These days, it takes a village to make a professional hockey player.
They have personal trainers, skills coaches, shooting coaches and, in the case of one local mother and son, skating instructors.
Diane Ness, 63, a former U.S. champion in pairs figure skating who has worked with the University of Minnesota and the U.S. women’s Olympic team; and son Andy Ness, 36, a former center at Hill-Murray and Augsburg, are the instructors whom Minnesota’s most famous hockey players see in the summertime to work on their skating.
Their client list includes Zach Parise, Kyle Okposo, Nick Bjugstad, Ryan McDonagh, Blake Wheeler, Nick Leddy and Jake Gardiner.
Their company, ProEdge Power, is based at Highland Park Arena in St. Paul. They conduct lessons with children through pros and run several hockey camps. Recently, the Wild hired the Nesses as consultants.
“It’s all we know,” Andy Ness, the youngest of three children, said. “My babysitter growing up was the rink.”
Diane Ness, a skating coach for more than 35 years, is the Wild’s specialized skating instructor who will see players mostly during the offseason but could head to Iowa to work with its AHL prospects this season. Andy Ness, who skates NHLers during those pre-training-camp camps with colleague Troy Stevens, is the Wild’s skating and skills instructor.
Andy Ness skates injured players during the season. For instance, last week when it was reported banged-up Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine were skating “on their own,” it was really Andy Ness who skated them in an effort to get them cleared for practice.
“They’re both incredible,” said the Wild’s Chris Porter, who along with Parise and Okposo make up Diane Ness’ Tuesday 7:30 a.m. summer group. “Diane’s always innovating, learning new things through seminars, and then she instills that in us.
“We don’t even take a puck on the ice half the time. You leave there feeling like such a great skater. She works with what each individual has, and she’ll always say, ‘Watch Andy,’ because he’s such a phenomenal skater.”
Bound to succeed
Parise has worked with Diane Ness since high school after they were paired by his coach at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Tom Ward.
“Zach is a lot like me,” Ness said. “He’s never completely satisfied. He always wants to get better. I guarantee you the day he wins the Stanley Cup here, he’ll text me the next day to ask what he can do to win the Stanley Cup again.”
Parise says it goes both ways: “What's good about her, she’s always studying. Like three years ago, all of a sudden she changed the way she wanted my stride. She’s always finding ways to make you more efficient. She’s always watching. I’ll get a text from her in January after a game and she’ll say, ‘I found things we need to work on this summer,’ which is awesome.”
Parise, who has scored four of the Wild’s eight goals in two victories this season, picks one main component he wants to work on each summer. This offseason, he wanted to get through the neutral zone in a more dynamic fashion. So Ness designs drills that will help.
There’s also a big reason Parise chooses to skate with Porter and Okposo: “I want to work with guys faster than me because it forces me to try to keep up with them.”
Porter said Parise is the teacher’s pet, though.
“Diane always compliments him more,” Porter said, laughing.
Thomas Vanek was Diane Ness’ summer project. The Wild winger came to see her after a June operation to repair two hernias and a detached left groin.
“His injury last year spoke of pain,” Ness said. “You look back at what he had operated on, you’re like, ‘How did he play with that?’ But he did everything in his power this summer to make himself a better player, a better skater.”
Ness’ goal for Vanek was to redefine his correct form, re-implement techniques and “teach him to glide because if you’re skating incorrectly, it opens you up to injuries: fill in the blank — groin, hip flexors, lower back, knee, everything.
“So we rebuilt his foundation. We started with his lower body, and it was very painful. We basically started over. We started with his good leg first and once we transferred it over, he realized he had no strength in his hip flexor. So then we built that up again by doing very slow, one-legged squats while moving.”
Diane and Andy Ness also worked with Wild players Ryan Carter, Tyler Graovac, Kurtis Gabriel, Mike Reilly and Gustav Olofsson.
They say Carter works relentlessly; Olofsson and Reilly make skating look effortless; and Graovac has improved his speed, although his summer skating was interrupted by a hip flexor issue. And Gabriel, the hard-nosed Iowa Wild winger?
“I don’t think Kurtis would be hurt if I said he was not a good skater when I got him,” Diane Ness said. “But he did the one thing that’s absolutely necessary to get better. After class, he’d go practice on his own. Repetition is the key component to getting better, and a lot of pros won’t do that. Kurtis has a glide now. He’s not short and choppy and his skating isn’t in a jerky motion anymore. It’s smooth.”
Diane and Andy Ness, who is married with a daughter and twins on the way, always are talking skating and coming up with new ideas. That can lead to disagreements, Andy says with a laugh. And typically, Diane gets her way.
But the respect they have for each other is immeasurable.
“He’s done my style since he was 4 years old, and he has a teaching degree, so he has a different way of communicating with kids, a more look-in-the-eye type of teaching that gets through to them,” Diane said.
Said Andy of his mom, “Nobody does skating-specific better than she does. And she pushes these pro guys. It’s black and white with her. If it’s not right, it’s not right. She doesn’t say, ‘Good job.’ She says, ‘Do it again.’ ”
Diane’s not stopping either.
“My doctor said I can’t quit because the whole key [to health] is to keep moving,” she said.