Monday, November 12, 2012

Getting Off the Hockey Circle

This post is for beginner skaters--so you freestylers may want to hop over to and see what's going on in the Pro Shop or Sitting on the Boards sections.

Most ice rinks have  hockey markings under the ice; There's 5 circles on the surface, one in the middle, and one in each corner. Many rinks use the circles as placers for LTS classes. So when you start taking group classes it's tempting to practice certain skills on the hockey circles. There's a time and a place for this. First and most important, it puts you on a curve and helps you get an edge. Also, it keeps you out of the way of experienced skaters (who know what you're doing) and gives you a space to work. But eventually you won't need to skate on the circle,  it will get boring, and you'll want to do something more. This post is about how I got to the 'more'.

What do you do once you've got comfortable with the skills? How do you move forward? How do you give your skills equal time on each side?

I picked this up from Coach Amazing. I was frustrated that I was having difficulty getting 'time' on the hockey circles on crowded public session. She told me, "Just do it down the sides, alternating." Man, it was like a light went off in my head!
So remember, I AM NOT A COACH. I'm just going to lay this out as how a beginning skater might want to try getting off the hockey circle to practice some beginning skills.
Forward Crossovers. This is probably the one of the easiest skills to practice on public because you can always see what's ahead of you.  Do a forward crossover, take a stroke, switch arms, do a crossover in the other direction. If you can only do crossovers in one direction, you can still do these. You could do the crossover you can, stroke along a curve as if you could do the other crossover, repeat the first crossover.

But what if you don't feel at ease doing them one after another. If you feel you need more speed, or you want to stabilize yourself,  you could take an additional stroke or two, or glide on two feet before entering the next crossover. Do what makes you feel safe and comfortable.

Alternating crossovers would take a path something like the dark line
The dashed circles are imaginary hockey circles, just for reference
The goal here is not to do perfect alternating crossovers right away, but to get accustomed to doing one crossover one way, then the other in the opposite direction down the side. I found it built up my stamina and power. Also, it made skating more of a challenge as I had to place my crossovers so I didn't interfere with other skaters. And I gave equal time to each side.

Back Crossovers--This is pretty much the same, but harder to do on a busy public session.You may need to glide backwards on two feet after the first crossover, or take a mini stroke, then do a crossover in the other direction. Don't forget to look behind you for traffic.

If you can only do two in the beginning, that's a start. You may feel the rink is too crowded, or you're not comfortable with back crosses yet and you really do want some practice on the circle. Your safety comes first. But if you can do two along the line, that's a beginning.  Soon you'll want to do 4, then all the way down the side. Maybe it will take a few weeks, but it's really a way to build up confidence and get off the circle.

I've found when starting with these it was easier to begin at a corner so I was in familiar territory as if I was doing the crossover on the circle then 'unwinding' it down the side. 

There's also a way to do mohawks down the line.  I do a mohawk, turn forward, stroke (depending on how you count, it may be 'stroke twice'), repeat the same mohawk.  There's a way to do alternating mohawks, but I'm not there yet.

I use these mostly for warm ups, but I also have some simple (very simple) footwork drills I'm working on that I can do across the short end of the rink. There's usually some nice open space next to the coned off area and I like to have some little short footwork drills to do when a space opens up unexpectedly.

So there's some stuff I've learned over the last year based on Coach Amazing's suggestion.
Don't focus on the hockey circle so much you miss the rest of the ice!


  1. When I'm tired at practice and/or want to just do something that feels pretty, I do forward alternating crossovers. Right crossover, glide on the inside edge of left foot, step right and do a left crossover, glide on the inside edge of the right foot, etc. Head held high, glides held steady, arms out. It's fun.

    This is also fun backwards. Back crossover into back outside edge, reverse and repeat.

  2. Another tip for beginner skaters practicing their skills on a public session - you CAN do circle work on places OTHER THAN a hockey circle. Just imagine a circle and start skating on it - in the center section about 8' over from the center circle is often a good place. In very busy public sessions (like mid-winter weekend afternoon sessions), it just isn't very safe to be working the corner hockey circles, as some of the time you will be going against the traffic.

    I agree with Q that forward alternating crossovers (also sometimes called "Russian stroking") are a fun way to skate with power and grace in traffic.

    I'd like to hear about the way to alternate mohawks down the line - I've been working on improving those on the circle. (I do a RFI mohawk, glide on LBI in nice landing position (optional - do one back crossover), glide RBO, step to LFO, do a front cross over, stroke to RFI, and repeat.) (I have no idea if my sequence is similar to anything in the USFS moves program; I just came up with this so I could something more interesting than just plain mohawks by themselves.)

    1. Alternating mohawks. I'm working my way up to these. Never done them, so this is all theory.
      1. Do a mohawk. your skating foot is a back inside edge
      2. Step forward, which should bring you to the new skating foot but going forward. The foot that had the back inside edge is now the free foot.
      3. Bring the free foot forward, stroke onto an inside edge
      4. Repeat mohawk.
      I skate my mohawks pretty much near to a straight line. Scary as all get out.

    2. Russian stroking...I like that!