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    September 2, 2022 Lynchburg, Va, RSS |

    Players from Liberty University’s ACHA Division I men’s and women’s hockey teams sharpened their skating skills and picked up plenty of pointers from Pro Stride Elite Skating coaches Angelo Serse and Erik Kallio during three days of clinics and instruction last weekend in the LaHaye Ice Center (LIC).

    Flames DI Head Coach Kirk Handy believes all 24 players on his roster benefited from the sessions with the dynamic duo, who have worked with several NHL players in recent years. He is challenging them to apply the preseason knowledge they gained to become more efficient and effective skaters at their respective positions when Liberty opens its 2022-23 season against North Carolina State on Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. in the LIC.

    “There’s just so much information that if you try to take it all in, you’re never going to be able to execute on it,” Handy said. “Our hope and our desire is that they pick up a couple (techniques) that would really help them … and implement those things for themselves throughout the year. That’s why we like to do these clinics at the beginning of the year, so it gives them something to think about. It’s also a really neat way to get them on the ice doing something different than just practicing for three weeks straight. Hopefully, it’s something that we can implement as a coaching staff throughout the year as well.”

    Junior DI men’s forward Jason Foltz, who showcased some spectacular moves and stick skills to score what was voted TheHockeyHouse podcast’s ACHA “Goal of the Year” for the Flames this past season, said focusing on skating is not as fun as fine-tuning shooting precision. But at the same time, he realizes how fundamental it is to the game and vital for a player to progress in his or her performance.

    “Not everyone likes to skate; they like to shoot pucks,” he said. “But when you get older, if you can’t skate, you can’t play hockey. So you need to work on things to have more power in your skating, and that’s what they’re teaching us, to get everything we can out of our stride.”

    Club Sports Director of Sports Performance Chris Kerr

    Club Sports Director of Sports Performance Chris Kerr was pleased with how attentive players were to receive and apply the instruction offered.

    “It was fun to see how engaged everybody was,” he said. “There’s really good buy-in across the men’s and women’s teams. It’s the beginning of the year and they’re ready to play hockey, right? Then we take this three-day break to really focus on something critical to the sport and that’s skating. To have this kind of pause and focus on something so technical, it’s hard to do, but because Eric and Angelo are so good and respected by the team, everybody’s focused and trying to get better. They really understand that those guys are here to make them better.”

    He said the three-day clinic was foundational for the players and coaches who have a mountain to climb as they embark on their journey to the March 16-21 ACHA National Championships near Boston.

    “In the next couple of days, Eric and Angelo will send us a program and it’s all laid out with progressions, how-tos, everything like that, and then we just have to follow it week by week,” Kerr said. “Our coaches do a great job of the follow-up …and follow through, primarily implementing it at the start of practices when our athletes are fresh. We’ve been able to see some really positive changes with our skating stride and it’ll continue to get better as our players get more and more familiar with the right way to do it.”

    Kerr has helped build rapport and communication with Kallio and Serse over the past two years and they have become an invaluable resource for him and Liberty’s coaching staffs. He noted that while Pro Stride works with every level of player — from squirts and (peewees) to middle and high school players to Juniors and professionals — most are from either New Jersey, New York, or New England.

    “It’s not every day that, no matter who you are or what team you work with, you have the opportunity to work with people at the highest levels,” he said. “How often will any of our NCAA teams here get to talk to somebody from the NFL, the NBA, or the MLB and really get to ask them a ton of questions and poke and prod and get good answers? They’re incredibly available and gracious, and when we send them a video or we have a question they get back to us right away.”

    He has refined many of the exercises he uses and has added certain stretches and drills to strengthen Liberty’s players based on the insight into skating mechanics he has received from Pro Stride.

    “For me, hearing these elite-level coaches talk about skating and all of the nuances to it, I’ve changed around some of my workouts and my programs to really be specific for the sport of hockey with the skill of skating,” Kerr said. “With Eric and Angelo, when they talk about something that they need the players to do on ice, I’m able to reverse-engineer it. If they need their foot to be here, I need to make sure that they’re strong enough and they have the flexibility to get their foot there.”

    He said as much as they have helped the players they train to improve their skating techniques, Kallio and Serse continue to push themselves to raise the quality and value of the instruction they provide.

    Kallio skates behind a women’s hockey training session led by Serse last preseason at the LaHaye Ice Center.

    “They are just phenomenal at what they do in terms of the coaching, the demonstrating,” Kerr said. “It’s fun and cool to see how even guys who are working with people at the highest level still change and evolve. We are not only better, but they are better as well and the product they deliver; the service is just so polished. People respect them when they get on the ice and they really command the attention of all of the athletes.”

    Liberty DI women’s Head Coach Chris Lowes said his players transformed their skating styles after last summer’s sessions, helping to pave the way to their fourth consecutive ACHA DI national title this past spring. Exceptional skating skills and unmatched speed on fast breaks have enabled the Lady Flames to stay at the top of the ACHA DI ranks and build on their dynasty.

    “Certainly, our skating is something that’s allowed us to have the success that we’ve had,” Lowes said. “It’s hopefully always going to be a key identity of our team. The game of hockey just has so many facets and skating’s just one piece, but it’s the biggest piece and it affects everything. As much as they put into the development of their skating, it will pay off.”

    Lowes noted that the Pro Stride training focused on the finer aspects of skating — not just power, but precision, emphasizing finesse over fitness.

    Women’s players and coaches stand on center ice after a Pro Stride skating session with Kallio (left) and Serse (second from top right; Photo by Caroline Sellers)

    “This weekend was very little about conditioning,” he said. “It was really about the science of skating and how to do it the most effective way. That’s really hard because there’s not many girls out there that are textbook skaters. Most of them are just good athletes, so to ask them to work on or change things they’ve been doing for 15 years is tough.”

    After this past weekend’s workouts, his returning players will continue to refine those skills while the team’s newcomers will take the new information and make necessary changes.

    “We saw differences from last year and Erik and Angelo could see the progress that our girls have made over that first year, and I think they’ll just continue to soak it in,” he said. “As coaches, it’s now our job to continue the development plan and make sure we’re committing the right minutes to it.”

    Men’s Associate Head Coach Jeff Boettger, who works primarily with the Flames’ defensemen, said the clinic sessions gave players a better understanding of the physics behind how they can most efficiently flow and maneuver on the ice.

    “(Serse and Kallio) are able to see our guys skate and how they move and give them tips, insights, suggestions, and challenge them a little bit,” he said. “Specifically, they were breaking it down into little technical details. A lot of it is where you put your weight and how you lean in order to take the most advantage of the power that you have.”

    Kerr said as the game of hockey has developed and strategies and systems have been innovated, positional players have taken on multiple roles on the ice. That made all of the Pro Stride skating lessons applicable to every player, other than goalies, who use specific techniques and movements around the cage.

    “There were particular times where we worked hard and heavy on backwards skating (for defensemen) and then other times when we’d work on, for example, skating as fast as we can and cutting in front of the net, for a forward,” Kerr said. “But really, what’s happened with hockey is it’s kind of become position-less. Yes, you’re still going to have your guys on the roster who are defensemen and forwards and goalies, but the way the game has evolved, it’s not weird to see a defenseman have to jump into the rush and for example bring the puck up the ice really fast. It’s not uncommon to see a defenseman end up near the net and a forward need to come out in the blue line area where you’d typically see a defenseman. If you follow the NHL now, you have defensemen that are just as fast and skilled as any forward in the league. While Eric and Angelo covered some defensive- and forward-specific types of things, we really just covered everything with everybody.”

    Members of the Flames’ DI men’s hockey team pose with Head Coach Kirk Handy and Pro Stride Elite Skating coaches Erik Kallio (left) and Angelo Serse. (Photo by Caroline Sellers)