If you miss the morning sessions and pop into the arena for the afternoon skates at the Don Hartman Northeast Sportsplex, you might think you're watching some kind of ballet on ice.
Weaving in slow motion around pylons are the Calgary Flames prospects under the watchful eye of powerskating coach Barry Karn, the wise tutor who occasionally sounds like Chinese philosopher Confucius or The Karate Kid's Mr. Miyagi.
"You learn how to be fast by being really slow," Karn said yesterday of his technical teachings. "It sounds kind of funny, but I've been doing this for 25 years."
With the right posture, a player can significantly increase his speed without relying on strength. The science behind it may be complicated but Karn, a Minnesotan in his second year with the Flames, tries to keep it simple, using a vertical leap as an example.
"It's a programming thing. I get down into a squat position ... if I go down and I stop there for a couple of seconds every single time, you tune everything up," he said. "Say you're (normally) jumping with 60 muscles. If you orchestrate and let yourself hold that position for a long time, you actually get more muscle involved, so now you're jumping with, say, 90.
"Your vertical goes up without gaining any power.
"There's a little wobble at first," he continued, adding the centre of balance is right over the blade of the skates. "After a while, the muscles that need to stretch and flex in a more stretched out position, they start to program."
It's no secret the Flames like big defenders. They drafted 6-ft.-6 giant Keith Aulie this spring and he's rooming with fellow mammoths Gord Baldwin (6-ft.-5), Adam Pardy (6-ft.-4) and default shorty Tim Ramholt (6-ft.-2).
Matt Pelech is another 6-ft.-4 prospect in a camp where no one on the back end is under six feet.
But size isn't everything in today's NHL. They've got to be able to keep up with speedy forwards while backpedalling and pivoting. While Karn's schooling is extremely important for the big blokes, it's not easy.
"I think the hardest thing for a big guy is to get low and stay low," Pelech said. "Our legs are so long. When you get down there you stay there for 30 seconds, you can feel the burn."
As uncomfortable as it can be, the results are obvious when the recorded times come back after enough practice.
"In the last two years, I've come a long way," said Pardy, who worked with Karn in Omaha last season. "I think the other guys would say that, too."
"He's absolutely amazing. I've worked with him a few times away from Calgary," Baldwin said. "He's taught me so much. I've noticed a difference in my skating. I haven't been the greatest skater my whole life, I guess, and he's making that a lot better."
Like many of his fellow campers, Aulie skates with other coaches in the off-season.
"They're not near on the level of Barry," said Aulie. "This is way over the top of their heads."
When it comes to job security, Karn has nothing to worry about.
He's worked with the Islanders, Blackhawks, Coyotes and Blues in addition to individuals seeking his help.
"That natural skater is actually an unnatural guy," Karn said.
"The rest of us, we're normal."