By Max Tabachnick
Hockey is a physically demanding sport that requires the harness of a few fine skills—namely, passing, skating, stickhandling, and shooting—to simply get out there and compete. All things considered, it’s amazing how many of us have committed our time, energy, focus (and, of course, money) into playing the game. Especially when it comes to recreational hockey, that’s why hockey practice is essential.
It’s hard enough for most of us to make it to our rec league games. They are either too early or too late; too far away or you’re simply too damned tired. I play in one league a season—two when I can afford it—but to be honest, it isn’t nearly enough.
Like a lot of us, I’ve fallen into the routine of only taking to the ice come game time. For me, that’s somewhere between one-third and one-half of game minutes, one night a week. We’re talking 15 to 30 minutes of intensive play here; but the problem is we’re only holding the puck for about a fifth of that time. Three to six minutes of passing, skating, stickhandling, and shooting. Like I said, it isn’t nearly enough.
On the rare occasions when most of us actually step onto the ice outside of a league game, it’s doubtful we get much hockey practice in the areas we are lacking. If you are more comfortable doing crossovers to your left, for instance, chances are you’re not spending your Sunday afternoon skating clockwise around the face-off circles. During games we tend to revert back to our go-to moves, so try your best to extend your comfort zone when you get the opportunity to hit the ice outside of a game setting. If there was ever a time to lean into a right crossover and stickhandle, pass, and shoot with your head up, this is it.
Try to suit up in full gear whenever you take to the ice for your hockey practice. Any skater will agree that sweatpants trump shin guards when you’re out there messing around, but playing or even practicing while unprotected will almost always result in weariness or—worse—injury that will impede your development in the ice.
In practice it’s important to recreate game play scenarios. Make sure to keep moving while you practice passing and shooting; it’s easy to get caught flatfooted playing catch but in a game you rarely pass or receive the puck while standing still. Practice making quick, strong passes while you skate parallel up-ice, using the boards to push the puck up. Work on cross-ice passes simulating the breakout. Because this is such a risky maneuver in a game setting, you should get comfortable putting some power and lift on long passes to avoid them being picked off in the neutral zone come game time.
Rather than lining up along the blue line to practice shooting on net, add the element of catching a pass first. This will not only work on two skills simultaneously for your shooters but will also provide a more accurate exercise for the goalie you’re shooting on, forcing him or her to track the movement of the puck before positioning themselves for the save.
If you play defense, your hockey practice should consist of shooting from afar and keeping your shots hard and close to the ice. Forwards should practice shooting from both close and afar, so alternate walking the puck in when warming the goalie up. If you are practicing in full gear, try deflecting pucks toward the net from a defenseman’s shot which, if done correctly, can easily trick the net minder into allowing a goal.
Finally, both forwards and defensemen should concentrate on working the puck in and around the corners. This is an incredibly versatile move in both the offensive and defensive zones of play, as it allows your team to cycle the puck from one wing to the other without crossing the puck in front of the net. This move requires a familiarity with the geography of the ice that can only be gained through trial and error, so practice different shots and angles around the corners until you can accurately place the puck when firing passes around the boards.