Posts Tagged ‘Anaheim Ducks’

A couple of weekends ago we hosted the Okanagan Strength & Conditioning Conference.

This was an ambitious undertaking as we went out to bring in 5 of the top coaches and researchers in our industry to Kelowna for a few days. This was ambitious because there are fitness conferences in Canada already learning about Zumba insn’t going to help your on ice performance.

But learning from Sean Skahan probably will.

Sean’s the strength & conditioning coach for the Anaheim Ducks. He’s been with the team through a few different coaching changes, had nine players in the 2010 Olympics, three of which won gold for Canada. And he was with the team when they won a Stanley Cup in 2007.

So you could say Sean’s been around and worked with some successful hockey players.

Wouldn’t it be valuable to peak inside his training program? Wouldn’t you want to see what he considers important to the development of an NHL player? Wouldn’t it be helpful to ask him some questions as to what is working with him in his training?

Absolutely it would!

And Sean, like many top flight coaches, is a big proponent of the Functional Movement Screen. If you’re not familiar with the FMS don’t worry about it. It’s a tool used by coaches to screen movement patterns of players. From this screen the coach can then tell which movement patterns are deficient or unbalanced. And this then provides an appropriate starting point for helping offset potential injuries during the season.

The FMS involves 7 tests but I’m going to talk about one in particular which is the Hurdle Step.

This test looks at three things:

* stability of the stance leg

* hip mobility of the stride leg

* core stability

When scoring an FMS you can assign a score of 0 to 3 depending on the quality of the movement. A zero indicates pain when performing the movement and a 3 means the movement met all the desired criteria.

Sean mentioned that he believes hockey players need a 3 on the FMS in this test. This is because the test challenges the stride mechanics. And striding is an integral part of the game of hockey. It also provides feedback on the coordination and stability of the hips and torso. Lastly it is a test performed on a single leg which is sport specific to hockey.

When looking at the hockey player performing the Hurdle Step we want to look for a number of things.

1. Stability of Stance Leg

One of the aspects of the Hurdle Step is that we want to assess the stability of the stance leg. Are the toes and knee pointed forward? Are the pelvis and hip neutral? Are they balanced on this stance leg or wavering?

If they are scoring less than a 3 it may be due to a weakness of the muscles providing the base. Think of your hip abductors such as glute medius. Sean mentioned he likes to use side lying leg lifts to activate this muscle group.

2. Mobility of Stride Leg

While one leg is supporting the body the other knee lifts the leg up and over the hurdle. A common issue for hockey players is psoas weakness.

With this test you want to make sure lifting the knee is not accompanied by lumbar flexion. In other words in order to get the knee up the low back should not round.

3. Core Stability

You can think of core stability as the ability to maintain proper alignment in the presence of movement. In this case the movement would be the lifting of the stride leg. Does the body dip towards the side of the unsupported leg? Does the hockey player get shorter when they lift one leg off the ground? If they had lasers coming out of their hips would the laser light move when the leg lifts?

There are a number of ways to assess core stability on this test. Use the previous cues if you like. The key is to be able to generate movement in the extremities without moving the rest of the body.

In our hockey training program, Premier Hockey Training, we give you a cheat sheet to be able to correct any of the movement dysfunctions you may have. Give it a try and see the impact in has on your ability to stay healthy and play at your highest level.

Here’s  a look at the cheat sheet I put together in Premier Hockey Training.

Corrective Exercise Treatment Table ‘Cheat Sheet’ (sample)

Compensatory   movement Tight/over active muscles Weak/under active muscles Treatment
1. Foot   turns out – externally rotates in anterior view
Calf complex:  gastrocnemius,
peroneals, soleus


Gluteus medius, gluteus
maximus, medial hamstring
(posterior tibialis)


SMR (foam roll) calf complex,
static stretch calf complex,
lateral band walking


2. Knee   moves inward – adducts
Adductor complex: (peroneals,
lateral gastrocnemius)


Gluteus medius and gluteus
maximus (posterior tibialis)


SMR adductor complex, calf
complex, lateral band walking, supine     bridging


7.   Upper body – arms fall forward
Latissimus dorsi, pectoral
major and minor


Mid-lower trapezius,


SMR back and lats, foam roll
on length of spine with arms
outside, pull overs, prone cobra


Pick up a copy to get your own cheat sheet for correcting your movement dysfunctions.


Below are a few more questions I had for Sean Skahan, s&c coach with the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. Here are the questions and his answers.

Mike Boyle – an example of a top flight hockey s&c coach

9. How would he define a top flight hockey strength & conditioning coach?

Sean was quick to say that this comes down to decreasing injuries while getting more wins. He added that this involves an ability to relate to hockey players and to get them to buy into what they’re doing.

10. During the off-season players will do any of a number of things to get ready for the upcoming season. Some will follow the plan prepared by their team’s s&c coach. Other’s will use an alternate approach. And with this second option you often see more deviation from the traditional off-season program for hockey.

For example in recent years with the increased popularity of the UFC more players have incorporated some form of martial arts into their training. Some will get into some form of cross training. What are his views on off-season training?

Sean is ok with his players doing different things as long as it is safe. Safety is the primary concern. And the less specific it is to the game of hockey it is probably better to do these activities earlier in the off-season rather than trying them out a week or two before camp.

11. Hockey players play their game with the foot encased in a hard boot. With ankle stability being vital in the joint by joint approach to training and the recent interest in barefoot training what does Sean think about training barefoot?

He said he thought it probably would be ok for hockey players. There is benefit to having a more naked, less restricted foot contacting the ground. I’m not sure if I’m recalling the next part from Sean but when it comes to using some of the newer shoes such as the 5 Fingers it is important to ease into using them.

Wear them around the house for a day or so. Then wear them at the gym for a workout. Gradually work up to walking and then jogging in them. Start on softer surfaces such as grass and gradually build up with respect to the volume, speed and firmness of the surface.

Well there you have it. I’ve just given you direct insider access to the thoughts and methods of one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the NHL. You can’t help but improve your efforts to become a better hockey player by learning from a guy like Sean.

But a word of caution.

Don’t abandon everything you’re doing and change it to line up exactly as Sean is doing things.

You have different players. Your players have different needs and abilities. You ability to coach young players will be quite different.

Using a quote Bruce Lee was fond of using ‘embrace what is useful, reject what is not’.

Everything Sean does for the Ducks is useful for them but may not be for you. Your job is figure out where the nuggets of info he has dropped on you fit into your plan and then design a way to incorporate them into your training.

Thanks again Sean for being a great guy to learn from.


 When I say ‘Model Success’ this isn’t what I mean.

We’re all familiar with the expression ‘to learn from our mistakes’.

And this sometimes encourages people to forge ahead before they have the best information. This can lead to wasted time and, obviously, mistakes.

A better option would be to model success.

With that in mind I have taken some time to sit with Sean Skahan who is the strength and conditioning coach for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. While under his coaching the Ducks have won a Stanley Cup and were represented by 8 players at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.

I think it’s safe to say his programs generate success on the ice. So to model some of Sean’s success I asked him a number of questions about this training methodologies.

Read on to find out Sean’s answers and model his success.

5. What are some things you wished players did a little less?

Sean didn’t have too much to say here. I guess this is a testament to the fact that he has earned the respect of this players and they don’t veer too far away fro whar he wants them to do.

Earlier in his career there was the occasional challenge of hockey players doing too much cardio for their off-season training. This might take a variety of forms but basically came down to long, aerobic conditioning.

Another challenge from earlier on was to have hockey players head home for the summer and do their own thing. They may enlist the help of coach or trainier in their area but this individual had different ideas about what these players were going to work on.

6. With the recent increase in head injuries in the NHL are the Ducks doing any specific related to this?

Sean does include some neck specific work for his players but admitted that head injuries are a part of the game. If a player suffers any type of head injury here is a very strict protocol that is followed involving various levels of the team’s medical staff. He did make one interesting comment about neck training and head injuries and that was to say no amount of neck training is going to off-set an opponent’s speed.

7. Another question I had for Sean involed the level of intensity used during lifting movements. There is some debate as to how heavy a player should lift. Some coaches like their hockey players to leave it all on the weight room floor. Others want to see them approach a max but be just under it.

Sean’s take on this was the load was secondary to the form of the lift. He wants the last rep to be excellent, just like the first rep.

In this regard I see what he is saying. It would be worse for a hockey player to use a submaximal load with terrible form than to attempt a 1 RM with excellent form.

8. Next I picked Sean’s brain about shoulder development. This is another area where you will find varying opinions from coaches as to whether or not they overhead press their hockey players.

While he didn’t express a hard rule for overhead pressing he did stress the importance they place on posterior shoulder work. They spend some time doing face pulls and going through their YLTW patterns.

Stay tuned for Part III in this series where I pick an NHL s&c coach’s brain for your benefit.


When I was still in university the plan was to go to medical or dental school.

I took all the required classes, did the admissions tests and had interviewss at a few schools. And while some may be happy just to get an interview I was pretty bumbed that I didn’t get in.

So I changed my focus from a physician to a performance coach. And I knew there were a number of ways I could get started in the field.

One way would be to move to a major centre and work as an intern to gain experience before returning to the Okanagan valley and beginning my own operation. The other option would be to start in the Okanagan from day one and invest as much as I could afford to travelling to various conferences and to try to network with as many people as possible.

I went with option B and haven’t regretted it for a second.

I’ve been able to meet, network and learn from a number of top people in the business. And the interesting thing is the higher you go in a particular field the more humble and helpful people are.

Such is the case with Sean Skahan.

Sean is the s&c coach for the Anaheim Ducks of the NHL. Going back a number of years I contacted Sean with regards to connecting with him in Anaheim and being able to see what he was doing with the Ducks.

He was very accomodating and willing to share what was working to keep his players healthy and performing at their highest level.

Since then I’ve made it a habit to visit Sean about once a year. And if I don’t make it down to California we’ve been able to talk on the phone and online.

Last month we connected and grabbed a quick lunch. Over lunch I picked his brain on a number of topics related to hockey s&c. There is no real order to the questions just things that came up while we had something to eat.

So here are 11 questions I had for Sean.

1. When he is coaching a hockey player where are his eyes? Is there something specific he is looking for?

He said it depends on the exercise but he is always looking for something. Sometimes there is a particular focus on something you don’t want to see.

2. What things would all hockey players do well to develop with regards to theb ir strength & conditioning?

Sean wants his players to really develop their posterior chain strength. This includes the glutes, hamstrings and low back. It is also important to have good core strength and stability and posterior shoulder development. Lastly he encourages his players to work on their hip mobility.

3. Training is different from competition for a number of reasons. For example training typically emphasizes driving through the heels on ground-based movements whereas sports usually involve an athlete being on the balls of their feet. I asked Sean if there were any other features of his training style where training was unique from  competition?

He answered that some exercises may differ in the position at the start but both are ultimately trying to achieve the same end goal which is to maintain and develop athleticism. As an example Sean compared the hang clean and squat.

4. Next I asked Sean what has changed in his programming in the past year or so?

He said that they are doing fewer trunk flexion exercises such as crunches and reverse crunches. He has added in more Turkish get up variations and been more selective on prescribing hang cleans. Some players will have learned the Olympic lifts in college and have no problem handling them in the program. Others either have little to no experience with these lifts and may not handle them as well.

He still likes to front squat his hockey players and incorporates more single leg training due to low back issues associated with higher loads on two legs.

One other consideration unique to the Ducks is the amount of travel they have which makes coordinating training sessions on the road more of a challenege.

Stay tuned for the remainder of this interview with Sean Skahan, NHL s&c coach.