Ice hockey is one of the most grueling sports in the world, and yet it requires so much skill to play. It’s a grand mix of physicality, speed, and technique. With so many very different skill sets needing to be combined for a player to just be competent, it can be very difficult to get good. However, with so many areas to train, improvements can be made all over.
Here, we’ll be looking at how two of this year’s Stanley Cup finalists have trained to help spur their career, improve their skills, and remain at the highest level.
Sidney Crosby’s Specifics
Source: Detroit News Sports, via Twitter
To many players, coaches, owners, and fans across the globe, Sidney Crosby is the best ice hockey player in the world right now and has been for some time. Last season he guided the Pittsburgh Penguins to their second Stanley Cup victory in as many years, and the captain is expected to make it three-in-three this season with the Penguins at +900 in the NHL betting odds to win the Cup.
Crosby is naturally talented, but he wouldn’t have the world-class skills that he possesses today without working hard in between games. His trainer, Andy O’Brien, credits Crosby’s ability to stay at the peak of his powers to his mindset and steely determination to meet each challenge as a new opportunity. O’Brien also explained how training specific areas are key to physical improvement as well as avoiding injury, stating: “Unfortunately, in this day and age, being fit is not a competitive advantage. Everybody’s fit, so you really have to find ways to build your body to make the type of plays you need to make as a player.”
O’Brien runs Crosby through a lot of multiplanar moves, in which Pittsburgh’s star player exercises through planes of motion that have a function in ice hockey as well as strengthen those key muscle groups involved. The specification in those areas key to excelling on the ice adding the levels of improvement that comes beyond merely being physically fit and naturally talented.
Skating is one of these key areas. All players on the roster, regardless of their role, need to be able to skate well. Just take the film Goon, for example, Seann William Scott’s character is an amazing fighter, but couldn’t skate to save his life, and it wasn’t until he improved in that area that he could enforce successfully.
For more skilled players that depend on skating at high speeds or in altering directions to make plays, working on the individual mechanics of skating will greatly help. The basic skills include the skating stance (knee bend and getting low to the ice), using the edges of the blades, and being able to keep your balance (especially on one skate at a time).
When it comes to stick-handling, improvement can just come down to lots and lots of practice to get the technique locked down. Improving the power behind a slap or wrist shot can be improved by training the specific areas involved, but for the technique, making the skill more difficult in training can help. For example, stick-wizard Pavel Datsyuk weighted his stick down when learning how to use it in practice, making the dekes harder to control out of the game, but easier in the game.
Pekka Rinne’s Mindset
Source: Detroit News Sports, via Twitter
It’s a hard job being an ice hockey goalie; it’s probably the hardest but most crucial position in all major sports, which is why having your mind right is crucial.
Pekka Rinne and his Nashville Predators came second to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup last season, but the Finnish netminder looked strong and focussed throughout. Rinne’s old trainer, Ari Hilli, knew that despite the goalie’s struggles to adapt to his ever-growing body as a young player, having the right mindset would greatly help.
Hilli ran Rinne through some off-ice drills that would cement his determination, one of which was getting him to do somersaults. Even though Rinne failed on the first attempt, he never gave up. He also said that he became a go-to guy for the Predators goalie on the mental side of the game, helping him to stay focussed and, more importantly, staying optimistic.
For both skaters and goaltenders, the mind-set is key; if you can get your mind right, remain optimistic and determined, your body will follow. Training in acute and specific areas helps immensely when it comes to the great sport of ice hockey, as general fitness just doesn’t cut it anymore.