By Michael Del Bel, PhD (c)
Assistant Director of Research and Development, Apex Skating
In recent years, there has been quite an increase in the emphasis on skating technique among NHL athletes, with expanding media coverage on the issue. For example, it was recently reported that the Ottawa Senators train with a renowned figure skating coach, with emphasis on edgework, balance, and stability.
Apex Skating’s main mandate is to not only instruct our athletes how to optimally perform on the ice, but to, on a deeper level, understand what factors contribute to this optimal level of performance – no matter where the athlete is in their career. Through our collaboration with the CBRU (Clinical Biomechanics Research Unit) group at the University of Ottawa, we have begun to improve our understanding of optimal skating performance. For example, we are interested in establishing and then measuring predictors of skating performance during gameplay, such as the techniques used by the elite skaters in the NHL, like Connor McDavid.
After reviewing video of gameplay, we found that elite skaters in particular (also notably Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby among a few others), often use forward crossovers to navigate in-game action while accelerating up the ice. This led us to question how skating in a straight line biomechanically differentiates itself from a player using crossovers to reach the same place on the ice (i.e. from point A to B). Using our wearable motion analysis system and our very own Shane Byrne, we were able to investigate the two techniques while he skated between the neutral zone following a similar trajectory taken by MacKinnon in a recent game.
Points of interest from our preliminary analysis:
- Over the same distance covered (point A to B: blueline to blueline) the time taken to complete the task was approximately the same despite the crossover trajectory not being a straight line from point A to B.
When looking at motion capture data, we observed shorter and more frequent strides using the crossover technique versus the straight-forward skating. Taking more and shorter strides over the same distance provides the player more opportunities to change their trajectory and when in the offensive zone, attack angles around defenders towards the opponent’s net. Overall, this strategy can lead to greater maneuverability during gameplay.
- More frequent strides also allow the skater more opportunities to enable energy transfer to the ice and propel themselves forward if they can maintain enough power during each stride, which the elite players seem capable of. The acceleration they achieve will be directly related to the mechanical power delivered by the skater to the ice, and this will be a function of their stride rate (since power can be transferred during each stride). Think of the sprinter coming out of the racing blocks: they begin with shorter steps at a higher rate and will change their running stride once they reach a certain speed because they can’t maintain their acceleration; the same would be the case here, but it seems the elite skaters can continue to accelerate using this technique all the way up the ice.
- In comparison, fully extending the push-off leg in a straight stride provides a longer period of time to transfer energy to the ice (this is a positive) but coincides with longer recovery time as the leg needs to get pulled back to the center of the player’s stance. This posture also leads to a wider stance, making it more difficult to maneuver on the skate's edges and thus adjust to situational gameplay.
We are currently analyzing data such as this in a greater capacity, and we are excited to see what comes of it to improve our coaching paradigms and ultimately, the performance of our athletes. Stay tuned for results to come from this collaborative research between our group and the CBRU at the University of Ottawa.
Apex Skating would like to thank Jean-François Plante (MSc Candidate) and Dr. Daniel Benoit (Director of the CBRU) for their support and contributions to this preliminary video analysis.