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Penguins take skate instruction to new level

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hockey coaching techniques have taken huge strides over the past 20 years, with video becoming an integral part of teaching.

The Penguins have taken that a step farther.

Each player who attended this week's developmental camp will receive a real, live report card in the mail this week. Marianne Watkins, the team's new power skating instructor, worked with prospects this week and is overseeing a project that will see each player receive a video of his work.

"I think it's going to be something that's very helpful to these players," said Watkins, a Peterborough, Ontario, native who is a power skating instructor at Robert Morris University.

With a new age arena about to open, it seems only fitting that the Penguins would embrace such new age approaches.

Watkins has been around hockey all her life and appreciates the Penguins' openness toward inviting a female into a male-dominated profession. She also believes that her instruction can greatly augment the Penguins and their prospects.

"You still see a lot of the good old boys club out there and there are a lot of close-minded people in hockey," Watkins said. "But I give the Penguins so much credit. They aren't like that. They see the value in player development."

Penguins GM Ray Shero and assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald paved the way for Watkins to work with the team's top prospects this week. She already had done work with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins and received high praise for her teaching ability.

"They asked me to be here and I'm happy to do it," Watkins said.

Watkins has a trained eye for skating and can identify nuances that fans — and the players, for that matter — never knew existed. Her primary job, though, is ultimately to make each player's stride more efficient.

Wasted strides with no direction, she said, hopefully are going to be eliminated with her instruction.

Each player will receive a video of his strides from the blue line to the red line. Those first couple of strides are what capture most of Watkins' focus.

NHL-caliber players, even the cream of the crop, Watkins said, can develop bad skating habits because the motion comes so naturally.

"So many of them take six or seven choppy steps at the beginning," she said. "You don't need that. I think the video will help a lot. It can show the difference between AHL speed and NHL speed."

Watkins has a great respect for the amount of skill and the skating ability that Europeans have delivered to the NHL in recent years. She is working with the Penguins' largely North American talent base to become better in every way.

"The game has changed and you have to keep up with it," she said. "These guys are pros but there are still ways they can develop. The game has become so technical with skating. I've seen all the changes."

Most of the Penguins' prospects never have had a female instructor before, but it was quite evident during this week's workouts that Watkins commanded their full respect.

"I know what I'm doing," she said. "I want to help these guys get better."




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