But, what about the summer? Sure the MISF has been having summer leagues for the last couple of years, I even played in one last summer. But summer ice hockey feels weird and the rink becomes odd in the humidity. Roller hockey still lingers as an option in the summer, but most ice players seem reluctant to strap on the heavier skates and make the transition back to the bastard son of the sport. Soccer provides some good exercise but lacks the physical intensity of hockey. Softball is a popular choice, but it mainly consists of sitting on your ass and drinking beer; not much of a conditioning sport...
So, what is a hockey player to do in the summer? You want to stay in good physical condition and you want to hone you skills. What you need is a sport that provides you with the conditioning of soccer and the stick work of hockey. A sport that gives you the light physical contact of hockey and the hand eye coordination of softball. A sport that provides hockey's line changes and team play. What you need is lacrosse.
Let's start with the obvious: lacrosse will give you some serious physical conditioning. This conditioning will keep you in shape through the summer and put you in a better position when the fall hockey leagues come around. Many people perceive lacrosse a sport involving a lot of running, much like soccer. However, unlike soccer, you are not spending 45 solid minutes running up and down the full field. Lacrosse offers line changes like hockey and certain positions are restricted on how much movement they can have on the field.
Obviously goalies do not run a whole lot. Defenders are also fairly stationary; they can only move on 2/3 of the field. Attackmen have the same restrictions. Both spend most of their time near their respective goals; attackmen on the scoring end and defenders guarding their own. Still, no matter what position you play, you will get some running and conditioning in. The best way to stay in shape for fall hockey is to keep up the conditioning.
Lacrosse also helps develop strong footwork. Stopping on a dime and making tight turns are all part of a lacrosse game. Fortunately, they are part of a hockey game too. Building the lower leg and ankle muscles on the grass will eventually translate to the ice. Hockey stops will be quicker; your transition game will become smoother. The key to a well rounded hockey player is being able to make rapid and successful changes at a seconds notice.
Pads are a part of lacrosse just as they are a major part of hockey. Unlike soccer and softball, lacrosse requires players to wear supportive cups, shoulder and elbow pads, and helmets. The good news is that while lax pads are different from hockey pads, they are extremely similar - especially the shoulder pads and cup. The helmets are not too terribly different from a cage hockey helmet, except for the visor and the balanced weight distribution (hockey helmets are engineered to be balanced without a face mask so masked and visored helmets feel unbalanced). The largest difference in the shoulder pads is that lax pads are made to give your arms a fuller range of motion than hockey pads.
Spending your summer playing in full lax pads benefits your hockey game a in a couple of different ways. First, it gets your body accustomed to the additional weight and restrictions on movement. Whenever you add layers to your body, you entire kinetic systems are thrown off. This causes your balance to be out of whack which slows your speed, limits your turning radius, and harms your shot power and accuracy. By getting your body used to working with pads in a slightly different way by playing lacrosse, you become more mobile on the ice (the same effect will happen on the turf as you continue to play both sports). The net result is that your skating will be smoother and more even; your turns will be sharper; your shots will be more balanced and precise.
Next up: How lacrosse improves those stick skills.
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