Former figure skaters whip Lightning prospects into shape

It's becoming more common to see female skating coaches at all levels of hockey.
Skating coach Tracy Tutton, talks with players while conducting a skating drill with them on the ice during the Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon Wednesday (06/27/18). (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Skating coach Tracy Tutton, talks with players while conducting a skating drill with them on the ice during the Tampa Bay Lightning Development Camp at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon Wednesday (06/27/18). (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published June 27, 2018|Updated June 28, 2018

BRANDON — On the first day of Lightning development camp, four groups of prospects rotate through 45-minute skill sessions on power skating, their coach going up and down the ice, forward and backward, showing them lessons in technique, balance and maximizing speed.

The coach, flown in from Canada as a consultant for the eighth straight year, spent 25 years as a figure skater, works with as many as 200 hockey players each year, and is a 54-year-old mother of three.

"I think I was born with skates on," said Tracy Tutton, whom a generation of Lightning prospects knows as part of their development.

As the camp continues today, prospects will get more skating instruction from Barb Underhill, 55, who won a pairs figure skating world championship in 1984 and competed in the Olympics in 1980 and 1984 for Canada, and has been a skating coach working with NHL and junior teams and players for more than a decade.

Underhill also worked with the Maple Leafs this week; Tutton will fly out tonight to Colorado to work with the Avalanche at its camp.

"I think both her and Barb are great," said former NHL player Stacy Roest, the Lightning's director of player development. "You have so many different skating coaches, but it's the way you teach it. It's the message, delivery. (Tutton) keeps it simple. The players love working with her. She can demonstrate, she's fun out there, she shows video, she answers questions. It's so important, and she does a great job with it."

Longtime friends Tutton and Underhill came up with the idea on vacation in Mexico: Can you imagine how much fun it would be to teach fundamental skating concepts to hockey players? It started with a few players and private lessons, and has grown into a year-round passion, working with NHL and minor-league teams, and individual stars across the league.

Tutton said even young players who have never worked with a female coach can be won over quickly if they are shown how their game can improve.
"I have had players who I felt were a little standoffish at first," she said. "I had to prove myself. I had to earn their trust. Once we have one good session under our belt, I never have turned backs."

Forward Alex Barre-Boulet, in his first offseason with the Lightning, said this week is just the second time he has worked with a female coach, but for other prospects, it's nearly all they've known in their young careers.

"Both Tracy and Barb, they're two people that are highly respected in the skating department," said Boris Katchouk, a 2016 second-round pick in his third year working with them. "All my skating coaches have been female. I feel they've come a long way in the game, and it's starting to grow a lot more. They're awesome skaters, so you have to learn from them."

Tutton is fluent in complex training jargon such as t-spine rotation ("the ability to rotate your rib cage around your spine without affecting your balance"), counter-torquing and triple extension (with the hip, knee and ankle open), and hockey terms such as mohawk turn and crossover.

Coaching hockey has kept her on the ice in a way she once would not have imagined. Another childhood friend of Tutton's, Dawn Braid, is now in a full-time role as the skating coach for the Coyotes.

"It's awesome. It's so rewarding and fulfilling as a job," Tutton said. "People ask 'How do you do this eight, 10 hours a day?' At the time, it's not tiring because you're having so much fun and getting results out of these elite athletes."

During the season, coaching remotely, Tutton will have three or four TVs on at once, keeping an eye on clients during games and cutting up video clips to show what they're doing right and wrong.

"Pause that, rewind it, videotape it, especially if it's one of my players," she said. " 'Here's what happened: Had you been able to generate the power you needed and torque that turn …' "

Her title as part of the staff for the junior Ontario League's Oshawa Generals is technical skating specialist. She has worked with Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli, 20, since he was 17 and playing for Oshawa, just east of Toronto. Like any coach, she said there's a near-parental bond with the players she has worked with the most.

"It feels like your child almost, like your son," said Tutton, whose two sons and daughter played or play college sports, from hockey to lacrosse to volleyball.

"Sometimes it's not only as a skating coach, it's a mom, a sports psychologist. Sometimes females notice things that maybe a man wouldn't realize: This kid's tight on his stick because he's thinking he's making mistakes he's not really making. It's an intuition."

Contact Greg Auman at and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.