By Brian Keane
The pace of a hockey game is extremely fast. That’s why being able to make smart decisions—with or without the puck—is vital. For beginners and at most youth levels, players often have a hard time reading and reacting to plays without the puck, as well as understanding their own time and space with the puck in their possession.
How can you sharpen your awareness and decision-making skills? Below are a few key habits for you to master and incorporate into your game for better on-ice awareness.
1. Communication is Key! Make sure you are always using your voice to let your teammates know where you are. This is a skill that might seem easy but it is rarely executed, especially at the beginner, youth, or even junior levels. Volume is key here: In a fast-paced game, you need to yell loud and clear enough so that your teammates can hear you.
2. Survey Your Options Always take careful note of your options to make a play before you look to receive a pass or grab a loose puck. Work on continuously looking around with your head on a swivel—not only with the puck, but before you take possession of it. This of course takes practice, along with a mindset to be consistently thinking about where the other players are. Many players get mesmerized by the puck and thus are unable to objectively see the entire surface. Take steps to ensure you don’t fall into that trap.
3. Recognize Common Patterns Be aware of the common patterns that occur in a hockey game. For example, very similar patterns take place each game on breakouts, neutral-zone regroups, offensive-zone forechecks, etc. If your teammate has the puck, you need to maintain the right anticipation and timing to hit an open hole and become a passing option within that pattern. Being there too late or too early won’t suffice; that’s why controlling your skating speed and anticipating the play is crucial. Understanding these patterns will give you the best opportunity to be in the right position to support the puck, at exactly the right time.
Incorporating hockey awareness into your game is an essential skill. Keep this in mind and you will soon become a highly effective force on the ice.
Brian Keane played Division 1 college hockey at UMass-Amherst (Hockey East), and Junior Hockey in the USHL for the Indiana Ice and Chicago Steel. He also had the good fortune of suiting up for his country at the Under 18 Ivan Hlinka World Cup. Keane is the founder of Prodigy-Hockey.com, a website designed to help educate and develop hockey players of all ages and skill levels.