Technical skating specialist Shelley Kettles definitely isn’t your average hockey coach.
She stands 5-foot-2 on blades. She doesn’t wear hockey skates, helmet or gloves. And she doesn’t carry a hockey stick, work with pucks or refine the power play. No, when Kettles coaches hockey players, she prefers to do so in her figure skates, wearing a cozy, warm, high-collared coat and a comfy ball cap or toque.
Ice and metal don’t care about that stuff anyway.
What truly sets Kettles apart from the average hockey coach is her impressive knowledge and ability to teach the technical aspects of skating – the edge work, balance and control – all skills which transfer very nicely from figure skating to hockey.
The same is true of Kettles’ coaching career. After many years as a national and international figure skating coach, Kettles decided about 14 years ago to expand and start helping hockey players become better skaters. And it’s a journey that’s taken her all the way to the NHL.
We had a chance to catch up with Kettles, now the technical skating specialist for the Ottawa Senators.
By Steve Warne
Tell us a little about growing up in Manotick and your early figure skating days.
Kettles: My parents loved Manotick and raising a family there. I started at St. Leonard’s until Grade 6 – then completed junior high at St. Mark’s. To finish out high school, I transitioned to South Carleton.
I started figure skating in Manotick, with the Rideau Skating Club. As I developed and wanted to compete at a competitive level, I followed my coach to Gloucester Skating Club.
Who or what drew you into figure skating?
I started figure skating at the age of nine. This is actually a late start. Right now it would be considered too late to start private lessons.
My father made us a rink in the backyard every year. It was where I started and would spend hours outside day after day. This was where they saw the passion I had and reached out to the local club, so that I could start lessons. Within a short period – things started to change quite quickly as I progressed and started competing.
My father drew me to the sport. On top of being a fireman, he played hockey up to five times a week. His love for being on the ice was certainly passed down. Once I was competing within figure skating, my mother would sew every single dress I wore.
When did you decide you wanted to be a figure skating coach?
I actually was still training at seventeen years old when I decided to teach at the same time under a trust fund. This is not as common now, but it allowed me to compete and coach at the same time.
I absolutely loved it. Shortly after, I made the decision to retire and go full time into coaching. It was the best decision I could have ever made. Coaching is so rewarding, and allows me to utilize my knowledge and pass it on to my skaters.
When did you first begin working with hockey players? And how did that opportunity come about?
I’ve been working with hockey players for about the last 14 years. It was humorous at the beginning, as the players would come on to the ice for the same sessions as my figure skaters. When I think about it now, I can’t help but laugh. It’s such an odd thing to see, even after all these years.
The opportunity arose when ex-NHL player, Jason York approached me to work with his boys. Jason was and continues to be a huge supporter and pushed me in the right direction. After working with Jason, I started utilizing my new found skills to coach my nephew, who played hockey at a high level. From there, the opportunities grew into working with their teams, and then more individual players wanting to work outside of their practices and games. Very quickly, players, coaches and parents were able to see the benefits.
Did some of the male hockey players give you a hard time at first?
This is still something that comes up to this day. I find it with players that have been doing this for quite some time – much more than the young skaters I start with. At first, many individuals don’t realize the benefits of technical training. Sometimes I get the attitude when they first see me of “what is this lady in figure skates going to do for me?” They usually realize quite quickly when they’re struggling to perform what’s asked of them, that there is a huge value in the lesson.
Regardless of the attitudes, it comes down to the relationship you build with the players. Many players I have coached from being very young, I now have the opportunity to watch in the OHL, university or NHL level.
After so many years as a figure skating coach, what went into the decision to shift your main focus to the technical sides of hockey?
When I made the decision to shift my focus it was based on not being able to do both sports at 100% – it was not fair to my figure skaters.
I had exceeded my goals in figure skating and set a new goal in the hockey world, and that was to coach at the NHL level. I knew that I would not be able to achieve this if I were still coaching figure skating. It’s a sport that takes many hours every single day, and I knew I couldn’t focus on hockey at the same time. Looking back, I know I made the right decision.
How did you land the job with the Ottawa Senators as their technical skating specialist?
I owe my career with the Senators to Shean Donovan (Ottawa Senators’ player development coach). We all need that one person in our lives that helps us reach our goal and give those opportunities. He has always been very supportive of what I do and he knew within the development of the team that this was an area we needed to focus on. I started with just the Belleville Senators, and after some time I was able to prove not only myself, but how my teachings can benefit all levels of the organization.
What are the Senators players like to work with?
To keep it short and sweet, they’re all great. Most players want to do whatever they can to grow with the team, and most are realizing how much of a factor technical skating development can bring to their game for a player at that level. The working relationship I have with them grows the moment they use these skills in the game and can see a positive improvement.
If we told your 18-year-old self that you’d be an NHL skating coach one day, what would you have said?
Dream come true!! I have always been passionate about skating. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a huge part of my life. As a skater and as a coach, it’s been a wonderful ride. Also, I am very proud to provide goals for other young girls who want to succeed in a male-dominated field. It’s very rewarding to be a part of.
My father was a huge hockey fan and never got to see me working in the NHL. But I know he is looking down from heaven, smiling with a Sens jersey on.
Photography by Sean Sisk