The first thing most of you will think of when I say "speed" is how fast someone skates and yes, your not totally wrong. That's what has been ingrained in players brains since the beginning of their hockey careers.
But there is more than just speed in relation to your skating that coaches and scouts look for.
Yes, being a fast skater helps you excel and gives you a better chance to continue to play at higher levels. Your acceleration, deceleration, and agility are huge components to the game, and we haven't even talked about the whole shooting and passing aspect.
But speed can also apply to many area's of the game.
Ever heard a coach say "You need to play up to the speed of the game"?
He very might well be talking about your skating, but he also might be talking about your hockey sense; your ability to read and react during the game.
The best players in the world are always thinking one step ahead of everyone else. That was what made Gretzky so good back in the 80's. His mind and ability to process information was going at a speed that nobody else was able to match outside of Mario Lemieux. He wasn't the fastest skater, didn't have a booming slap shot or some sublime stickhandling ability. The Great One was able to process what he saw when he did and DIDN'T have the puck so fast that he was essentially playing chess when everyone else was playing checkers.
So yes, being able to see and play at the speed of the game is a very important skills and asset to have.
Watch the video below:
Watch these passes being made under pressure in such short amount of time and space. This involves quicker reading and reacting and being able to be a step mentally above the current pace. My favorite is the Kane to Hossa pass from the spin-o-rama. To be able to make that play agility wise, and know where the seam is to make that pass before he makes it all starts at thinking the game faster. Same with the Lemieux no look backhander across the royal road. Super Mario had to know exactly what was going on around him, where everyone was on the ice, and be able to make that pass through traffic.
How does someone quantify this ability?
Typically the players that can think the game fast are the ones who are always in great position both offensively and defensively. Their the guys who find the holes or seams in the offensive zone and get there right as the puck is coming to them to bang it home. Their also the guys who make the slick passes through traffic as if the puck has a tracking unit on it.
Defensively, their the guys who are always in great position, able to see the ice and take away passing lanes at the right moment and start the play the other way. They also recognize when to pinch due to where teammates and the opposition are related to the puck. They also know when its the right time to stand a player up in open ice or use a simple pokecheck to keep their containment and not take themselves out of the play. They can also figure out when it's the right time to join the rush or not.
Being able to process the speed of the game is why some guys play Tier 1 or Tier 2, why some guys never make it past the AHL. Ask any player that moves up levels what the difference between the previous one and the next one and I guarantee you 9 times out of 10 they will say "the speed of the game".
Yet, there is also another aspect speed comes into play.....
You've probably seen it numerous times on TV and highlights on Youtube where NHL players get their howitzers recorded and the speed posted on the TV for all to see.
Yes, having a nice booming shot is like being able to hit the golf ball the farthest or seeing who can hit the upper deck in the home run derby.
But when I'm watching a player shoot, I'm looking to see how fast (speed) they can get their shot off (release) in addition to the heaviness of it.
You could have the hardest wrist, snap or slap shot in the world, but if it takes you too long to get that sucker off, you are basically just letting everyone on the rink get ready or react to it. That's why defenseman at the point who take too long usually are chasing back into their own zone because the forward fronted the shot off his shin pads and now has a break away or the forward who gets a pass on his forehand side in the offensive zone but instead of one timing it, stops it and then shoots is slowing the game down.
One of my mentors growing up talked a lot about "glide to release"; essentially that a player needs to be able to have less glide on their release. If you wind up or pull back the puck and it takes you 10 feet before you get your release off, that's not very impressive. I want to see you pull that puck or snap it in 1 to 2 feet. I want that piece of vulcanized rubber flying off your stick before anyone even knows you were thinking of shooting.
Watch the video above.
Matthews absorbs that pass from Nylander and has it on net before Rask can even set himself for the shot. Hell, Chara can't even get his stick on the ice and that puck is already in the back of the net.
Glide to release?
Probably 2-3 feet, but less than a second.
So remember, it's great to be one of the fastest skaters on the ice, and speed does kill... but there's more areas in affects than just your feet.