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Skill development for the busy adult

03/16/2017, 11:30am MDT
By Michael Rand

In a scene that plays out at countless hockey rinks across the United States, adult hockey players scramble to get to their games on time, have a blast on the ice, maybe go out with teammates afterwards … and then return to reality.

Between families, careers and everything else life throws our way, it can be hard enough just making the weekly commitment to play once. Who has time to think about getting better?

If the desire is there, but the time isn’t, you’re not alone. Katie Holmgren, USA Hockey’s adult hockey manager, has tips for improving your game within the constraints of a busy life.

“Whether it’s just stickhandling or practicing your shot, you want to get better, even as an adult,” Holmgren said. “A lot of people do, so it’s important to be able to practice those skills when you can.”

Often, that means fitting it in when you can, and typically that doesn’t tend to involve doing things on the ice, where time is even more limited.

Skills videos

To that end, USA Hockey recently began adding skills videos on its website that focus on off-ice improvement.

“Everything we had been doing was on the ice, so we did some off-ice skill videos to complement that collection; things you can do in your garage, or in your driveway or even in your house,” Holmgren said. “We have quite a few different things, like stickhandling and passing, and it’s something we’re continuing to work on. We haven’t put out a new one in a couple of months. Some of that is because we’d like to know what people want to see.”

Attend a skills clinic

Again, though, the time crunch is a factor. Recognizing that, USA Hockey also made an adjustment to some of the more formal programs it offers, including its skills clinic.

“We do a skills clinic every year, and hope to run more, and it sells out in about a day. It’s so popular that half of it is new players and half are returning players who want to get better every year and find value in doing that,” Holmgren added. “But we used to do a three-day skills clinic. People don’t have that kind of time. So we now do a two-day thing – all day Saturday and then Sunday morning – because people are crunched for time.”

Off-ice work at home

During other less formal times, though, there are plenty of things you can still be doing. Holmgren recommends figure-8 stickhandling drills, passing off a wall or even just shooting a tennis ball at a target.

“It’s harder to replicate the skating skill off the ice, though there are some strength-training things you can do,” Holmgren said. “It’s up to you whether it’s more beneficial than cardio. If you’re already into fitness and that’s the route you want to go, that’s up to the individual player. But if you’re talking about building actual hockey skill, there are things to do. With stickhandling, you can work to get your head up while you’re doing it, something you probably wouldn’t practice during a league game, but you can do at home.”

Here are some dryland stickhandling videos from USA Hockey.

Get creative

Holmgren knows from experience. As the adult hockey manager, she spends a lot of her weekend time watching other teams at various rinks and hoping for those free moments when she can get on the ice with her friends.

But when she can’t, well, she calls upon the aide of man’s best friend instead.

“I like to play keepaway from my dog,” Holmgren said with a laugh. “She likes to go after the tennis ball and my goal is to keep it away from her. It helps with my stickhandling.”

It might sound unorthodox, but in the quest to get better, sometimes you have to get creative. What happens in your living room or garage is your business.

“Nobody will even know,” Holmgren said.

Well, nobody but those who just read her confession – and the players she goes up against who watch her skills improve.

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Why Hockey is the Best Workout

05/12/2017, 9:30am MDT
By Michael Rand

If you think you’re in pretty good shape – or even if you know you’re not – it’s possible to step into, say, a touch football game or a casual softball game without completely embarrassing yourself or winding up on the couch for a week with myriad pulled muscles.

But if you want an honest assessment of your current fitness level, try jumping into a hockey game. You will get a splash of cold water – or better yet, ice shavings – on your face.

While it’s true that many adult hockey league players are perhaps primarily motivated by the camaraderie and enjoyment of the sport, the fitness benefit cannot be overlooked, says Kevin Universal, a member of USA Hockey’s Adult Hockey Council and the president of the Carolina Amateur Hockey Association.

Once you start, you don’t want to stop. But once you stop, you’ll feel it once you start again.

The beauty of hockey

A shift in hockey combines the controlled dash of a 400-meter race with the urgency of an even shorter race.

“There are perishable skills – the combination of having the short, sprinter-type lung capacity, then getting back for a quick rest and sprint up the ice over and over,” Universal said. “That’s challenging for a lot of people."

That’s why it’s important to keep playing, even if it’s just once a week. If you fall out of that routine, you will feel it.

“I think we have at least a handful of guys on my team who travel a lot and don’t have time to work out except for hockey,” Universal said. “That’s their one or two days of exercise a week, and it’s so beneficial. Aside from just hanging out and having fun, joking around with the guys, they’ll use that as a primary means of exercise.”

Other workouts don’t measure up

Unless you like to race the person next to you on the treadmill or try to beat yesterday’s distance on the bike or elliptical, there isn’t much true competition in gym exercises. That doesn’t mean you aren’t working, but you aren’t working the same way you are when you truly compete.

“Being a part of the game and having something on the line, it makes you dig a little deeper and makes you get into it more and get more benefit,” Universal said. “When you’re not doing that and just out recreationally exercising and trying to burn calories, you don’t get the benefit. I have friends that run or lift weights, but if they aren’t getting that type of hockey workout consistently, they feel it after games and you see it in their play.”

Universal notes a recent example to emphasize his point: a guy who had played on one of his teams a decade ago before moving away has just returned and started back in hockey a few weeks ago.

“He had regularly exercised at the gym, but he was so gassed the first four or five games,” Universal added. “He’s finally getting his legs back. It’s funny. He regularly works out, lifts weights competitively. It’s not the same when you have to go out and sprint.”

Never too late to start

That said, don’t let the conditioning learning curve associated with hockey be a deterrent. If you used to play and are trying to get back into it, it’s never too late. Same goes for adults who have never played before.

Universal falls into that latter category. He says he grew up playing street hockey, but he never played in an organized league on the ice until he was 34. He picked it up after his kids took up the sport and he “got the itch” when some other newbies convinced him to try a beginners camp.

“I regularly run into people as adults and I encourage them to pick up the game,” Universal said. “You don’t have to have grown up with it. You just have to have the desire, and you can have some fun out there and get fit.”

Now 48, Universal can’t imagine life without the sport in so many ways – with fitness being primary among them.

“I feel the difference. I feel the lung capacity and I’m able to work harder in other areas,” Universal said. “This past weekend I did a hike with a 1,700-foot elevation drop over 1.3 miles. That’s like doing 170 flights of stairs. My legs aren’t sore, and I attribute that so much to skating. I’ve tried lacrosse, football, track, swimming, baseball, and this is definitely by far the most beneficial workout.”

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