For youngsters working on stickhandling or shooting in the driveway this summer, it’s all about repetition. Putting a little extra time off the ice during the offseason will pay dividends when they get back onto the ice in the fall.
Regardless of what skill you’re working on, it’s important to focus on the fundamentals and how the drill is intended to improve your game.
“It’s not about the drill,” said Guy Gosselin, two-time Olympian, former NHLer and USA Hockey Regional Manager of the American Development Model. “It’s what the drill is giving you.”
Gosselin gives five things to concentrate on when practicing your stickhandling and shooting this offseason.
1. Soft Touch: Puck Possession and Protection
Puck possession has become a hockey buzzword in the last few years. The team that better controls the puck can create more offense and outscoring your opponent is the aim of the game.
In order to play a puck-possession game, players have to be able to stickhandle. Having a soft touch, the ability to receive passes, and stickhandle without losing control, are keys to puck possession and protection.
“From 9 to 13, you need to get the reps in,” the former University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldog said. “The best way to get those reps in are away from the rink, when you’re focusing on a single skill and not doing drills designed by coaches.”
Concentrate on keeping your head up in all your summertime drills, when losing the ball or puck isn’t a big deal. Keeping your head up can be hard, especially when you’re a younger player first starting out, but it is the first step to possessing and controlling the puck, and becoming an ace stickhandler. You have to know what’s around you and that comes with repetition and eventually hockey IQ.
“There’s a progression that you can come up with on your own – what works for you,” Gosselin said. “It’s always good to focus on doing things well – like cupping the puck and not losing it. Then you can work up to speed-type things.”
Drill: Soft Touch Drill
2. Range of Motion
Range of motion, also known as a player’s “reach,” will help when a holding the puck away from your body to get around a defender. With range of motion, it’s important to practice in front, and to each side, of your body.
“You need to mix it up,” Gosselin said. “You can do a diagonal stickhandle or a lateral stickhandle. While you’re doing this, you’re working on both range of motion and keeping your head up.”
If you can’t already, a fundamental goal heading into the summer should be to learn how to stickhandle with your head up while skating down the ice. Working on range of motion with your head and eyes up, against no pressure, will help players when it comes time for game action.
“You can work on this with no pressure to refine your skill set and then at the next level, you need to understand that we’re going to ask you to do things at high speed with a lot of pressure and you have to make quick decisions,” Gosselin said.
Drills: Around the Body; Tight and Away
3. Change of Speed
Combining a change of speed with range of motion makes for a highly deceptive attacker. The summer, when you’re working without opposition, is the perfect time to use over-speed training to develop quicker hands.
But it’s also important to be able to vary your tempo; to be able to change the pace of your body and stickhandling.
“If you’re moving very fast and the puck is moving very quickly, you also need to be able to slow it down,” said Gosselin. “We’re very linear in our play. We need to add lateral movement, slow the tempo down at certain points and change the speed of the attack. You might have to slow it down and wait for some puck support. In that instance, you need to be able to utilize your speed in both your hands and your skating, and also possess the puck and protect the puck at the same time.”
Work on changing speeds when you’re stickhandling this summer and moving the ball towards and away from your body. Combine changing speeds with range-of-motion work to refine technical skills and add another element to your game.
Drill: Stickhandle with a golf ball
4. Body Positioning and Shooting off the Front Foot
“We see a lot of kids shooting off their back foot and taking the momentum away from the net,” Gosselin noted. “One of the things to concentrate on is getting their momentum towards the net and being prepared to shoot.”
A good shot begins with good body positioning – being in an athletic stance with your knees bent and feet about shoulder width apart. This is especially true at younger ages, because children are not physically developed and strong enough to rifle the puck.
“It helps them project the puck a lot easier if they’re in a proper shooting position,” Gosselin said. “Great big guys that are 6-3 and 220 can shoot off their back foot and get some heat on it because they’re physically developed. Imagine the average 12-year-old and their physical development. It’s just not there at that age.”
Lefthanders should practice shooting off their right foot, while righties shoot off their left, and transferring your weight forward when shooting.
“The tendency, when they’re shooting off their back foot, is to pull up and away,” Gosselin said. “Sometimes it’s hard for them, but [when shooting off the front foot] the puck will go to the place they want it to go with more velocity than it would shooting off the back leg.”
5. Cupping and Positioning the Puck
With a flick of the wrists, NHLers can fire the puck off the toe of their stick. However, youngsters need to start out working on a wrist shot with your blade cupping the puck – before they can learn how to take a drag-and-pull snap shot.
“They need to start the puck in the middle of the blade or towards the heel and roll it [heel to toe] at the target,” Gosselin said. “Most of them are not developed enough to shoot the puck off the toe.”
After plenty of reps and increased comfort with the wrist shot, begin to move the puck around your shooting surface, so it’s in different starting spots in relation to your body. In a game situation, the puck won’t always be lying flat in your wheelhouse waiting patiently for you to tee it up.
“You can create different angles with your stick, you can create different angles with your body,” Gosselin said. “Being prepared to shoot quickly from different positions. Understanding that if I wait, this shot is not going to get through.”