Three ways to take your stickhandling to the next level
By Kim McCullough
In some of my recent newsletters, I’ve talked about how female hockey players can improve their shooting and passing skills.
I’m at the rink almost every single day (it’s a good thing I love my job), and have been paying close attention to the puck skills of the girls I’m working with. Now I want to highlight three critical things you can work on to take your stickhandling to the next level.
1. Check your stick length
Most girls’ hockey sticks are way too long. This inhibits their ability to handle the puck effectively, especially when it is in tight to their body. Being able to handle the puck when it’s in tight is crucial for winning battles along the boards and protecting the puck from the opposition.
I’m not suggesting you run out and cut 4 inches off your stick (although you might need to). But in my experience, I’ve found that an optimal stick length for stickhandling is between mid-chest and chin height when you have your skates on. Every player is different, so you’ll have to see what works best for you.
2. Keep your hands soft and loose
Far too many young female hockey players stickhandle like they are chopping wood. When it comes to having soft hands, it is absolutely essential that players get their hands out in front of them and away from their body.
For some strange reason that I haven’t quite figured out just yet, female hockey players tend to stickhandle with their top hand glued to or next to their hip. This makes it very difficult to have soft hands, as your top wrist has no room to roll back and forth. It also limits the range of motion with your stick, making it nearly impossible to handle the puck on either side of your body.
Players must get their hands out in front of them, allowing the top hand to roll side to side while allowing the bottom hand to slide up and down the stick as needed. Your hands cannot be surgically glued to your stick. They must move and adjust to the puck in order for you to stickhandle effectively.
The next time you watch an NHL game, take note of how all the players handle the puck with their hands way out in front of them—no top hand on the hip and cradling the puck.
3. Keep your head up!
During a team tryout I once attended, I watched as almost every single time a player had their head down while handling the puck, they ended up turning it over. Keeping your feet moving while stickhandling is another skill that players tend to struggle with, and must be embraced in order to progress to and succeed at higher levels.
For some reason, when girls get the puck on their stick they tend to stop moving their feet. It sometimes seems that handling the puck quickly and moving your feet quickly are mutually exclusive. Once players have become comfortable handling the puck at slower, more controlled speeds, they must get their feet and hands moving at higher speeds.
My college coach used the analogy of the puck being an energy pill. When you receive the puck, it should make you move faster, not slow you down. Your goal should be for you to skate as fast with the puck as you do without it. The players who are able to handle the puck with their head up at high speeds are always the ones who will stand out.
Good luck in your hockey endeavors. Keep Working Hard and Dreaming BIG.
Kim McCullough is the Founder & Director of Total Female Hockey, a website dedicated to helping female hockey players bring their game to the next level. This article appeared on Women´s Hockey Life. Used with permission.