Wendy Marco stood on the ice at the Washington Capitals’ practice facility in early January and faced a group of 7- and 8-year-olds as she explained the difference between a verb and a noun.
Marco’s tutorial was just one of the many mini life lessons packed in the 45-minute skating session for these budding hockey players. Marco runs Cold Rush Hockey, one of the top hockey academies in Northern Virginia. She has spent 30 years training players of all ages and, at 56, is the go-to skating coach in the area not only for kids but for professional players as well.
Marco is deeply passionate about her work, those who have trained under her say. She wants her students to succeed not only on the ice but in life.
That’s why Marco’s noun and verb lesson that morning was so important. Good skating doesn’t just happen. Everyone — even NHL players — has something to work on, Marco says.
“She’s able to dissect and break down a skater’s problem to their root,” said Mike Ansell, skating development coach for the Buffalo Sabres, who worked under Marco at Cold Rush for several years. “It’s not a small ‘put a Band-Aid on it.’ She’s able to dissect and find it to the core and fix that problem internally.”
Marco’s client list includes several Olympians and NHL players, including a handful of Washington Capitals. Most recently, she worked with Nicklas Backstrom as he made his way back from a hip injury.
The Capitals reached out to Marco in November. She and Backstrom had about 10 sessions together before he got off long-term injured reserve and made his season debut Dec. 15. He had a slow start — after a stint on the NHL’s coronavirus protocols list and a bout with the flu — but is starting to look more like himself. He scored his first goal of the season Thursday at Boston and followed it up with a nifty overtime winner Saturday against Ottawa.
Marco previously worked with Lars Eller, John Carlson, Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle, John Erskine and Jeff Halpern. She still works with Eller and Carlson in the summers. She has worked with Joe Snively — a native of Herndon who made his NHL debut with the Capitals this season — since he was a kid.
“I look at video of myself playing before 2010, when I started working with her, and it’s like I can’t watch it because it’s so bad,” Halpern said. “I wish I could go back [and start sooner]. It is like getting a superpower. … I think if I saw that early in my career, it would have been a huge difference.”
Halpern worked with Marco in the summer of 2010, when he was coming off a subpar season that started with Tampa Bay and ended in Los Angeles. At the end of the year, Terry Murray, then the coach of the Kings, told Halpern he needed to work on his skating if he was going to keep going in the NHL.
That’s when Halpern called Marco.
“I basically said I was going to change everything, and I did,” Halpern said.
Halpern was on the ice with Marco four to five times per week in sessions that included private workouts and shared ice time with 10-year-olds. He completely changed his skating stride and technique in one summer, an adjustment he remains proud of. Halpern continued to go back to Marco for lessons until he retired and now credits her for adding years to his playing career.
“Kids growing up in that Ashburn ice rink and the kids that she touches, you know, in the D.C. area, they’re such good skaters,” said Halpern, now an assistant coach with the Lightning. “... They’re so much better than other kids around them, and it’s a credit to her. I think it’s remarkable what she does.”
Marco’s main goal for all of her students — including her NHLers — is to make them better skaters to improve their game. At the younger levels, she starts with the basics to build a foundation. Sometimes that means telling kids to think of themselves as corn dogs to explain how there’s always an identifiable straight line in a good skater’s body.
“If you freeze frame them, you’ll see there’s a line in their body from the center of their head to the point of contact of their blade on the ice,” Marco explained.
With professionals, Marco typically focuses on balance, edges, speed and starts.
Eller, who grew up with a slew of different skating coaches, first started to work with Marco in 2019. He had heard about Marco through his teammates and decided to give her a shot.
Marco quickly dissected Eller’s movements, mentioning little things that other coaches hadn’t pointed out before. She focused on Eller’s stride, posture and rotation between his upper and lower body.
“Now you are at this age, in your 30s, you are not going to get bigger, stronger,” Eller said. “But there are still little details to work on to improve your longevity and efficiency or maybe a little bit of speed, too, just by changing technicalities or posture.”
Marco grew up as a competitive figure skater in Northern Virginia. She moved back home at 27, after her career ambitions as a TV reporter didn’t work out. She started bartending and decided to teach skating lessons in Fairfax City.
She started out just teaching figure skaters but quickly moved to hockey players. She liked teaching the skating intricacies needed in hockey and felt like all of her skills from competitive figure skating and her time as a competitive water skier in college had come together.
She continued to teach long after she was married and gave birth to her first daughter, but in the back of her mind, she remained hopeful she could one day go back to TV. Teaching was just a way to get by.
But everything changed when the Capitals called her in 1999 and asked her to run youth camps. From that point on, she solely focused on hockey lessons.
“I was like, ‘Wait a minute — I want to do this hockey thing,’ ” Marco said.
She founded Cold Rush Hockey several years later. Marco said she still hopes to become a full-time NHL skating coach, but for now her career is still satisfying.
“I think she has immense passion,” Snively said. “It could be 6 a.m. in the morning, and she has the most energy on the ice sometimes. She isn’t afraid to push you. It doesn’t matter who you are.”