Jansen finds new challenge

Posted: Thursday, September 08, 2005


  Former Olympic gold medal speedskater Dan Jansen supervises skating drill as the Chicago Blackhawks' skating coach during a rookie camp at the Blackhawks' training facility in Bensenville, Ill., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Former Olympic gold medal speedskater Dan Jansen supervises skating drill as the Chicago Blackhawks' skating coach during a rookie camp at the Blackhawks' training facility in Bensenville, Ill., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005.

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

BENSENVILLE, Ill. — Over and over Dan Jansen delivers his message, simply by bending at the knees.

The Olympic gold medalist makes his point as players skate in circles in front of the net, as they sprint back and forth from the blue line, and as they maneuver around a cone, accelerating when they exit the turn.

''NHL players are amazing hockey players, and you watch and go, 'It doesn't look good. They don't skate very well,''' says Jansen, hired last month as the Chicago Blackhawks' new skating coach.

During a camp for prospects, he sees players who don't bend properly, failing to maximize their power. Jansen's goal is to increase their speed and stamina by improving their technique.

It is a challenge for a man who has never played organized hockey, but he is no stranger to challenges. The speedskater endured family tragedy and frustration before capturing the gold in the 1,000 meters at the 1994 Olympics, and now he's back on the ice, feeling at home even if he's in new territory.

The blade is different, a stick and puck are involved, but if this seems like hiring Carl Lewis to coach baserunners or running backs, well, the Blackhawks have a response: ''Skating is skating.''

Besides, general manager Dale Tallon adds, ''I'm sure (Lewis) could probably teach some guys how to run faster.''

If Jansen brings a different perspective, fine. They welcome it.

Perspective is a word Jansen uses often because at some point conversations turn to his past, to one of the great Olympics stories of tragedy and triumph, and he welcomes that.

''It's a good thing because I learned so much,'' he says.

Such as?

''Perspective,'' Jansen says.

Perspective came when he was 11 and his dad told him, ''There's more to life than skating around in circles.'' A teary Jansen heard that on the way home to West Allis, Wis., after losing at the national championships in St. Paul, Minn.

It hit when he was a favorite in the 500 at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and his sister Jane died the day of the race. Jansen fell 10 seconds into that event and slipped off the track, and in the 1,000 a few days later, he failed to finish again after falling.

It delivered another shot four years later at Albertville when he finished fourth in the 500 and 26th in the 1,000.

And just when it seemed he had more than enough perspective, it was 1994 and he was at Lillehammer for his fourth and final Olympics, slipping again in the 500. This time, he dragged his hand on the ice and finished eighth.

The final dose of perspective came when he found gold in the 1,000 a few days later, withstanding a stumble about 800 meters into it and setting a world record of 1:12.43.

''Maybe that slip in the 500 actually helped,'' Jansen says. ''The 500, I was on the last turn and trying, maybe, to get too much out of it. ... When I slipped in the 1,000, in a split second it went through my mind: 'Don't panic. Don't try to get it all back in one stride. Just ride it out and try to accelerate out of the turn.'''

Maybe he'll share his story when a player or the team slumps.

''It's pretty cool for guys to hear a story like that and work with a guy who kept his focus and kept working toward a goal he really wanted,'' says 20-year-old center Jake Dowell, a fifth-round draft pick in 2004.

For now, Jansen's focus is on helping players become better skaters, not on motivational speeches.

Jansen first began thinking about becoming a skating coach a few years ago, when he met Tallon at a celebrity golf tournament. When Tallon became the general manager this summer, he tapped Jansen for the job.

Jansen, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., with his wife and two daughters, will work with the Blackhawks throughout training camp, visit frequently during the season and will probably help the minor leaguers.

''The teams that skate the best are not going to necessarily win all the time, but it makes it a lot easier,'' says coach Trent Yawney, who coached the minor league affiliate in Norfolk, Va., the past five years.

Jansen wonders how the veterans will respond to a skating coach, calling it the ''question I've certainly thought about.''

''The other way to look at that is they're getting older,'' he says, ''and ... they might want to improve their skating and be more efficient.''

Jansen compares changing a player's skating technique to altering a golf swing. It takes time, and he doesn't have much after being hired Aug. 15. Veterans report Tuesday, and the first preseason game is Sept. 17. He's really looking forward to next summer, when he can start work a few weeks after the final game.

Jansen sees players taking many short steps rather than long, smooth strides. He sees players standing upright. He sees players accelerating into turns, violating one of the basic principles of driver's education.

He sees all that, and two thoughts pop into his head: It's wrong, and he can help.

He peers out onto the ice, where prospects are playing four on four, and says, ''Some of them skate pretty well, and others — I'm seeing struggles. Their knees never come together.''

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