You might think that a local legend like Larry had been born on skates. That’s not the case, Lawrence “Larry” Gazdig was born in Stratton Ontario in 1935, and only put on his first pair of skates at 9 years old. He did what every Canadian child did, skated and played a little hockey on the frozen ponds and parks. Even with starting late compared to some children, Larry had natural talent with skating and shooting and was considered the best in the area.
When Larry was 15 years old, he became very frustrated in hockey. It was his first time in organized hockey and realized quickly that he was no longer the best. He found that he wasn’t able to do any kind of crossover, and could only turn and stop one way. He became determined to be the best again and conveniently at that time he lived beside an outdoor rink in Toronto. He asked the arena attendant if there was a chance that he could get some time to skate. He was told that he was allowed to skate after the lights went out at 9pm but to be careful not to chew up the ice too much. Every night for 3-4 hours Larry skated practicing crossovers, and doing stops and turns on the his weaker side. He also started to develop drills for himself that would help his hockey skating and skills. He was also making changes to his skate sharpening where he asked for a flat to be ground in the middle of the blade and found it helped his balance and speed. He was determined and relentless to try and find any and all advantages to be better than the rest. Even with the words of his father burned into his memory, “No son of mine is going to waste his life playing games. Go get a job”, Larry continued to play for fun when he was allowed.
At 16 years old, Larry’s team was told that if they won their division that year the final game would be played at Maple Leaf Gardens. They hadn’t lost a game during the season but the final game of the season they made sure that they would be going to the Gardens by blowing out the other team in the final game of their division. With all the excitement of playing in the legendary arena they lost the hard fought final game 1-0. After the game Larry was approached by a scout named Johnny from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was amazed at the skating skill Larry had, saying that he hadn’t even seen such skill even in the Pro’s. Johnny told him to keep playing hockey to keep his skills up and think about trying out for the pro. teams in the future. About three years later, after moving to Mt. Brydges, Johnny paid a visit to Larry’s home. He told Larry that he was now with the Chicago Blackhawks and wanted him to come with him to St. Cathrines to be seen by the Chicago owners. Larry simply said to make arrangements with his father if he was going to be able to go. Negotiations went well and Johnny took Larry to St. Cathrines soon after. The owners were impressed with the raw skill that they saw and simply commented to him that, “You need to play hockey to keep in shape.” and left it at that. Larry didn’t hear anything until the fall of that year, when Johnny said the owners wanted him to play as a guest with the Strathroy Rockets in an exhibition game. Larry had only three shifts the entire game but used them wisely. The first shift he had he got an assist, his second shift he got a goal, and his third shift he got another assist. After the game they told him that they would get back to him to set up an appointment with the Rocket’s doctor for a physical. They called back the next weekend and informed Larry that he would be signing with the Chicago Blackhawks farm team for the next season. After just receiving the great news he decided to go public skating to celebrate. He was speeding around the ice as fast as he could go with excitement, and as he rounded the corner he stepped on a wooden spoon someone had thrown on the ice. He fell sliding into a small boy, a young girl who hit her head and was out cold, and. He put one arm around the children to protect them, and put the other hand out to take the impact at the boards. Going as fast as he was, the impact of the boards on his hand broke his wrist. The next morning Larry went in to get his wrist x-rayed and found that it was shattered. He was determined to hide his injury and sign anyways hoping that it would heal. A few days later when he met with the owners to sign the contract the doctor that did the x-ray was also there. When the doctor showed them the x-ray of the break, they tore up the contract in front of Larry and left. This was the end of Larry’s hockey career that could have been.
Many years later, after moving to Delaware, Larry enrolled his first daughter in the London Skating Club’s Figure Skating Program. While watching his daughter, he saw four young boys in hockey skates refusing to follow the directions of the figure skating instructor. Larry offered to work with the boys. The instructor was overjoyed and suggested that he bring his skates and go on the ice the next week. The boys responded well to Larry since he was male and had hockey skates on. By the end of the skating season in April, he had fifteen boys on one third of the ice. He was asked to come back the next season and was promised half ice for his boys.
Not knowing how to figure skate and having little experience in speed skating, but having played hockey from the age of nine to twenty one, he felt that he needed to talk to someone that knew more about teaching skating than himself. Gordie Howe had a hockey school in Detroit that summer and being fairly close to London, Larry decided to go to Detriot and talk to him. The day he arrived at the arena, Gordie was putting a group of boys, age 7 to 10 through some hockey skill drills. He watched the group from the edge of the ice for about 15 minutes, when Gordie came over and asked Larry if he wanted to see him. Larry said his questions might take a few minutes. Gordie said “Okay, I need a break anyway.”, so Larry explained to him what he had on his mind. Talking about his wrist and his situation with the London Skating Club as a new Instructor. Larry asked Gordie for any advice that he could give. Gordie pointed at one of the youngest and poorest skaters on the ice, and said “See that boy. I can’t teach him anything. Do you know why?” Larry watched the boy for a moment seeing him leaning on his stick and falling over every time he swung at the puck when it came near him. Larry concluded that the boy could not skate. Gordie agreed and said “I can not teach any boy how to play hockey if he can’t skate. My advice to you is to teach them how to skate and I’ll teach them how to play hockey!” This was the moment that Larry realized what he needed to do. He thanked Gordie for the advice and headed back to London.
During the summer Larry started to put together a number of skating drills to teach skating for hockey. He also created a badge system similar to the figure skating program that rewards children on completion of certain skills.
In late September, he was notified that he had about 40 boys waiting to enroll in the program he taught the winter before. Because he was part of the figure skating club, a professional figure skater must give the lessons and Larry could only assist him. He felt honored and thought that he could learn from the figure skaters and adopt the figure skating method to hockey skating. He was learning and teaching at the same time. Sometimes when some ice was available after a skating session, he would go through the different figure skating maneuvers teaching himself a bit of figure skating style of skating. Wilf Poccock from the London Skating Club encouraged and helped Larry learn how to be a better teacher in skating.
The numbers increased rapidly that second year, until he had full ice for his skaters at Oakridge Arena, plus two hours of ice at the London Gardens Arena. It was at the London Gardens, while instructing some of the older boys, who had taken the skating with him the year before, they were not progressing. He realized that although an excellent professional figure skating teacher was teaching with him, the boys were becoming bored with emphasis on poise and grace. The parents of the boys whom he taught begged him to do more skating lessons. To give the boys what they wanted, Larry approached the London Skating Club president and persuaded him that he now had the experience to give the boys the type of skating instruction which was most beneficial for hockey and advancing from volunteer to instructor.
In 1966 Larry was finally hired on by London Skating Club but was still not allowed to be on the ice without a figure skating professional. As the program gained popularity and he was given more ice. Ron Passmore began helping Larry instruct on the ice, splitting the boys into two groups using half ice for each instructor.
About a year later, seeing how popular the skating program had become with him teaching it, Larry insisted the London Skating Club start a hockey development program. Again, they would not let him teach without a hockey professional to come in to show the children the skills. The problem he found was that these pros did not have the skating ability he did and were poor examples for the children. In the hockey development, Larry didn’t want to teach the plays and patterns. He wanted to teach only skills, outside the game itself, and have it be an extension of the power skating program. He was forming the drills in the same way as he did for skating and that gave him the basis for the hockey development drills.
In 1972 Larry was lead to believe that his Power Skating Instructor status was sanctioned and was a recognized form of skating by the C.F.S.A. (Canadian Figure Skating Association). In most communities, Power Skating and hockey schools are still taught by professional figure skaters, which he now knows are two completely different styles of skating. Larry was told that because he did not have a gold or silver level in figure skating he would not be sanctioned. In frustration and retaliation he went and got his Canadian Coaching Association certification levels 1, 2 and 3 theory and practical. Through the C.C.A. he was able to be recognized as a Power Skating Instructor. The certification representative even hand wrote on Larry’s certificate the title of Power Skating Instructor.
In 1979 Larry left the London Skating Club, and was refused ice time from the city of London. The city was even refusing to have any meetings or talk on the phone. He brought a lawyer in to convince the city to listen to him and give him some ice. The city finally told him that he could have ice but only for a Non-Profit organization. Larry created the program they wanted and appropriately named it the Larry Gazdig’s Power Plus Skating School. Due to the trademark laws saying that you can not trademark a generic term like Power Skating he added the word ‘Plus’. While that was happening, he went to Oakridge and asked if they had any ice to give him for his program. With the help of Graham Watson, he got the Oakridge minor hockey association to spare some ice. Larry was given 4 hours of practice ice time to run his program with the kids from the Oakridge teams and his boys from the London Skating Club. Graham offered to help instruct which would help Larry get his program going. Ron Passmore had a severe knee injury and was not able to teach as he once had, so Larry welcomed Graham’s help. He also began writing a book to go with the new program. Through a lot of trial and error a solid skating program began to emerge and the first version of the book was written in 1982.
The Power Skating program is based on two very important methods of teaching, Chaining and Shaping from the Canadian Coaching Certification program. That means that you show each drill; have the children do them; add to the drills as they progress, and repeat all of the drills every week. Children are visual learners so Larry made sure to show all the drills every week and correct the children at the time that the mistake was made. This innovative combination has made the program the success that it is now. After several years of success with the skating program he felt that the hockey schools he saw were not teaching the skills for the game of hockey and took it upon himself to form a hockey skills program. Basing many of the drills on the power skating drills, he formed a hockey development that was an extension of the power skating. It focused only on skills rather than plays or game situations directly. Hand position, stick handling, passing and shooting are the staples of the program for children to develop the skills to make them the best hockey players that they can be.
The programs are still evolving to this day but most of the drills which Larry created when he was 15 years old are still being used in the programs now. The main purpose of the skating program is to teach Power Skating for hockey, not Figure Skating or Speed skating. Those skills should be taught by professionals in their respective sport. He does not teach the game of hockey in either the power skating or the hockey programs. He emphasizes that you need to learn skating and hockey skills before they are used in the game of hockey. Larry has proven through his experience that trying to learn how to skate and the game of hockey at the same time will inhibit the formation of proper skating skills and can cause a plateau effect later in a child’s development.