No organized hockey for girls
When I was a youngster there was no organized hockey for girls. I played on the ponds with my brothers and their friends. Ultimately I became a competitive figure skater, then a figure skating coach. I taught at the ice rink then used by the New York Rangers as their practice facility. Loving hockey as I did, I spent many hours watching the Rangers' practices.
In that era wingers skated up and down the wings; centers skated up and down the middle; defensemen mostly stayed back in the defensive zone. I wondered why there wasn't more movement, more "flow". I started asking questions to the players - such as, "Why don't hockey players circle and weave (like Bobby Orr)? Why don't they 'give and go' (as in basketball)?' The players, amused, asked me, "Why don't you mind your own business?" Then Rod Gilbert and Brad Park asked me if I"d like to teach "power skating" at their summer hockey school.I jumped at the chance, never realizing that this was to be the start of the Laura Stamm Power Skating.
Very little was known then about the science (biomechanics) of hockey skating or of the importance of skating technique. The assumption was that you couldn't teach players how to skate. The thinking was that either a player could skate or he couldn't skate. Skating "more" was equated with skating "better".
When I started to teach I was handed one sheet of paper, called "Power Skating". Following were several drills, such as stops and starts, skate to the blue line and back, skate forward, turn around, skate backward and hurry on back to the starting point, skate the circles, etc. Nothing on the sheet of paper addressed how to teach players to skate correctly.
That day I taught three different age groups. The youngest player was about eight, the oldest about eighteen. I watched, stunned, as these boys raced around the ice, legs churning ineffectively, going nowhere fast. Immediately, it was apparent to me that these players needed to learn how to skate correctly!
I "stashed" the sheet of paper and started experimenting. My brain reeled with ideas - ideas derived from a lifetime of studying skating and watching hockey players skate. I knew then that I was doing the thing in life that I was meant to do.
Stamm Teaches Bob Nystrom
Just before the summer of 1973 Bill Torrey, the New York Islanders GM, phoned me. He asked if I could teach a promising rookie by the name of Bob Nystrom. Bob had a lot of promise, but his only hope to make the Islanders roster was to improve his speed. After watching him I felt that by improving his skating technique he could be faster.
In those days professional hockey players did not have female instructors. To spare Bob any embarrassment, we kept our training sessions to ourselves. We worked from 6 - 7am, five days a week, for eight weeks. Bob didn't miss a day.
Bob Nystrom wound up playing 14 years in the NHL. When the Islanders beat the Flyers in overtime in game 6 to win their first Stanley Cup in 1980, it was Bob who scored the winning goal. In 1995 the Islanders retired his Number (23). In 1991 the team inaugurated the Bob Nystrom Award, "to the Islander who best exemplifies leadership, hustle and dedication."
I credit Bob's "big mouth" for launching my career. After asking to keep our sessions secret, he was the one who told the media and everyone else that if it wasn't for me he wouldn't have made it to the NHL.
Led to jobs with NHL & WHA teams
This led to jobs with several NHL and WHA teams, including the Rangers, Devils, Kings and Whalers, to teach their players. Over the years I've taught many hundreds of pros. Well known graduates include Luc Robitaille, Steve Duchesne, Kevin Dineen, Doug Brown, Rob and Scott Niedermayer, Brendan Morrison, and many more.
Radio and TV features followed. In 1974 I was hired to teach at a summer hockey school in British Columbia. As time went on I was hired by hockey associations around the US, Canada, and Europe, to teach their hockey players. Eventually I focused on running my own power skating clinics and schools. Eventually I started to hold training courses for instructors who wanted to join my organization. To this day, my programs are taught only by certified Laura Stamm Instructors.
I didn't know it when I first started teaching, but I was teaching the "European" method of skating without ever having seen European hockey. What started as bits and pieces eventually developed into a true system. My philosophy of teaching remains the backbone of my System. We teach each complicated skating maneuver by breaking it down into its many parts. As the parts become integrated we add more elements. The goal is for students to master each maneuver so that in game situations they will skate correctly, powerfully and quickly, with and without the puck.
Establishing a Strong Foundation
My program syllabus is structured much like a pyramid - it focuses on establishing a strong foundation, with ever increasing subtleties as one nears the top. Laura Stamm Power Skating remains the model against which other power skating programs are measured.
Four books, two videos, several thousands of amateur and pro students, and 30 years later, I'm still at it - still learning, still experimenting, still believing that the most important aspect of a hockey player's training is to develop correct skating techniques. It's hard for me to understand that I jump-started the careers of hundreds, maybe thousands, of pro players; spawned the development of an entire industry, and was the model for and often the teacher of an entire generation of power skating instructors who followed in my footsteps.
Hockey skating has come a long way in these 30 years. We now have sophisticated methods to measure speed, acceleration, body angles, edge angles, knee bend, etc. Players circle and weave, give and go. Defenders rush as if they were forwards, forwards play back to cover for the rushing defenders. The game is faster every year. Players are bigger, stronger, faster and highly skilled. Girls and women are playing the sport and getting better every year. Players who can't keep up have little chance of making it at the highest levels. Every hockey school, almost every rink, offers some form of power skating instruction. I'm teaching my second, even third-generation of players-the children and grandchildren of former students who seek me out to teach their young ones.
The 2001 All Star Event featured a skating competition won by Billy Guerin. He was clocked at 29 mph. This would have been unheard of 30 years ago. I wonder how fast the game will be 30 years from now?
The sport has come a long way, and as the skill level continues to increase hockey will become even more exciting. I feel very fortunate to have been there early on, to have catalyzed its development, and in the process, influenced so many lives.
by Laura Stamm
© November, 2001