When skating instructor Dawn Braid first took to the ice with then-OHL standout John Tavares, she couldn’t pick him out from the rest of her pupils. That quickly changed, however, once the 17-year-old approached her afterwards and asked for additional help one-on-one.
Despite the acclaim Tavares had already garnered as a star sniper in junior hockey, the precocious teen knew the one consistent knock on his game—his skating—and he chose to proactively combat such criticism.
So the summer before he became the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft, Tavares enlisted the help of Braid, the Director of Skating Development at the Athlete Training Centre in Mississauga, Ontario in his effort to improve.
"For the last few years I've been working on my skating efficiency, technique and mechanics,” Tavares said. “Lately, it’s just been the little things to keep in mind over a long season—how to stay sharp, increase speed, generate space for myself in corners whether it’s with crossovers, strides or pivoting. All those little things helps me.”
Tavares is coming off a successful rookie campaign--24 goals and 30 assists in 82 games--but he's not about to get complacent.
“I’m only going to be 20 years old this season so I still have a lot to learn but obviously I want to keep improving. I want more responsibility this year and to contribute on a nightly basis.
Braid, a former skating instructor for the Toronto Maple Leafs, works with hockey players of all levels, but said what stood out immediately about Tavares was his tremendous work ethic.
“He’s an extremely hard worker and he’s hard on himself. That’s one of those things I value while working with a player,” Braid said. “John has taken that weakness that everyone comments on and he has worked really hard to get better.”
When Braid first begins working with a player she videotapes his forward stride, analyzes how to make it more efficient, and then shows the player visually.
From what she videotaped of Tavares two summers ago, there has been “a huge change,” Braid said.
“People would be extremely surprised at the strides he has made.”
In addition to becoming more powerful and quicker, Tavares is now working to improve his game down low.
“That’s’ where we can make him better. If we can make him more agile on his skates down low, he’s going to be able to cover more ice, create more space for himself and explode out of a tight turn with crossovers, not short, little, choppy steps.”
How exactly do they achieve that?
“We might change how he how he carries his upper body or suggest he carry a lower knee bend while skating, He can become more agile through edgework, pivoting, even stopping and starting,” Braid said. “It’s all the little things you do in tight that allows you to make more room when you win that battle.”
As an instructor, half the battle for Braid is already won.
“Not every player is willing to do what he is with me,” she said. “It’s becoming more popular as players improve and the game has gotten so much stronger with skating, but the fact that he took it upon himself to come to me showed that he knew this was something he needed to work on.”
“John is a person who has succeeded at each level,” Braid said. “As the years go on and he matures, his potential is unlimited. I think you’ll even see big changes this year.”