Those Pesky Figure Skaters!
It's rare that I enter an arena -- with the hockey crowd, usually -- and not sense a bit of resentment from the figure skating community.
And it's totally understandable too as I've also witnessed 20 nine-year old hockey players laugh and snicker -- not under their breath, openly cheering each tumble to the ice -- at countless figure skaters working so hard on mastering their next jump.
The hockey community definitely deserves it.
But really, it's so peculiar how there are two groups that share buildings and have so much in common between their sports but, mutually, have almost no respect for one another.
It's like hockey players and figure skaters are oil and water.
I wish that would change.
At my son's very first elite team tryout, he was trying to make a U8 team as a 7-year old. Having come from what's colloquially referred to as "town hockey", it seemed plausible at the time as he'd already played on a U8 team as a 6-year-old.
We were hopeful.
Further, I'd heard that the program we were trying our for had previously made a habit of signing on a couple younger players to their mite team each season for continuity to ensure that, each subsequent season, they had a few returners to build off of.
With that, I went in thinking my little guy had a pretty decent chance. Maybe?
At the tryout, there were maybe 6 or 7 kids that were noticably smaller than the rest -- and only three of them really stood out as capable of hanging at this level.
One was my kid cause, really, I probably wouldn't tell this story if it weren't. Pretty solid all-around hockey player but not great at anything. He could skate and he knew how to follow instruction.
The next kid was a stud. Total nose for the net. Aggressive, fast, and had a one-timer shot that most 7 year olds don't have. Total shoe in.
The third kid was, well, let's focus on that third kid. That's him in the picture.
So the intial night of tryouts was mostly drill based. The group of younger kids were kept together -- which made it much easier as a parent to evaluate where your son or daughter might stand -- and the one kid dominated almost every drill.
My son was generally second or third, flip flopping with the other kid. Neither had a great shot. My son had the edge in stick handling.
And then they had a drill where the kids were doing specific transitions, footwork related, around cones.
The dominant kid just barrelled through the drill at full speed completely blowing off doing any transitions.
My son had never once tried or done ANY of those transitions before and it showed. Lots of stumbling and bumbling around. At one point, I swear a stationary traffic cone nearly impaled him.
And the third kid, well, damn, he blew everyone's doors off.
This kid could skate.
Boy, could he ever skate!
Like, here's this 7-year old kid that looked more solid on his feet than most second year peewees.
Duncan, my kid, was screwed.
So, anyway, all three kids did make the U8 team that year and that's where I came to find out that the third player was a figure skater...that wanted to try hockey.
It all made sense now.
His skating was heads-and-tails above my son but the top half of his body, for hockey anyway, was way behind. For him, the stick seemed more like an accessory rather than a tool...but I figured he'd catch up.
Selfishly, I wondered if my son would ever match this kid's skating before he surpassed my son on all fronts!
So, during the season and not having given up figure skating, this kid had his one-on-one figure skating lessons on the ice immediately before our team practices.
As such, his teammates would stand on the bench or along the glass watching and cheer everytime he failed to stick a landing, they'd poke fun at his arm movements, his toe points, his facial expressions, his tight outfits, his mittens, the music, everything.
Kid really had some thick skin as it never seemed to outwardly phase him.
I felt really bad for him, though. Made sure my kid didn't take part in any of the jokes.
During the season, unfortunately, he never really was able to overcome his lack of ability with the hockey stick and kinda fell down the depth chart -- which further solidified his social status on the team.
As far as I know, that was his lone season of playing competitive hockey.
But here's the thing -- and I tell people this all of the time -- if I had to put money on any player my son has ever played with making it to the Olympics or, you know, becoming an elite athlete, it's him. It's definitely him.
I make sure my kids know it too.
Your teammates might be making fun of his sparkly outfit but you know what? He's ten times more talented than anyone on your team.
Figure skating is no joke.
In our neck of the woods, there's a highly sought after hockey skills coach. He's the best -- from our experience and countless others too. Expensive too but if your child buys into what he's teaching, it's totally worth it.
Guy travels all over the word to train hockey players -- all year long. He's that good.
While he walks around and dresses like he must've played pro hockey in Russia or something...he's a former ice dancer.
Yeah, the least "cool" variation of the figure skating disciplines.
I have a feeling that most of his paying customers -- parents of youth hockey players -- have no idea. In fact, I'm sure of it.
And, honestly, that's how it should be cause it shouldn't matter if he played pro or not. He's not a hockey coach -- he's a skating coach. And a really good one.
If every youth hockey player spent some time training with high end figure skaters -- and took it seriously -- well, elite skaters like Connor McDavid wouldn't be so rare.
You want your kid to excel at hockey? Skating is the most important part of the game and to master it, I'd highly recommend hiring a figure skating coach willing to work with hockey players. Unmatched value.
The smoothest skaters on all of my sons' teams all skate weekly with a figure skater...and it shows.
And that's the thing -- of the six or seven rinks we train out of most frequently, every single one of them has a world class athlete under their roof.
Most have two or three -- names you'd recognize from Olympic competition.
Of the dozen or so world class athletes that we cross paths with on a weekly basis, only two are hockey players.
During my days working for the NY Rangers, they used to bring in Barb Underhill a few times per season to work with the players at their MSG training facility.
She was an Olympic pairs skater for Canada in the 1980's and works with a bunch of NHL teams.
So, basically, five or six NHL players would be out on the ice in full equipment prior to their regular practice for this extra session. I don't know how they were picked but it was a smattering of rookies and veterans each time.
Barb, old enough to be their mother, would step out on to the ice in hockey skates, leggings, a NYR warm-up jacket, and mittens. On a few occasions, she even wore one of those ear warmer headbands.
In short, she stood out among the hulking hockey players.
She'd demonstrate first and then they'd follow, you know, doing backward crossovers in a line just like kids do around all of the circles.
As an onlooker, in that setting where you could see it all happening in front of you at the same time, it was comical to see that, when compared to her, a vast majority of NHL hockey players are terrible skaters. Just terrible.
One player, that I won't name, was really exposed as a terrible skater that day. Like a 6-year-old transitioning around cones. Coaching staff, GM, assistant GM, Graves, Messier, everybody on the boards watching it all happen.
My jaw literally hit the floor.
How did this guy fake his way to an NHL contract?
(Spoiler alert -- he didn't last long.)
The most fulfilling part, though, was seeing the rookies kind of laughing off the "day when the figure skater comes to practice" as if it were some kind of joke...only to get schooled by their mom.
At one point, they were just tearing it up taking laps around the rink to showcase their speed...and she was effortlessly skating by them all, barely even lifting her blades off of the ice.
Skating isn't entirely based on strength and power -- a hockey butt and tree trunk legs aren't required -- it's more about the ability to shift your weight efficiently and make use of your edges effectively.
So, yeah, before you poke fun at the 90-pound figure skaters -- keep in mind that a handful of them at your local rink that you routinely ignore (or snicker at) are likely better skaters than 95% of the players on your favorite NHL team.
NHL teams know this.
Every single one of them brings in figure skaters to re-teach their players how to skate.
Youth hockey should really figure it out too.
My oldest son plays defense and, being undersized, has had to learn how to use his rear end to better impede attacking players. This requires skating backwards probably even better than you can forwards.
It wasn't something he truly grapsed until watching figure skating during the 2018 Winter Olympics.
I pointed out to him how, before every jump, figure skaters skate backwards.
They get low, they lengthen their stride, and really push off the ice in their crossovers.
That's where they generate the most power and speed which, obviously, are both required to spin around 4 full rotations in the air and miraculously land smoothly and in control on one foot.
When figure skaters skate frontwards, they tend to use the toe pick and have a very upright stride -- two things that don't really apply to hockey, at all...
I dunno about you, but when a figure skater is heading into a jump, with those long powerful backward strides, all I can see is Darius Kasparaitis or Niklas Kronwall lining someone up for a devastating, but legal, open-ice hit.
It's exactly the same.
In one or two backward strides, they generate more speed and power than any forward can -- and it's a figure skating move!
At one point, I believe it was my oldest son's first squirt year, the private figure skating coaches asked the rink management to enforce a new rule regarding the youth hockey players "watching" the freestyle skate session that preceded their regular practice time.
It was really tough keeping the kids cooped up, fully dressed, in the cramped locker room until the figure skaters had cleared the ice and the zamboni had come out but we managed.
Well, we didn't really manage. The kids were just deathly afraid of one of the rink's employees!
Now, their request wasn't due to the players stickhandling off the ice or fooling around during the excessive idle time or anything (that drives me bonkers too -- youth hockey players can certainly be very inconsiderate of those around them), it was because the figure skaters didn't appreciate an audience.
And that certainly ruffled some feathers on the hockey parent front.
Now, to a degree, I can understand that a couple dozen 9-year olds isn't exactly an easy audience to work in front of.
But...in a real figure skating competition, you're either alone on the ice or with just one other person. All eyeballs are on you in that scenario.
Kinda makes the idea of a crowd of third graders, who aren't actually even watching, a less uncomfortable situation, no?
So, yeah, figure skaters are right to dislike hockey players. By and large, to the figure skating community, hockey players are gross, rude, obnoxious, they don't get out of the way in the lobby, they leave their bags EVERYWHERE, they smell, they're dumb, and they're loud.
Oh, and they can't skate either. Shouldn't even be in the building.
From the hockey player vantage point, freestyle skate is a waste of ice time since there are so few people on on the ice. Figure skaters are divas. They're pompous. They hijack the sound systems. And their Maserati GranTurismo driving coaches should stop taking up 2 parking spaces in the parking lot... If your car costs more than my house, you can afford a beater to take to the rink.
And what is with the tissues on the bench?
For the life of me, would it kill the figure skaters to actually throw their tissues in the trash rather than the floor of the bench?
I totally get it. From both sides.
But here's the thing that both groups need to realize -- especially these days with so many rinks teetering on going out of business.
Without the "other" community, your local rink would likley be out of business already.
The two groups should respect each other for that fact alone.
And, frankly, hockey players could stand to learn a few things from the figure skaters.
Well, aside from the tissue thing.
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