Many young hockey players focus on fine-tuning their shot or developing new dangles. But putting some extra work into passing – giving and receiving – can go a long way to improve a player’s game.
Maureen Greiner, the head coach of the Concordia College women’s hockey team in Moorhead, sees on a regular basis just how much of an essential skill good passing can be.
“Everyone is a lot of times focused on having a great shot or being the fastest skater out there,” Greiner said. “Sometimes passing, which is such a huge part of our game, is overlooked and not given the proper time or credit or dedication to really honing it as a skill.”
On- and Off-Ice Drills
There are many ways players of all ages can work on passing, Greiner said, and it doesn’t have to be the traditional stationary passing where kids rocket forehands at each other for 10 minutes.
Greiner encourages players and coaches to use progressions and variations to make practicing passing skills more game-like. For instance, have players face each other, catch a pass on their backhand and quickly pulling it to the forehand to pass it back. An advanced drill she likes using with her team at Concordia is the Forehand Backhand Flip.
“I think it’s just so important to get you used to getting those hands out away from your body, catching and receiving quick and hard passes, and really just working on passing as a skill that needs to be given attention like shooting and the other skills are in hockey,” Greiner said.
As players improve their fundamental passing skills, it’s critical to build in more challenges for them like passing while skating, obstacles, decision making and opponents to progressively make practice look more game-like.
Head up, stick down. Playing with your head on a swivel is crucial to passing, especially as kids get older. There will be less and less time and space to make decisions. Keeping your head up allows you to find open teammates. And by having your stick on the ice, you’ll be ready to receive passes.
Gain confidence by practicing with your head up. Don’t be afraid to fail — it’s how you’ll learn.
“If you want to be a great passer and be a great playmaker, just learning to use your peripheral vision and getting your head up and knowing that the puck is on your stick is key,” Greiner said.
Catching Bad Passes
Not all passes will be cleanly received on the tape. That’s why players should also work on receiving passes that are away from their stick, in the air or at their feet, Greiner said.
That type of skill work can be done in a variety of different ways, and it doesn’t have to be in practice. It could be on a pond or a backyard rink, with someone helping by giving a variety of types of passes.
“I think there’s no better teacher than just repetition and working on not always getting the best pass in the world,” Greiner said. “I think that not always receiving the most perfect pass, whether it’s a parent or coach or whoever purposely kind of giving those kids challenges when it comes to catching passes, is huge too. It’s not always perfectly on their stick. They’re getting used to adjusting, and if it is in their feet, kicking it up and those types of things.”
Watch and Learn
Even when players aren’t on the ice or in practice, they can still learn how to be a better passer. When watching a game on TV or in person, Greiner recommends young players watch the college or pro players’ hands when they’re passing during the game.
“Watch how those players have their hands, that top hand especially, out in front of their body and their head up and just kind of watch them when they pass and receive passes,” Greiner said. “I think that’s a huge thing to any kid who gets so used to wanting that top hand over on the side of their body because it’s comfortable. But once they get to where that’s out in front of their body and they’re using that top hand as more of a lever, it really is going to open a ton of doors for them.”