If you line your team up on the goal line and have a race to the centre line, who wins? Likely not the goalie, but odds are that most of the players on your team get there at about the same time. Your fastest players might be a step or two ahead but they won’t win the race by more than a few feet. The straight-ahead speed of most players playing on the same team in the female game is pretty even. This means that the linear speed of most players in the same age group will likely be pretty even too.
So, how do you separate yourself from your competition when it comes to speed? You do it with your east-west skating. While most players competing at the same level are similarly fast going north-south, the best players are the ones winning the east-west races.
How many times have you seen your defence skate straight up the wall on the breakout right into pressure, or your winger pick up a breakout pass and turn up the boards only to run straight into the other team’s defence? It happens all the time. If your winger and attacking defence player had the proper skating, game awareness and puck protection skills in place, those turnovers along the boards wouldn’t happen. They could make a sharp cut towards the middle of the ice, away from pressure, and have many more options of what to do with the puck.
The first thing I teach players when working on their east-west game is the lateral cut. Training starts with getting players comfortable with the concept of skating with their toes pointing towards the side boards instead of north-south. Picture a forward skating down the boards against a defenceman, one-on-one. Instead of trying to beat that D wide with linear speed, that forward can skate east-west by cutting in towards the middle and shielding the puck from the defender. This creates a lane to the middle of the ice for the forward with the puck in a safe position. Not only is this east-west action challenging for the D to defend, it’s also very hard for the goalie to adjust to a shooter skating east-west across the front of the net.
In addition to the simple lateral cut, we also stress the importance of using the heel-to-heel cut, sometimes called the Crosby move. This move requires the puck carrier to open up her feet into a heel-to-heel position while turning her back to the defender. This creates maximum separation between the attacker and defender and also allows the puck carrier to cut back into the direction she (or he) came from more easily if the initial east-west move doesn’t work.
To watch a short video on these east-west cuts, access: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8EthX3OFlQ. Try them out and start to develop the east-west side of your game. You’ll be faster!
Meet Coach Kim McCullough
Coach Kim McCullough is a leading expert in the development of female hockey players. She is the Director (and Founder) of Total Female Hockey (www.totalfemalehockey.com) and has coached at both the provincial and national levels. She is currently the Head Coach of the Toronto-Leaside Jr. Wildcats in the Ontario Provincial Women’s Hockey League.