. He is almost rubbing the side of his skate boot on the ice as he accelerates. This plays into our first point, but speaks volumes about how low his foot gets, and the angle he uses to achieve this insane acceleration.
3) Mackinnon does not begin to use any glide with his strides until his third or fourth stride. He is literally flat out sprinting on skates up until that point. Try to incorporate at least 3 strides of zero glide and simply explosive strides until you begin using your skates glide. Get a timer and see if you hit faster speeds from end to end using 3 sprint strides, or maybe you need 5? Either way it is almost like a science at this point but we promise the results will follow.
The Coaches Site is a great hockey resource and they have a great article on edge work to improve your skating efficiency. Click the link to check it out!
Putting It All Together: Conclusion
You aren’t going to be as good a skater as McDavid or MacKinnon overnight. The first thing you might want to do is maybe change your last name and add a Mc or Mac in front. After that, it all comes down to training and technique.
You will likely have full control over your own training destiny. Time in the gym or on a track and field for the most part should be unlimited. That doesn’t mean you should spend every waking hour there, but no one ever failed to succeed at hockey in our modern age due to lack of training facilities. Especially considering what we covered above did not require expensive specialized equipment. Running shoes, ladders, bands, are all things that should be within your grasp to obtain, and will pay dividends to your game.
Your time on ice on the other hand is normally limited, so you need to be a bit more strategic here. Plan out what you are going to work on on the ice, don’t just go out and skate for the sake of skating. Spend time off ice studying how the top players skate. Watch videos of them, watch highlights, study their movement patterns. You become the best by studying the best. Who would we suggest you watch? Connor McDavid, Nathan Mackinnon, Mathew Barzal, Johnny Gaudreau are a few. Those four players cover blazing speed to top tier foot quickness and everything in between.
We hope our article helped you and pointed you in the right direction to get faster. We will be releasing specific training programs for speed and acceleration in the future so keep an eye out. Until then let us know what you think in the comments below!