The National Hockey League has a secret weapon they rely on more than anyone realizes: woman figure skaters. A surprising number of former champion figure skaters go on to coach not only other figure skaters, but professional hockey players. It may shock an NHL player to be sent for lessons from a figure skater, but read what happened when ’80s pairs champion Barbara Underhill was asked to help 6’ 7” then-New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle.
Coming off a disappointing season in New York, Boyle had been sent to Underhill to improve his skating. Skeptical at first, the towering Boyle could barely walk by the time they were done.
"I knew by the end of one session that I got him. He felt something different. He felt like, 'This feels easier,'" Underhill said of Boyle. "I think that was the kicker. He realized, 'Maybe she can teach me something.'"
Shortly after their final session, Boyle called her from Rangers training camp in panic. He was speeding by opponents with far less effort. It felt strange and unnatural.
"That means you're doing it right," Underhill reminded him.
It makes sense, since hockey players normally learn to ice skate as children specifically so they can play hockey, while figure skaters learn technique from professionals. Hockey players grow up concentrating on the game. Coaches know that better skating skills will allow more of their cognitive effort to go to the game. Even the toughest hockey players change their opinions of figure skaters when they see the results, as you can read about at ESPN.