Hockey is a great sport with a tradition that goes back hundreds of years to the icy lakes of Northern Ireland. The game has developed a reputation for brutality, which is somewhat well deserved. Besides the fact that the sport can be dangerous due to its nature, it’s also important to note that safety in general while skating is a very valid concern; by being aware of the barriers within an indoor rink and practicing frozen lake safety techniques when playing outside, you can decrease the chance of physical injury.
Fortunately, the leagues have cleaned up their act in recent years, making hockey a less violent sport, and therefore less dangerous by nature. Because of its reputation, the sport is often looked down on as brutish and simple. Nothing could be further from the truth. The level of skill, grace, and coordination it takes to play well is higher than you’d think.
If you’re considering getting into the game, you’ve got a world of fun ahead of you. But to play well requires a high level of commitment. Here, we’ll discuss the most important skills you will need to master to hold your own out there on the ice.
Table of Contents
- The Importance of Practicing
- Stickhandling Drills
- Shooting Drills
- Passing Drills
- Skating Drills
- Practice and Master Your Hockey Skills
The Importance of Practicing
Possibly the biggest mistake people make when practicing any new physical skill is to think that learning is all in the head. Naturally, we have to learn good mechanics but getting good at a sport like hockey is as much about physical conditioning and rewiring the nervous system as it is about understanding hockey skills intellectually. To master the skills we’re going to discuss in this article, you need physical conditioning. That means strengthening primary muscles, stabilizer muscles, and more. It also means developing a tolerance for the gear that hockey players must wear, and it includes giving your nervous system the practical immersion and rest it needs to rewire itself and transform you into a hockey player.
To develop the skill, conditioning, and strength you need can only be accomplished with daily practice. Even just thirty minutes a day can be enough, but your practice has to be regular and it has to be persistent. Otherwise, the changes your body and brain must go through will not happen.
For a swordsman to wield their weapon effectively, it takes timing, rhythm, and the ability to judge distance on the fly. The same is true in handling a hockey stick. The hockey player must develop a high level of accuracy, timing, and control. Some people compare hockey stickhandling to playing golf while running. Clearly, this will take a lot of practice. But by doing the right drills each day, you’ll get there in good time. In addition, it’s imperative to choose the right hockey stick, as this will get you far while practicing or in-game.
Though it feels quite different from dribbling in basketball, the idea is similar. To move with the puck, the player has to effectively “hold on” to the puck while moving. Most often this is done by tapping the puck in the desired direction with one side of the stick and then the other and to alternate continuously while moving. This can be practiced at first by simply tapping the foot of a tree or post with each side of the stick to develop rhythm. As you progress, move up to practicing using a small ball as the puck and “dribble” across a court. As you become more confident, move up to practicing with skates on.
An important drill for anyone who is new to skating, figure 8s let you get practice in every nuance of maneuverability within a minimum about of space. You will get right and left turn practice, and you can make your figure 8 as large or small as you like. Smaller 8s are typically harder since your turns will need to be tighter. Figure 8s can be relaxing and will build your confidence quickly.
This is an advanced puck control skill where the player takes the puck into a dribble position by reaching far to one side or the other. It can also be used to move a possessed puck out of the range of an opponent while still maintaining control of it. Mastering this maneuver gives the player a significant control advantage.
Triangle drills come in a number of different forms. They are designed to train players to work together in easy to understand patterns. Players stand or move in a triangle formation and pass the puck to each other. Players are expected to learn and form a habit of falling into patterns like these which can easily be adapted to active play once they are mastered.
Blue to Red
The blue to red drill involves splitting players into three groups who stand on the blue line. Each group carries the puck, heads up from the blue line to the red line, and then repeats. This trains players to form hard-to-penetrate barriers and is considered a critical team defense skill. It is also often used as a pre-game warm-up exercise.
Shooting drills expose the player to a number of different shooting positions and techniques. The idea is to practice moving in specific lines, making specialized approaches to the net, and shooting from each line of attack. The player should learn to switch from one line of attack to another in response to opposition movements while remaining well within the learned set of shooting skills.
Toe Pull Shots
Toe pull shots are high-skill maneuvers that build on what is necessary to execute a pull shot. In a toe pull shot, the player drags the toe while shooting. This changes the angle of the shot in order to make the direction of the shot harder to predict and to make it more difficult for the defenders to interfere. This is an advanced skill that is important to learn of the player hopes to compete with serious players.
Shooting in Stride
It is a rare occasion when a player will have the opportunity to stop, take aim, and deliver a carefully executed shot to the net. It is for this reason that players must learn to shoot in stride. To do this, the player must coordinate his skating with the shot in such a way so as to not lose speed or accuracy. It’s something like shooting an arrow from horseback where the archer tries to shoot in mid-stride when the jarring of the horse’s steps will not interfere. In the same way, the hockey player must learn to shoot mid-stride for accuracy.
A slap shot is a powerful shot where the player makes a full, drawn-out swing in order to send the puck flying fast and hard in the desired direction. It is not easy to deliver a shot that is both powerful and accurate. However, a good slap shot is difficult to guard against since it is very fast-moving, and because opposition players will be reluctant to get in front of a fast-moving hockey puck.
Because no player can be expected to penetrate opposition defenses and make goals all by themselves, it is necessary to be able to pass the puck to your teammates at any moment and be ready to receive a pass at any moment. This is why passing drills are key to the game. This is a basic hockey skill that takes a great deal of practice to master. But games are rarely won without a heck of a lot of passing.
This is a basic team passing technique where players move in formation as a unit and pass the puck periodically. The idea behind this skill is to develop casual passing capabilities so that the team can keep the muck in motion. Defenders facing a team of active passing players will have a much harder time tracking, intercepting, and taking the puck.
In touch passing, a player passes the puck to another player who is required to touch the puck into a passing position on the outside of a boundary marker. This is similar to the rule in basketball where the ball must be passed and passed back before a play can begin.
This is a type of airborne passing. The player lifts the puck off the ice and launches it so that it flies like a Frisbee. It is called a saucer pass because the puck flies like a flying saucer. This is a very popular type of pass and requires a lot of practice to pull off. It is especially useful when there is a stick on the ice in the way of the intended target, making it necessary to get the puck off the ice in order to pass.
Few sports require players to learn a whole new means of locomotion simply to be in the game. In hockey, skating is the fundamental skill on which all other hockey skills are built. The following drills will help players build a foundation of skill which will enable them to take hits, perform maneuvers, and stay ahead of the game even in the face of the unexpected.
Accelerate While Moving
This skill develops the player’s ability to move faster on the fly at a moment’s notice. Like breaking into a run when playing soccer, accelerating while moving requires the player to move in a more aggregative way without disengaging with other players in a formation or altering a play. This helps especially in the development of fast twitch muscles which are needed for explosive movement.
This is an important skill for defenders, as the crossover start enables the player to accelerate to full speed very quickly. To do this, the player’s stance is key. Knees bent, chest up, and placing the player’s weight on the balls of the feet is the optimal position for the crossover start. The crossover start places the defender in a solid position for quick, limited mobility, which is ideal for guarding the net.
The hockey equivalent of sprinting, players must be able to move fast and aggressively while maintaining control over the puck, remaining ready to receive the puck, and so on. Power skating drills are short, high-impact drills that can really take the wind out of a player. The purpose of this drill is to condition the cardiovascular system for the extremes of activity which a tense hockey game will certainly call for.
Balance drills are designed to develop the ability to stay upright and focused in the game even under challenging circumstances. Players should be able to skate on just one foot in order to be ready for anything the opposition might throw at them. These drills require the player to work on skating on just one foot, switching back and forth, and performing additional maneuvers at the same time. Players who master these drills will be very strong on their feet and will be much more difficult to knock down.
An extension of the balance drills, transferring weight from one foot to the other, combined with the ability to skate on either foot, gives the player enormous stability. Players practice skating with their weight on one foot and then on the other. This gets the player to not be overly reliant on the dominant foot. This makes players more flexible, maneuverable, and stable on the ice.
Skating on One Foot
An extreme form of weight transferring, skating on one foot is a great way to develop the stabilizer muscles in each leg. Players who are able to stand and skate on one foot are very stable and can deal with just about any surprises. By skating on one foot for extended periods of time, the stabilizer muscles of each foot will become extremely well-conditioned.
More difficult than it seems, practicing skating backward gives the player a whole other vector of movement by which to position themselves on the ice. Learning to skate backwards not only gives the player another vector of movement for better maneuverability, but it also reinforces the musculature and nervous responsiveness to all of the challenges of the game.
Recoveries are a method of returning to a previous position after charging in a given direction. It is an important skill for defenders to master as it gives them the ability to more fully guard the net. The better a player can recover from a big move or a sudden charge, the less predictable they will be. A player who recovers poorly can be easily baited into moving into a vulnerable position, opening up a shot to opponents.
Hopping can be a bit scary for a beginning skater. But when you have the strength and the confidence to hop, it is an excellent way to build strength and stability. Where these drills are most valuable is in developing the ability to regain footing on the ice, which can be difficult since players have to support their weight on narrow metal blades. Coming down on narrow blades is not a movement the human body is normally prepared to do. Hockey players need to work on this skill especially hard.
Practice and Master Your Hockey Skills
As you can see, there are more skills to master in hockey than in many, if not most, other sports. Learning and mastering all of these skills takes great commitment and dedication. But if you put in the time and effort to do so, you will take great pride in achieving an impressive set of hockey skills – and you will become a formidable presence out there on the ice.