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Power Skating Expert Sharpens Hockey Players’ Game : Local Clinics Offer Coaching That Improved Skills in NHL

Times Staff Writer

Two little boys wearing two very large helmets put their sticks on the ice and pretended to face off like the pros.

An older skater came between them and pointed to the instructor: “Pay attention,” he whispered, and the boys obediently listened.

Not far from the trio, Laura Stamm patiently explained the importance of the penguin walk, a drill that helps players remember how to grip the ice with their blade.

Stamm, a hockey power skating expert, has been an instructor since 1971, and so she knows that hockey players frequently resist learning the fundamental skating techniques that will improve their game.

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“Power skating is not the fun part of hockey. But it’s what makes hockey fun to play,” Stamm said. “Most guys don’t learn any technique. They just go out and play. But just how correcting a little hitch in your golf swing can change your game, a little hitch in your skating mechanics can change your game too.”

When Stamm, a New Yorker, talks people would be well advised to listen.

She is credited with improving the skating skills of more than 100 National Hockey League players and writing three books on the subject. She is not only an experienced power skating coach, but a well-versed one as well.

According to Stamm, power skating can be defined as the ability to skate from one point to another as quickly as possible and remain balanced once you get there. To achieve this, Stamm has divided skating into four segments: windup, release, follow-through and return.

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“I think Laura is terrific,” said 43-year-old Jim Brust, who attended Thursday’s novice clinic in Culver City. “She’s the only skating instructor I’ve ever had who breaks everything down and tells you exactly what to do.”

The clinic moves to the South Bay’s Olympic Ice Arena (Harbor City) for three sessions beginning tonight at 8 and will continue Saturday from 1:45 to 3:30 p.m. and Sunday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. It is open to novice and advanced skaters of all ages.

Andrea Johnson, the only woman in the Culver City session, wiped her face with a towel as she tried to catch her breath after Thursday’s session. “I was looking forward to it for a long time, because I’m always trying to keep up with guys. The best part of it was that she explains herself in a few words. Then when you’re skating, you can think about what she told you.”

Stamm, who recently published her third book, “Laura Stamm’s Power Skating,” works with novice and advanced skaters in addition to NHL teams. After several years of instructing members of the New York Rangers and Islanders, Stamm now works with the New Jersey Devils and the Kings.

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Stamm admits that coaching professional players was difficult in the beginning. “I was terrified. I remember saying to myself, ‘What am I going to teach these guys?’ I think it may have been a little embarrassing for the guys. They may not have liked their coach sending them to a woman. But then their skating improved and players like (former New York Islander) Bob Nystrom would would rave about power skating.”

Publicity on Stamm and power skating eventually reached Bay Harbor Red Devils Coach John Mephan, and a few months ago when he learned that Stamm was holding a clinic in Culver City he contacted her to set up a clinic in the South Bay.

“You can be the best stick handler and shooter in the world, but if you can’t skate well to get into the play, it doesn’t do you any good,” Mephan said. “Skills must be built on the solid foundation of power skating. If we are able to bring in people like Laura Stamm, eventually California will produce Olympic-caliber players. Why should all the hockey players come from the Great Lakes or the Northeast?”

This is the second year Stamm has taught clinics in Southern California, and she says she’s impressed by the enthusiasm of local youth hockey organizers like Mephan.

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“They’re paying me to work with the kids, but they’re not doing this to make money from it,” Stamm said. “These clinics are really a service to the players so they get better and have a greater commitment to the sport.”

While improving the quality of youth hockey in California relies on a commitment from the players, a commitment from parents is also integral. In addition to providing expensive equipment, parents often find themselves traveling long distances at odd hours since ice time is so valuable in an area with few skating rinks.

“Parents really have to be willing to do a lot,” said Marianne Stone as her son Tom suited up for the session. “I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I do love it because hockey’s such an exciting sport.”

Eight-year-old Tom Stone is a hockey veteran of sorts since he began skating three years ago during the pre-Gretzky era in Los Angeles. But Stamm and Mephan agree that interest in the sport has risen tremendously since hockey’s superstar was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings last August.

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“It’s made a tremendous impact here,” Stamm said. “Every coach I’ve spoken to tells me their numbers are up in the adult community as well as with the kids. People here do everything. They’re participants and hockey is a lot of fun.”

Perhaps this is why the little ones fidget when they watch Stamm execute skating drills rather than breakaways. Perhaps they remember what their instructor said to them only moments before they took the ice:

“When you give a kid a stick, skates and ice to skate on, it’s magic. You’re hooked for life. The feeling of moving on ice is a feeling of not being bound to the Earth. It’s a feeling of freedom.”


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