Anatoly Tarasov is considered the father of Russian hockey.
And one of his specialties was dry-land training.
University of Maine head hockey coach Red Gendron explained that when Tarasov began building Russia into a hockey power after World War II, there weren’t many artificial surfaces and rinks in Russia.
So Tarasov had to devise ways for hockey players to develop their skills on land as he built the program from the ground up.
Gendron and his coaching staff have had to be creative because of the social distancing and other safety protocols resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic along with the fact the team has practiced for over two months without a game in sight.
In a normal season, UMaine’s first official practice was the same week as its first game.
But some of those dry-land training drills in this unusual season courtesy of the pandemic have caught the players’ interest and helped them deal with this challenging situation.
Before they laced up the skates, they practiced shooting and stickhandling on Mahaney Diamond with balls instead of pucks.
Then they had two players waging a stick battle over a ball inside a six-foot square box while maintaining the social distancing guideline of six feet.
This helped develop their arm strength, which will enable them to win more puck battles and protect the puck.
They would go inside the Mitchell Batting Pavilion and work on tipping tennis balls which were zipping at them out of the pitching machine.
This improves hand-eye coordination and can lead to increased goal production by either deflecting the puck past a goalie or putting the puck on the goalie which could create a rebound opportunity.
“It’s just like bunting in baseball only instead of trying to bunt it fair, you are trying to foul it to the backstop,” Gendron said.
“It was definitely creative. It’s something I had never seen before,” sophomore center A.J. Drobot said. “It reminded me of ‘Happy Gilmore’ standing in the batting cage [in the movie]. It was a lot of fun.”
They also took a day off from hockey drills to practice lacrosse.
“I had never played lacrosse in my life,” Drobot said. “They did it to get us away from having hockey sticks in our hands.”
Drobot said he enjoyed it because it was different and he also felt it was beneficial.
“[These drills] were a good way to get us back in the flow of training and getting ready for the season,” he said.
“We hadn’t done stuff like that the previous three years,” senior right wing Eduards Tralmaks said. “It was something new and it helped me get the feel back in my hands and stuff like that.”
Tralmaks also said they have devoted more time to skill development and have been doing power skating drills.
Power skating is designed to teach hockey players the proper skating technique to maximize endurance, agility, balance, strength and rhythm.
“That is something we didn’t have time for before the season [previously],” Tralmaks said.
“All the [off-ice] stuff the coaches came up with got us all ready for [on-ice] practice,” junior right wing Adam Dawe said.
Tralmaks said it has been different but he agreed with Dawe and Drobot that it was “the right thing to do.”
He explained that since they have all this practice time compared to previous years, it was smart to develop their skill sets first so they can now work on systems and strategies leading up to their first game.
Hockey East hasn’t released a schedule as yet. At this point last season, UMaine had already played eight games.
Gendron said the variety of drills, on and off the ice, serve different purposes.
“Some have practical value and some have fun value,” Gendron said. “Necessity is the mother of invention and we could apply Tarasov’s concept to the situation we were in [earlier] this fall.”
Gendron and his staff also have a bunch of drills involving healthy competition between the players.
“We have a [on-ice] drill that involves a tire battle. Two teammates try to push a car tire against each other. It’s exhausting but it builds strength through your arms and hands. We make it as competitive as it can be,” Gendron said. “The players probably don’t think it’s much fun but it’s different and that, in and of itself, makes it more interesting.
“Players don’t want to do the same drills over and over again every day,” he said.