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Jeff Friesen Hockey Stop
Sharks Forward Jeff Friesen demonstrates the "hockey stop." Click on "Quicktime" below to view the movie.

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Starting and Stopping on a Slippery Surface

Accelerating and decelerating on a slippery surface requires a player to dig into the ice and push off from the surface.The sharp edges on hockey skate blades can dig deeply into the ice, allowing a player to accelerate quickly or stop on a dime using the "hockey stop." The friction between the blade and the ice is minimized because the surface of the ice is so slippery, and because only a small portion of the skate's blade is actually in contact.

The Mechanics of Skating

NHL players can reach speeds in excess of 20 miles (32 km) per hour on the ice. Some speed skaters have been clocked at over 30 miles (48 km) per hour! What makes one player faster than another? A combination of strength and mechanics help a skater move efficiently and quickly on the ice. When accelerating, players dig their skates into the ice and lean forward. They are exerting a strong force on the lower part of their bodies by leaning forward. Gravity pulls down on a hockey player's center of mass which "torques" him forward It is important to note that skaters can only lean forward when they are accelerating. If they leaned forward when traveling at a constant speed or decelerating, they would fall over.

Thomas Humphrey
Exploratorium physicist Thomas Humprey talks about the mechanics of skating.

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Who's really the fastest man on earth?

Skating, according to physicist Thomas Humphrey is "the fastest way to travel on the surface of the earth on your feet." When you run, your front foot slows you down every time it hits the ground. In skating, one skate pushes and the other skate glides--there is very little friction to slow you down. Speed skater Hiroyasu Shimizu of Japan can travel 500 meters in just 35.39 seconds, an average speed of 14.13 meters per second or 31.6 miles per hour. In comparison, Canadian runner Donavan Bailey sprints 100 meters in 9.84 seconds for an average speed of 10.2 meters per second or 22.8 miles per hour.

Strength and Conditioning Coach Steve Millard
Steve Millard talks about the importance of technique in skating.
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Strength vs. Technique

How much of skating is strength and how much of it is mechanics or technique? It's difficult to draw the line. Sharks player Doug Bodger thought both were important but strength was key. Conditioning Coach Steve Millard agreed that both were important but thought mechanics was the more important of the two.

Everyone that we talked to thought that the only way to improve your skating was to practice. Bicycles, swimming, and even weights were mentioned as good "cross-training" activities, but apparently there is no replacement for the act of skating itself. Sharks Forward Todd Ewin told us, "If you don't skate, you'll find that you'll lose it quickly--it's one of the few sports...where you'll lose the technique. We take about 2 or 3 weeks off in the summer and that's it." Players and coaches agree that to make it in the NHL you need both strength and good skating technique. Apparently practice throughout the year is also important.

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