Street HockeyFest 2014 presented by Great Skate

Street HockeyFest 2014 presented by Great Skate

Street HockeyFest 2014 presented by Great Skate

Street HockeyFest is returning to the streets of Buffalo for lucky year number 13 on August 24 with Great Skate serving as the presenting sponsor.

There is a slight alteration to the summer tournament as the games will be held on the surface parking lots in Buffalo’s Cobblestone District immediately adjacent to First Niagara Center. The change is necessitated due to the active construction of HARBORCENTER and the street closures that accompany the project.

Registration for the tournament is open now and will close on August 15. Each team can have up to five players and all games will be played three-on-three plus a goaltender. The tournament is open to all players aged eight to 17 and will see the teams split into seven divisions for boys and five divisions for girls. The divisions are determined based on age and gender in accordance with USA Hockey’s age classifications. The exact breakdown of the divisions for Stree Hockey Fest can be found below.

Players are required to provide their own sticks, sneakers and gloves along with goaltender equipment. Any additional equipment that can be worn is optional but is recommended. Players in the micron and mite divisions will be required to wear helmets.

Check-in begins on the 24th at 8:00 am and the first games of the day will begin promptly at 9:00 am. Registration and additional participant information can be found on the Sabres website or by following this link.

Boys

  • Microns 6 & under (2008 and later)
  • Mites 8 & under: (2006)
  • Squirts 10 & under (2004, 2005)
  • Pee Wee 12 & under (2002, 2003)
  • Bantam 14 & under (2000, 2001)
  • Midget 16 & under (1998)
  • Midget 17 & under (1997)

Girls

  • 17 & under (1997)
  • 15 & under (1999)
  • 13 & under (2001)
  • 11 & under (2003)
  • 8 & under (2006)

Junior Hockey trips

phenom named Connor McDavid

Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

There are 60 teams across the three leagues that make up the CHL. There are 16 more teams that make up the USHL and between the two leagues, they span across Canada and into 13 American states. Depending on where you live, you’re probably a lot closer to a major junior team than you think.

From Great Skate’s driveway you could make it to St. Catharines to see the Ice Dogs in 30 minutes or less. The Erie Otters are just about 90 minutes door-to-door while many of the OHL’s other clubs aren’t  much further away.

I was able to make three separate road trips to see junior hockey played this season, making two trips to Erie and another to St. Catharines.

The trip to see the Ice Dogs was particularly interesting as Niagara was playing their final season at Jack Gatecliff arena, which was originally built in 1938. The Ice Dogs will be moving to a new, state-of-the-art arena for the 2014-15 season and having the opportunity to see one of junior hockey’s last great barns was a special treat.

The intrigue of seeing a game played at the junior level is multifaceted. Young players, competing not only for their team’s success but their own futures adds to the narrative on a nightly basis. Each team has at least one established draft prospect who is often playing at another level as compared to his teammates and opponents. The fans a passionate and informed and the atmosphere is different than many professional games you may have seen.

Jack Gatecliff Arena has a small ice surface with no more than 10 rows of seating in the stands. Standing room fans pack in the tiny concourses and the low rafters and press box overhangs add to the intimate atmosphere. Only a handful of these smaller, “old school” buildings are left as more and more teams are moving into shiny, modern buildings with better amenities and a more professional set up.

If you’re looking to track down some of the older, more intimate arenas that are left, Stadium Journey has documented the homes of all 20 teams with full reviews of each building.

The trip to St. Catharines was mainly motivated by the chance to see hockey in a building that had maintained for so long. It was also motivated by the fact that the Ice Dogs are the closest franchise to Buffalo and if there was any team I’d latch onto each season, their proximity would play a major role.

My two trips to Erie were similarly motivated (proximity) but the Otters boast another highly marketable feature in the form of a 17 year-old phenom named Connor McDavid.

As many hockey fans are already aware, McDavid is expected to be the crown jewel of next year’s NHL Entry Draft and he’s already dazzled in his first two years of junior hockey. Seats are increasingly hard to come by in Erie as the local fanbase is augmented by visitors from cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and more coming to see McDavid play. He’s worth the price of admission.

My first jaunt to the Erie Insurance Arena resulted in having to buy standing room only tickets for $17 each. The arena’s procedure for standing room landed us about seven rows behind the bench on the blueline, not a bad deal.

Instead of missing out on a seat the second time down, our group used the box office to buy tickets ahead of time in the section of our choice. We pad $16 to sit on the glass. Even without McDavid, the level of play far surpasses the price to get in the door at any arena, let along Erie.

What’s even better is that these trips are a piece of cake to plan. Many teams run cool promotional giveaways – we happened to be too late for the McDavid player posters they were giving away – and the tickets aren’t hard to come by if you buy them ahead of time. Another fun fact regarding those promotions, the player or players featured often sign autographs after the game to add to the unique souvenir.

You’re not going to be disappointed with your choice of a junior hockey road trip. The atmosphere is different than that of an NHL game, there’s rarely a bad seat in the house as the arenas are all right-sized for the crowd and the level of play is high. Maybe put together one or two for next season and grow from there.

Hockey Fitness: Summer Training

Now that we’re officially in the dog days of summer, you’ve probably had plenty of time to spend at the beach, hanging with friends and possibly getting some ice from time to time with friends or even rec teams. But with summer heading towards the finish and tryouts and the regular season closing in, it is time to whip yourself into game shape.

There are a million and one hockey workouts for the summer online and they’re all great. For the most part you can find a host of programs that focus on weight, endurance and cross training to ensure you get a full body workout while you’re away from the rink on a regular basis.

The beauty of a summer workout is that you can vary the exercises you wish to focus on. Is this an offseason where you want to put on solid weight? Are you looking to build explosiveness and foot speed? Or maybe you’re looking to get back into game shape with a simple, well-rounded workout routine.

Regardless of your primary focus, a sound cardiovascular element is vital. Whether it’s on a stationary bike, roller blades, bicycle or jogging, make sure you build in an adequate amount of time for a proper cardio workout. Few things are going to help keep your third period legs fresh than a run or bike ride in the heat of July and August.

Mixing in different cardio elements will aid in building different muscle groups while keeping the primary focus on your cardiovascular health and building some of the endurance you may have lost catching up on the tan you lost during the winter. One other key to your cardio work out is to keep varying levels to the workout. Interval training is a great way to not only maintain endurance but also build explosive and high-tempo bursts (much like shifts in a game) into that training.

As for the weight and strength training aspect, the key is a full body focus. Keep the focus on specific muscle groups and ensure that each day’s workout is collectively going to improve that muscle group. One practice I picked up from working with various trainers is the concept of supersetting work outs.

This may not necessarily be the practice that you wish to pursue, but using a superset workout will not only allow you to mix in multiple exercises at once, but can provide for full body movement as opposed to single-muscle exercises that you may be used to.

The final element, if you hadn’t already worked this in, is core strength and agility. While a lot of agility drills work very well in a cardio setting, they can definitely be done individually and when combined with core strengthening workouts can serve as a tremendous compliment to the typical cardio and strength training programs you’ve used in the past.

Ultimately your summer workout is yours to build. Goalies may be only concerned with lower body focus, cardio and a high level of agility training to increase their side-to-side mobility and effectiveness for the coming season. Maybe some defensemen are trying to add weight and strength for added physicality as their regular season is set to begin. Or perhaps you need to get back in shape and ready for training camp and a full-circuit workout is just what the doctor ordered.

Do your research, see what other players are doing and make sure that you keep a broad focus on the entire practice.

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

Predicting the 2014 USA Olympic Roster – Forwards

As time continues to tick down towards the opening ceremonies at the 2014 Winter Olympics, hockey fans are gaining more interest in which players will be representing their country at the Sochi Games.

After an impressive and surprising silver medal effort in Vancouver, the United States will come to Sochi with much higher expectations and a much more impressive roster. With an impressive amount of defensive depth and a bevy of talented goaltenders to choose from, the biggest challenge will be determining who will be scoring the goals for the Americans next February.

I expect to see a few roster spots turnover for the US team this time around, but the same strong core will return up front:

LW

C

RW

Patrick Kane

Joe Pavelski

Dustin Brown

Zach Parise

James VanRiemsdyk

Phil Kessel

Max Pacioretty

Paul Stastny

Bobby Ryan

David Backes (A)

Ryan Kesler

Ryan Callahan (C)

Derek Stepan

 

The offensive engine for the United States will be powered by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Phil Kessel. Those three bring a different level of electricity to the ice and they should thrive on the big surface where they can escape from the high traffic areas they typically encounter on the NHL pad.

As of now I have Kane skating with Joe Pavelski and Dustin Brown. Brown is riding shotgun for the offensively gifted duo and his muck and grind style should result in a few ugly tallies throughout the tournament. Pavelski is going to play a major role for the United States as they’re woefully thin at center from top to bottom.

The Kane, Pavelski, Brown trio should combine will with Parise, James VanRiemsdyk and Phil Kessel to form a top-six with plenty of scoring acumen. While my penciled in top line has a little bit of two-way responsibility (Brown and Pavelski), my second unit won’t be entering the Selke race any time soon.

I also take a slight stretch by placing VanRiemsdyk at center. This isn’t his natural position but I love the idea of he and Kessel feeding off their preloaded chemistry from the regular season. Parise is the outsider in a sense, but he’s such a great talent that I doubt he will struggle to run up some points with that pair.

My third line is something of a set of sleepers. Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Bobby Ryan as all American veterans from various international tournaments and Stastny and Ryan will be returning for their second Olympic games. Stastny was going to be off my list until his stunning play at the Worlds changed my mind. Putting him with two battleships like Pacioretty and Ryan should allow him to serve as playmaker to the two snipers.

Lastly comes the grind line. The Americans succeeded in Vancouver thanks to their goaltending, physical play and plenty of gutty leadership. Veterans like Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner weren’t expected to be major contributors but the pair brought more to the table than was expected. A trio of 2010 vets should bring the same attitude to the table in Sochi.

Ryan Kesler, Ryan Callahan and David Backes are all first or second line players for their respective NHL squads and they all happen to be world class defensive forwards. Playing an overly physical game on the big ice in Russia is going to be a risk/reward game plan and these three are talented enough to find a healthy balance. When it comes to shutting down the countless superstar lines from Canada and Russia, these three will likely earn the toughest task. I don’t know if I could think of a better set of forwards to handle such a task.

Derek Stepan is my extra forward and he makes my team based on the fact that he can play center. The US is so thin at center that they need all the help they can get. Stepan is a shifty, dangerous forward who can step in as a pivot and produce if necessary. If he makes the team, most of his minutes will come on the wing. But when needed, he can slide inside.

This roster is contingent on a couple of factors. First; the staff needs to feel confident that one of those top three lines is capable of playing a little bit of defense. The Backes, Kesler, Callahan line is a shutdown dream but the rest of the forwards are more of the one-way variety. Second, the health of certain players (Kesler to be precise) will weigh heavily on how the roster comes together. Bearing that in mind, here are a few watch list players to keep an eye on:

TJ Oshie – A dynamic winger who has some strong two-way ability. Oshie is young but has shown great promise in St. Louis’ defensive system. He was may final “cut” but could easily find his way on the roster.

Brandon Dubinsky – Think of Dubinsky as Kesler Light. He’s a solid two-way player who can fill a shut down role. If defensive responsibility is at a premium, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him.

Alex Galchenyuk – A darkhorse, but someone to keep in mind. He’s incredibly talented and there’s no reason to think that he wouldn’t have a place on this roster. I doubt that he’d see time as a center, but if he has a big start to the season, he could be a possibility.

Up next, the defensemen and goalies

Hockey Fitness: Agility training

Last month’s Hockey Fitness post focused on building explosiveness. Hockey is all about stops and starts and quick, explosive movements. The plyometric inspired exercises illustrated last month should paint a picture of where to begin with that side of your training.

That explosion training will not only build strength but also help with footspeed on the ice. Adding agility drills to your off-ice workouts are another great way to strengthen your skating skills. Agility training is something that forwards, defensemen and goaltenders can all benefit from.

There are a number of fantastic resources on the internet talking about different types of agility drills and training that specifically impact hockey players and the muscle groups they need to target. Below are four drills which might be strong additions to your offseason program.

20-yard Shuttle

20-yard Shuttle

If you happen to tune into the NFL Combine you will see this drill done quite a bit. It is a great speed and agility drill that can be adapted and altered as you see fit. Start off by setting up three cones, or markers five yards apart. If you happen to have access to a football field you can go by the yard lines.

Start at the middle cone, sprint forward five yards to the next cone, change direction and sprint ten yards in the opposite direction before finishing back at the middle cone. This is a great drill for explosiveness and change of direction. As you improve with the drill you can expect your first three steps on the ice to improve as well.

One wrinkle that is interesting to throw in is switching sprinting for backpedaling or shuffling. This is particularly effective for goaltenders and defensemen to institute along with the traditional sprint.

30-yard T-drill

30-yard T-drill

This is a drill that takes some of the 20-yard shuttle but combines it with other agile movements. The main focus of this drill is not only the explosive first step but developing fluid hip movements and improving change of direction.

Starting at the back cone, a player will sprint forward and rapidly change direction into a five-yard shuffle. Upon reaching the third cone, you will shuffle the ten yards across before shuffling five yards back to the middle. To finish, backpedal to the starting cone.

In a similar manner to the 20-yard shuttle, this keeps you moving at all times but combines, sprinting, backpedaling and lateral movement. One wrinkle you can add would be to substitute karaoke or crossovers for shuffling. In fact, that is something you can do with each of these drills.

20-yard box

20-yard box

This is yet another drill which draws from the 20-yard shuttle above. It also has some similarities to the 30-yard T above but has more of a focus on short movements than the endurance used in the T-drill.

This drill can be started at any of the four locations, but it is typically best to start by sprinting forward, changing direction into a shuffle (or crossover), backpedaling and finishing with another shuffle. Like the T-drill this uses all three movements and focuses on explosive, fluid movements and agility through the change of direction.

Zig-Zag Drill

Zig-Zag Drill

This particular drill can be adapted in a number of different ways. Depending on what kind of focus you wish to have, the cones can be kept in close proximity to one another or spaced further apart. Adding more cones is also recommended, as it will allow you to lengthen the drill beyond 15 or 20 yards.

Starting with the cones five yards apart is a good trial approach and can serve as your base set-up. Determining shorter or longer distances will allow you to focus more on straight-line speed, or tight agile movements. This drill can also be adapted to use a shuffle or backpedal instead of sprinting.

The Zig-Zag drill really hones in on keeping fluid hips (particularly if you’re backpedaling) and tight cuts. To start, sprint from cone-to-cone in a zig-zag pattern making sure to cut your turns as tight as possible at each cone. You should always cut to the outside of each cone as you reach that point.

These four drills offer a good mix of different approaches you can take to agility training. Using speed ladder drills (as mentioned last month) and other advice from your coaches and around the internet will allow you to build a well-rounded off-ice speed and agility training regimen.

Hockey Fitness: Build explosiveness

Hockey is a special game that combines just about every aspect of an individual’s athleticism. Hand-eye coordination, stamina, balance, strength and speed are all valuable traits for a player to possess. While it is incredibly important to have the endurance to give the same effort with three minutes left in the third period as you did on your first shift, having the explosiveness to burst past an opponent, rip a wrist shot top corner or make a clutch save is equally important. In fact, hockey is just as much about quick explosive movements as it is about endurance.

Developing and training the muscle groups that will make you a more explosive player is an important portion of any off-ice training regimen. Using traditional weight training like squats, lunges and other lower body exercises will aid in building the necessary strength in muscle groups used in skating but there are other exercises you may not be using already.

Plyometrics and speed ladder training can be supplemented as additional training tools to not only build and stimulate growth in certain muscle groups, but they will also help to increase foot speed, agility and explosiveness in a player.

Speed ladder training is particularly effective for building foot speed and agility as you can mix-and-match various movements to create a workout that is fully customized to your strengths and weaknesses. A few personal favorite speed ladder exercises include one and two-foot hops through the ladder and side-to-side, quick shuffles side-to-side through the ladder and explosive front steps and backpedals up and down the ladder. Additional hockey specific speed ladder drills can be found from Livestrong and this link.

  • One and two-foot hops: This can be done in a straight line or side-to-side with a speed ladder. As you gain more comfort and balance with the drill you will be able to increase the speed in which you do the drill. The motion is simple: hop on one or both feet in a straight line making sure to step in every box on the ladder. For side-to-side hop in and out of each box as you make your way down the length of the ladder.
  • Side-to-side shuffles: This is a slightly more advanced drill, but is particularly effective for goaltenders and building foot speed. For this drill begin on one side of the ladder and quickly shuffle across each box, making sure to touch both toes in the box as you make your way across. Move up and down the ladder in a zig-zag pattern moving in both directions. Increase your speed as you gain comfort with the drill.
  • Forward and backwards explosion: This is a terrific explosion drill that should help build strength and speed for that first step towards a loose puck. Begin on the side of the ladder and move to your left or right, one box at a time, taking hard steps backwards and forwards ensuring that you touch both feet in each box as you go.

Plyometric exercises are another great wrinkle to add to an off-ice workout that will not only focus on lower body but the upper body as well. With the focus on quick movements and building strength, plyometrics are a great thing to add to your offseason regimen.

Simple box jumps – as highlighted by this Livestrong article – are my personal favorite and can be done on steps or any firm object. The higher the object, the more energy needed to reach the top, thus, you will literally see your progress as you build more strength. Adding weight to this drill is a great challenge as even 10-pound dumbells will make the exercise that much more strenuous. Plyometric pushups – also noted in the article – are another interesting exercise. I have used a medicine ball in the past to balance myself and add a wrinkle to the exercise. Here are ten more plyometric exercises to build into your workout.

Hockey Fitness will be a running feature on the Great Skate blog that will feature different techniques and workouts to help you become a better player. Stay tuned for further installments of this series.