“Wherever I play, I’ll bring them and if I can get out and skate I will,” the Tampa Bay Lightning forward said. “It’s just a reason to get out and skate, keep your skating legs, keep up with the stamina. I was rollerblading down Bayshore [Boulevard] in Tampa before coming back to St. Louis to be closer to my son.”
Maroon, a former roller hockey player who won gold with the United States in the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation In-Line Hockey World Championship, is among the many NHL players who have turned to in-lane skating to since March 12, when the NHL season was paused and all team training facilities closed due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Robby Glantz, a former NHL power skating coach and the skating and skills expert for NHL Network, said in-line is perhaps the most effective off-ice cross training idea for players to keep the muscles in their legs, hips and groins in shape.
However, he warns that it’s not perfect and that players need to be careful that it doesn’t negatively impact them when they are allowed to get back on the ice.
“The stopping is literally opposite,” said Glantz, who among the players he’s worked with lists Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews and U.S. women’s national team forward Kendall Coyne-Schofield. “The muscle memory it takes to learn how to stop on rollerblades is 180 degrees from what we need to do on the ice. You push into the heal to stop on rollerblades, and expert rollerbladers push in and do a modified tight turn stop and they skid. If you try that on ice, your ankles will break, or it will feel that way. The balance points are different too, but not enough to where I wouldn’t suggest it. It’s a very good training tool as long as you understand what you’re doing.”
The players are using it as a training tool.
They’re doing it in their homes and displaying it on social media, like Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov and Penguins forward Patrick Marleau.
They are skating and stick handling to play keep away from their dogs, like Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner.
They’re going for skates with their dogs like Chicago Blackhawks forwards Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat.
They’re skating while pushing a stroller, like Nashville Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm and Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux.
They’re playing games in the street, like the Hughes’ brothers; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes, New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes and their younger brother, Luke, a prospect in USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
“For me, the biggest thing with rollerblading is just putting the skate boot on, having my feet in the skates, just that feeling of tying up my skates,” said Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn, who skates with his kids. “I don’t know, maybe that’s just a little bit therapeutic.”
Wayne Gretzky even said he would be doing it right now when Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin asked him for advice on how to best handle life without ice on NHL “#HockeyAtHome.”
“I would have been skating around on flat property around the neighborhood as much as I can,” Gretzky said. “Your hands and your shot and stick-handling, that’s never going to go away, but one of the things you lose quickly if you’re not skating every day is that skating stride. So if I was a player of today’s generation and we were locked out, I would try to find places to rollerblade as much as possible.”
Barkov, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin are among the growing list of players who are trying out a new in-line skate called Marsblade, which uses a patented technology called Flow Motion Technology designed to mimic the feel of skating on ice, according to chief operating officer and inventor Per Mars.
Mars said he recently sent full-team orders of his skates to several NHL teams.
“We designed the frame with a split chassis, where the upper chassis has a radius shaped rocking surface, and the lower chassis has a flat upper surface, creating a rocker system that enables a simulated feel of skating on ice,” Mars said. “It allows you to get the same maneuverability, push off, activate the same muscles groups and challenge the balance like skating on ice does.”
Bob Woods, an assistant with the Minnesota Wild who played professionally in Roller Hockey International, a professional in-line league in North America in the 1990s, said the stride on in-line skates is harder because you don’t get the same glide as you do on ice, making the skater work that much harder, creating a more challenging exercise.
Glantz, though, said players need to be careful about the stride technique and the impact in-line skating can have on it, saying players who are in-line skating need to bear down and concentrate on the techniques that they use on ice skates, including pushing their hips and legs outward.
Woods remembers the challenge of going back on ice skates to play in Austria after playing in Roller Hockey International.
“I literally grabbed the edge of the boards and had to teach myself to skate again,” Woods said. “I was like, these people in Europe are going to be like, ‘What did we sign here?’ If you were watching me you would have thought I never stepped on the ice in my life.”
Woods said he got it back by doing a bunch of figure eights. It didn’t take long, but it was scary.
“It’s different than being on a sharp blade that you’re digging into the ice, working on edges, getting lower in stance,” Maroon said. “Everyone says it’s tough to replicate edgework and I agree, but other than that it’s the same thing. You can still do turns, tight turns. You can work on your hands, your shot.”
Glantz said he believes players who come from roller hockey tend to have better hands.
“When you practice your stick-handling with the roller puck on the cement you have to feel it more and do it quicker to get that thing moving so it develops that feel more,” Glantz said.
Nothing replicates going into the corner and battling for a puck, trying to stay upright when you’re getting leaned on by a bigger man. The players will only be able to do that confidently again by getting back into playing shape with a mini training camp.
But at the very least in-line skating can help them now, even to keep their minds in shape.
“You could be the best guy on the bike or the best guy on any type of cardio equipment, it doesn’t translate to what you do on the ice at all,” Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “[In-line skating] might be something I have to look into.”