Fast starts are vitally important in Ice Hockey. Whenever I work with pro players, from the LA Kings to the National Team players in Europe, inevitably, the skating skill that they like to work on the most, whether they are a Defenseman or Forward, is the explosive start. They like to work on bettering their starts because they realize that with the proper techniques and training they can improve their overall quickness. Getting an explosive start can be just as important in Hockey as one's straight ahead speed, since Hockey is a sport of short bursts and change of directions. This Month's article will introduce you to and focus on the techniques for Front Forward Starts that should help you to improve your quick starting ability.
FORWARD STARTS (FRONT)
• Make sure you start with your skates directly under your body forming the letter "V" (Arrow-Tip Position) * heels together and knees turned outward * it is very important that you maintain this narrow base and diamond shape of the lower body throughout the start.
• Bend the knees 2" out over the toes of your skates (90°)
• Thrust your body forward by applying 100% of your body weight to the pushing foot's front part of the inside edge (the toe of the skate)
• Land on the front part of the inside edge on the other foot (with this skate directly under your body) and then explode off of this landing foot even further forward.
• Spring Forward, not Upward (see Helpful Hints, below)
• Attempt to have your initial 3-4 strides come from the toe part of the inside edge of your skate blade. This will give you that explosive running motion that you often see of quickest players in the NHL, such as Wayne Gretzky or Sergei Federov.
Helpful Hints: To gain an explosive start, you should picture in your mind what a sprinter looks like when the gun goes off. The sprinter is trying to thrust forward -- not upward-- to gain that extra advantage at the start and their initial strides come from the balls of the feet. It is extremely similar in Hockey. We want to feel like we are thrusting forward, taking quick strides that may look like short strides to the naked eye but are, in fact, best performed when fully extending the pushing leg. Remember to stay low throughout the move, trying to cover as much distance as you can while still making very rapid strides.
Drill: The ability to get up on the 'toes' of your skates is the first step in improving your start, and an excellent drill to improve this skill in one I call "The Penguin" or the "Charlie Chaplin." 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 across the ice while only on the toes of your skates (like a Penguin or Chaplin). If you can stay only on the inside edge of the toe for at least four strides while walking slowly, that would be an excellent result and that ability will help you to get on your toes for more dynamic starts in game situations.
Once you feel confident with the walking motion on the toes then add some speed to the drill. Begin by walking slowly on the toes of your inside edges like Chaplin again for about five strides, then, with the next three to four strides attempt to build up speed, doing the same drill, but now at game speed to really feel the explosive start. Remember to exaggerate all these movements in practice so that in the games you do not have to think about them.
If you read my articles regularly, you then know that we urge you not to get discouraged or lose your confidence if you have trouble applying some of the techniques. This is doubly important when practicing the explosive start. I have pro players who return to me frequently to work specifically on their starts, and getting up on the toes of the skates is extremely difficult even for these highly skilled players. So, be patient; and do not be afraid to fall down or make mistakes, falling forward when practicing explosive starts only shows that you are making a good effort to improve them.