By Joe Piccone, Director & Head Instructor, Instinct Hockey
One of the most important elements of the game of hockey is the ability to handle the puck. Having strong puck handling skills gives you the confidence to complete routine plays, collect loose pucks, win battles and, of course, effectively pass and shoot. A lot of NHL players, regardless of their position or role on the team, all have spent and continue to spend an abundance of time practicing and mastering the art of puck handling.
Below are the 5 essentials that a player of any age or ability can focus on to become a better puck handler:
1. Hand Positioning: When learning how to handle the puck, the first thing is where to place your hands on the stick. Often, younger players will hold their stick like a golf club, or as if they were taking a slap shot. Personally, I feel that players should begin by maintaining a forearm length between their hands. This allows players to build strong wrists and good habits immediately. To accomplish this, hold your stick in your top hand, right at the handle of your stick. Afterwards, place the elbow of your bottom hand right above your top hand. Then simply grab your stick and you’re ready to go (see photo at right). As your skills develop, you will learn to slide your hands to complete different tricks and skills.
2. Body Positioning: Breaking down the correct body positioning for puck handling can be extended to every facet of the game. As it is known throughout the hockey community, “Playing Stance” is the ideal position to be in when working on your puck handling. To be in proper playing stance, have your knees bent, back straight and head up. One thing I will stress is to be sure to keep your hands away from your body; if your hands are in tight to the body, it limits your movement and reach. Moving the hands away from the body gives you an extended reach and allows you to puck handle in a variety of positions. And, of course, KEEP YOUR HEAD UP!
3. Top Hand Does the Work: Contrary to popular belief, the top hand is the power hand when puck handling. When working on your puck handling skills, concentrate on rolling your top hand while keeping your bottom hand straight (the bottom hand is simply there for support and structure). To put emphasis on strengthening the top, just stick handle with one hand. Move the puck back and forth with your top hand and help build that wrist strength. Once this has been practiced, put your other hand on the stick. This will emphasize the importance of using your top hand to roll the wrists and not rely on your bottom hand for movement. Another way to reinforce this is to put a puck in the glove of your bottom hand. Doing so prevents you from gripping the bottom of your stick while forcing you to use your top hand. Other techniques include using a water bottle (with the ends cut off), a paper towel roll, or a piece of piping. Slide one of these onto the shaft of your stick and place your bottom hand directly on the item. These will also prevent you from using your bottom hand to puck handle.
4. Cupping the Puck: One of the basics of puck handling skills that need to be reinforced is cupping the puck: it’s the cornerstone to dangling (“deking,” or faking out the goalie). Everything starts with proper puck control and protection. Continuously practicing cupping the puck can give you those soft hands, or “silky mitts,” everyone is looking for. Major emphasis should be placed on the back hand. All players will slack on this one and often will keep their stick straight. Get out of your comfort zone and concentrate on the back-hand cupping. Wide puck handling helps to demonstrate the cupping of the puck on the back hand. Make sure your hands are outside the body and really stretch. Keep your knees bent and stay extra low to allow for maximum reach.
5. Be Creative: Practicing puck handling skills can become very repetitive in a hurry. Mix it up!
Maybe start with some narrow puck handling, then move into wide, followed by moving the puck (or ball) around your body. Personally, I will come up with obstacles and puck handle around, over and under them. There are a lot of great products on the market that are specifically designed for developing puck handling skills, but homemade obstacles are just as good: Recycled materials such as water bottles (with sand or rocks in them for weight), old/broken hockey sticks—anything, really. Use your imagination and have fun. Challenge yourself and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Keep your head up!
Joe Piccone is the Owner/Director/Head Instructor of Instinct Hockey, which offers high-level team and private instruction. Instinct Hockey is dedicated to serving the needs of each individual and creates custom programs to reach their desired goals. Their team training can be tailored to whatever you or your team needs and wants to improve on. Visit their website at www.instincthockey.com.