SHEFFIELD – Rubber chickens, soccer balls, and parachutes, these are but a few of the unusual tools employed by skating coach Marc Power at the 2013 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp.
Power is known amongst hockey circles as a top mentor and teacher when it comes to skating. Having spent the last fourteen years as the skating coach for the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, working not only with the team but also with its American Hockey League affiliate the Binghamton Senators and with prospects, Power is constantly working on ways to help players gain that extra edge on the ice.
His innovations in improving skating stride have also had led him to coach skating with Team Canada since 2006 and to develop his own hockey school.
Teaching came naturally to the 49-year-old Nepean, Canada native. In fact, Power has been teaching skating at hockey camps since he was 14 years old. His high school teacher had a hockey school at the time, and Mark was the strongest skater on the team so he would use him to demonstrate drills.
“That’s how I got started, I taught skating since 14 and along the way I got more curious about how the skating stride is taught, and working with the Sens and Team Canada I became passionate about getting to be the best at teaching it.”
Power’s role at the 2013 High Performance Camp is twofold: to introduce the girls to exercises designed to improve their skating, and to educate the personnel in teaching proper skating techniques and exercises.
Power preaches that skating should be worked on daily, and he also teaches the strength coaches how to implement skating components into training, including off-ice circuits that can improve skating and enhance skills like one-foot stability, which Power says is a key element to skating properly.
“You gotta be able to stand on one leg,” he says. “If you can’t stand on one leg you cannot be a good skater. So, single leg stability is the number one thing. Strong legs, strong butt, and proper balance are key.”
In order to promote skills like single leg stability, Power drew up a rather innovative set of exercises for the girls to go through at camp. For stability, he has a group of four standing on one skate and pass a ball around in a circle on the ice.
“Normally I use a weighted ball, but I didn’t want to put too much on the girls in one week so we had a regular ball, but it still works to show them how hard it really is.”
Many of Power’s drills and exercises aren’t based from hockey but lifted from other sports, examined, and implemented by the coach based on their viability as tools to improve skating stride.
“I analyse every single sport and examine how the body moves in each one,” says Power. “So for example in fencing the lunge is similar to moving with a hockey stick in terms of using an explosive start, track and field for explosive starts as well, figure skating for lateral and backwards skating, speed skating for long stride skating, badminton with quick reaction, I steal from everything.”
Improving skating stride, Power says, is something that can also easily be done off-ice, and he even goes so far as to say that there’s nothing kids can do on the ice that they can’t practice off it. At his hockey school, the kids get there an hour early and Power runs 45-minute drills on the field first of skating mechanics before they even touch the ice. In fact, they’re not allowed to get on the ice if they haven’t done the off-ice work first.
At the 2013 HPC, girls worked in the field behind the IceSheffield arena on striding, lateral skating, and pivoting, all in a slow, controlled fashion to teach their lower bodies how to work properly when skating. Many of the drills, of course, are done with a stick in hand.
“We take a lot from track and field, though you have to take the stick into account as well,” he says. “Your stick is your best friend when it comes to skating, if your stick is aligned and in the proper order and the proper direction. Your stick throws you off balance all the time, that’s half the problem is knowing where the hockey stick should be and using it to your advantage not to your disadvantage.”
Even arm swinging is examined and worked on by Power, who also like to employ his most unorthodox exercise tool to help players in this skill: a rubber chicken.
“Everything I do is unorthodox (laughs),” said Power. “I have rubber chickens for relay races, it helps your arm swings. Your arms are supposed to go north-south not east-west, and most skaters go east-west."
"One time I just got tired of it and got out a rubber chicken and told the players that if they skate wrong the head will slap them in the face as they hold it and that will let them know they’re not doing it right. So they’re laughing and I got the relay race going, but the chicken heads kept hitting them and they realized ‘Hey I look like a fool!’”
“So now those chickens have been everywhere, NHL, AHL, Team Canada, Vierumäki last year and here, though we haven’t yet had the time to use them.”
Parachutes, bungees, rubber bands, skip rope on the ice also supplement the chickens. Power also videotapes all his drills, a modern tool that has him take on the role of a golf swing coach in analysing a player’s skating style and pointing out where they can improve.
“It’s the exact same thing as a swing coach, with the Ipads now there’s tons of programs that you can use to help a player change their skating stride. You got be careful that you don’t overkill it, just make sure that you take what they do well and build upon it. My Ipad never leaves me and I can send the footage to the player or drills to do immediately after practices.”
Power’s contributions to the High Performance Camp, which he has been a part of the last two years, have been greatly appreciated by both campers and staff.
“Mark’s been a part of Hockey Canada for awhile and he’s the best there is at what he does,” said Melody Davidson, former Team Canada women’s national team head coach and member of the HPC staff. “Especially his personality with young female athletes and how he can get things across to them and get them to execute, we really lucked out getting him to the HPC the last two years.”
For Power himself, he has been impressed with the effort put in by campers and staff, and is looking forward to seeing their improvement at future camps and tournaments.
“We meet a lot of people, and make new friends across the world at this camp. I really enjoy seeing players training to get outside their comfort zone and be the best player possible. I like surrounding myself with other coaches because you always learn new things and share ideas. It’s important to give back too what you took from the sport and this is a great way to do it.”
Marc Power’s top three tips for skating:
1. Eyes Straight
2. Sit Into Your Stride
3. Strong One-Foot Stability