Hockey Advice from a Strength Coach

Jun 22, 2022

I read Tony Holler's Basketball Advice from a Sprint Coach and, knew I needed to write this.

I love hockey but was never a hockey player. I was a swimmer and a football player. My father played college football (inducted into the BU Hall of Fame) and coached basketball ( 2 State Championships) at Malden, Ma. High School. I grew up with sports every day but, I personally have never played in a hockey game. However, I have attended well over 1000 games and watched maybe twice that if you count televised games.

I don't know a ton about strategy but after thirty plus years working with hockey players I know three things: 

1-    Skill matters.

2-    Speed matters

3-    Skill without speed often makes you a minor leaguer or a Division 2  player.

I also know this. The collisions in hockey are at the highest speeds ever recorded in team sport and approximate car crashes. Conor McDavid, the reigning fastest man in the NHL, has achieved a speed of 25.4 miles per hour on ice. Although this is slightly less than Usain Bolt's top speed of 27 MPH, Bolt does not have to worry about crashing into another player also moving at 20 plus miles per hour or, worse yet hitting an immovable object ( the boards) at that speed. 

So, a couple of huge points.

Every Hockey Player Should Train Year Round for Strength and Power.

 Lower body strength and power training helps to create the forces needed to produce these speeds and, upper body strength provides the structural stability to withstand the crashes. Luckily, this has become more standard. Unfortunately, I still hear the occasional uninformed coach say that upper body strength doesn't matter, but that is being said less and less. If you are a coach who says that, please stop and/ or take a physics class. 

Every Hockey Player Should Speed Train.

Here is where we have a huge problem. I would say ninety percent of coaches have no idea who their fastest ( or slowest) player is and, ninety percent of players think they are faster than they are.

I am one of the few coaches I know that has consistently timed players ( both male and female) over the past decade. For simplicity sake we chose goal line to near blue line as the “40 yard dash” of ice hockey. This is for a simple reason. The size of the offensive zone is the only thing even close to standard in a hockey rink. In international play the length is 17.3 meters (56.7 feet, or 19 yards)). In North America it is 64 feet or, just over 21 yards. Don't ask me why but make sure to measure when and where you test so you're consistent.

What's Fast?

For females, under 3.0 seconds goal to blue is considered fast. The fastest we have seen is Kendall Coyne (about 125 lbs.) at 2.69 seconds.

For males, fast tends to be about 2 tenths faster, with fast players consistently being in the 2.8 range. I have not timed a guy with McDavid's speed. Our male data is from division 1 college players and they tended to be .2 seconds faster on average than our female Olympians. Coyne however is fast even by college male standards. My guess is that a guy like McDavid would be in the 2.5 range. 

Note: I am not a fan of the NHL Skills competition lap test. Skating curves brings an element of skill into play. I'm not anti-skill but, I want to know who has the best flat out, straight ahead, speed.  

Speed training is simple.

News flash:
Do sprints.
Do simple goal to blue sprints for time twice per week, no more.
Do 3 timed reps after a good warm-up.
Nothing fancy. Also, no races! Make the players compete against themselves. Races create injuries. We don't want injuries. 

Don't do more than three and, time and record them all. If you want to improve something, measure it! I know you're probably saying that this is too simple. The good thing is, it is simple. Want to get fast, skate fast. Want someone to skate fast, time them.

Know Who Your Fastest (and Slowest) Players Are

If you time, you will know who your fastest ( and slowest) players are. Too often coaches fall into the Moneyball idea of the “eye test”. They think “that player is fast because they look fast”. Often players with “fast feet” are actually quite slow. Quick choppy strides don't get much done, particularly on ice.  

As an experiment, I had our BU coaches rank players speed based on opinion. One guy in particular, current NHL player Nick Bonino, was perceived as slow by all our coaches. Another player (whose name I'll leave out) was a small “energy guy” type player that was perceived as both quick and fast. When we actually tested, the small, “quick” player was dead last and Bonino was in the middle of the pack. Just remember, it's not what skating looks like, it's about how long it takes to get from A to B.


Train Every Player for Speed Twice per Week

I know I already said this but, it needs repeating. You only need 3 timed sprints twice per week, but you have to do them.

It is amazing how many coaches are either afraid of speed or, think it happens naturally. Speed coach Tony Holler talks about Record, Rank and Publish. Record the times, rank the athletes from first to last and, put the results where players can see them.

And, don't be afraid. Short sprints will not generally cause injuries. Longer sprints might. Stay Goal to Blue. Please remember more isn't better here- just 3.  Also, as previously mentioned, no races, and after a good warm-up!  

Train Speed on and Off Ice  

Lastly, train speed on and off the ice. Follow the same program in the off-season. Do three timed 10's twice a week in the off-season. You might need 2-3 weeks of simple, non-competitive drills in the early off- season but, by week four you should be back to timing.

PS- don't do two on ice and two off ice speed workouts a week. Like I said, more is definitely not better and, will lead to injury.

The bottom line is that speed is a skill that needs to be practiced and incentivized. If I look back at 2017 and think about the biggest thing I learned, it was Tony Holler's Record, Rank and Publish concept.