For most hockey players, it’s now the offseason. That means our youngsters should be taking a break from the ice for a while, recharge the batteries, play other sports, and enjoy the summer.
But for many, the offseason is also a chance to hone your hockey skills.
Whatever you do, coach Mike Hastings of the Minnesota State Mavericks says, it should be fun.
“Whether you're on ice or off ice, just make sure it doesn't feel like work,” the Crookston native said. “You’ve got to have some fun doing it.”
Here are a few fun suggestions from coach Hastings to satisfy that offseason hockey hunger.
One of the big reasons the sport of hockey has grown in places like Florida and southern California is the sport of roller hockey. So after a long winter, don’t waste those beautiful Minnesota summer days by staying indoors.
“One thing we did (growing up) was, we played a lot of knee hockey, we played a lot of floor hockey, and then when the Rollerblades came out, we played a lot of street hockey,” Hastings said. “Anything that you can do that keeps your hands and your feet moving simultaneously with a stick in your hand is relatable. It goes right back to what you're doing on the ice.
“You don't have to have an ice sheet. Most cul de sacs are paved. You still have boards that are up in the summer with sport courts and floors.”
When you’re playing with and competing against your buddies, doing things that improve your shooting, passing and stickhandling suddenly don’t seem like drills, the coach says. They don’t seem like work.
Race each other. Challenge each other. Keep score.
“Small games, whether it's shooting at targets, at posts — right post, left post crossbar — picking knots in the net,” Hastings said. “Play in outnumbered situations. Find ways to get a puck from me to my teammate with someone or something in between us. Do that stationary, and then start doing it moving.
“Play small games that incorporate two or three different skills. At the end of the day, you’re just out having fun, and you’re actually getting better at what you need to get better at. I think that’s fun. Those are games. I don’t think the idea of doing ‘drills’ sounds fun to me.”
Play Other Sports
Hockey may be unique in that it’s played on ice with sticks and pucks, but many of the athletic skills used in other sports — footwork, starts and stops, hand speed, vision, anticipation, deception and even the mental game — can help you on the hockey rink come fall.
“I'm a big proponent of multi-sport athletes,” Hastings said. “Leave the game of hockey for a while. It's OK. It'll be there. You can pick it up again. Go do something else.”
What sports do Hastings suggest? Pretty much anything!
“Things you’re doing with your feet — basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse — where you’re changing directions and using your upper body while your lower body is in motion. Throwing a ball, catching a ball, playing baseball, playing softball, tennis, badminton — take your pick of what you like — racquetball, pickleball, it's all just athleticism, being able to do things with your hands and your feet.”
While you’re playing those games and sports, try different techniques that will help you on the rink.
“Shoot pucks in different areas — close to your feet, away from you, receiving it and shooting it or one-timing it,” Hastings said. “You can do that with balls, you can do that with pucks.”
And then concentrate on keeping your head up as you make plays, a skill you will also need when you’re back on the ice.
“It makes your decision-making process a little quicker,” Hastings said. “You don't want to get your head up, find something, get your head down, find the puck and then execute. If you can do it all while you're looking up, it makes you quicker, faster. If I've got guys who can make plays with their heads up, they're seeing everything that’s coming at them and they're not surprised.”