By Erin Wozniak
Any time you watch an elite NHL player like Patrick Kane stickhandle his way through an entire team, you can’t help but think that he makes it look easy. Just like a top-shelf snipe or a 105 mph slapshot, however, all hockey techniques require extensive time and practice in order to master. And just like a snipe or slapshot, the first step toward improvement is to choose the very best stick for your reach, power and preference.
You may need to try dozens of sticks at the shop before you find the one that fits your grip like a glove, but once you have the perfect twig, it’s time to improve your stickhandling. Good stickhandling skills allow you to advance the puck, to move through traffic, and to give yourself time to make a decision on the ice.
Here’s how to put the puck through the eye of a needle.
Repetition is an incredibly strong strategy for improvement, and while you can’t recreate game conditions on the ice (unless you have a lot of very patient friends), a few on-ice drills can improve your ability to thread the puck around on the tip of your stick blade.
The easiest on-ice drill is called the Triangle, employed by USA Hockey—this helps students of the game improve their skill sets. Use cones, pucks, mitts or any other three objects to create a triangle that’s 2 feet to either side of you, with the point lying about 4 feet ahead. Without moving your feet, transfer the puck in and around each of the three points; after about 5 minutes try to stickhandle while moving from one corner of the triangle to the other.
Next, subtract a cone and try stickhandling in a figure-eight motion. In the same manner as before, spend a few minutes stationary and then try the drill while skating forward and backward with the puck. The figure-eight drill is more advanced and requires more effort to coordinate the work with both hands and feet, but it pays off when you need to get the puck onside or move laterally around a defender. If you have teammates to help drill with on the ice, you can combine the figure-eight with a breakout drill, catching the puck out of the defensive zone and stickhandling in a fashion that mimics an attacking entry.
Perhaps your nearest rink requires a 30-minute drive, or maybe the summer months have shut down the hockey season altogether. Whatever the case that you can’t make it onto a clean sheet of ice, just take your stick and find enough space for stickhandling on dry land. Star winger Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers uses a golf ball for off-ice stickhandling, because the feel of a golf ball performs slightly faster in terms of speed and response than a hockey puck on ice, resulting in softer hands and a smoother finish. Since you can’t do off-ice drills while wearing skates, most trainers agree it’s best to do them standing still in order to avoid generating lower body muscle memory that may result in struggles on the ice.
The fundamental drill for hockey (as well as basketball and lacrosse) is dribbling. It’s simple: rock a ball from side to side without looking at it, expanding the reach farther and farther while moving faster and faster with each move. All players should practice their dribbling without going around obstacles, in order to feel the motion of the ball (and puck) through the shaft of their stick. By devoting time to dribbling, players can keep their heads up in order to read the play rather than keeping their attention down at their stick blade.
A more advanced stand-alone drill is the wide reach, where you stickhandle with the goal of reaching as far as possible to either side, in front and behind you. Place four cones about 3 feet to the front sides, and rear of you, then bring a ball from forehand to backhand around each one. The farther you can reach, the easier it will be to get around a defender or reach back to collect an errant puck.
Erin Wozniak is the Director of Marketing for Pro Stock Hockey, an online resource for pro stock hockey equipment. Erin is an expert in web strategy and digital marketing and is a devoted Blackhawks fan. Some of Pro Stock Hockey’s products include skates, protective equipment, hockey sticks and more. For more practical tips and advice on hockey training, visit the Sports Fitness Advisor.