What separates great players from good players? It’s the little things that can make a big difference on the ice. Some of those little things can be overlooked when it comes to developing youth hockey players. As the game evolves and new generations of hockey players hit the ice, some skills have gotten lost in the shuffle.
Here are 10 “forgotten” hockey skills that should be nurtured and developed to help build a better player:
The Backhand: Goaltenders don’t like backhands – they’re very hard to anticipate. Developing a quick, hard and accurate backhand could net you more goals and rebound opportunities. Passing with your backhand should also be worked on every day.
Moving Laterally on the Offensive-Zone Blue Line: This is still a common move for defensemen as they attempt to get shots to the net, but players such as Wayne Gretzky used to make a living by using this move on the rush. Moving laterally across the blue line helps escape opponents and creates better shooting lanes while also causing confusion for the defense and opening lanes for teammates, all of which helps produce scoring chances. Just remember to protect the puck and keep your head up because the opposing team will converge on you quickly.
Puck-Handling with Your Skates: To be an elite puck-handler, you’ll need to know how to use your skates. Treat them as extra sticks at your disposal. Passes won’t always be on your stick, so practice receiving pucks in your skates. Practice stickhandling in, around and off your skates. Kick the puck back and forth between your feet while skating down the ice. Using your skates to handle the puck and receive passes increase your puck-possession capabilities.
Using the Net as a Teammate/Barrier: Protecting the puck, creating separation, keeping the opponent on the opposite side – these are all ways the net can be used to gain an advantage. A more advanced maneuver would be banking the puck off the back of the net while skating/stickhandling to elude a pursuer.
Juggling: Okay, this isn’t really a hockey skill and definitely hasn’t been forgotten but hand-eye coordination is paramount in hockey. Juggling will enhance your coordination, handling and feel for the puck. Plus, it looks cool – and it’s fun. Practice juggling the puck with your stick. You can do it on the ice, but you can also do it in your garage, driveway, basement – wherever you can fit a stick and a ball/puck.
Protecting the Puck with Your Arm: While trying to skate around an opposing player, don’t be afraid to release one hand (preferably the one nearest the defender) and block their stick or body from the puck. Extend the hand on your stick further out to create more distance between you and the defender. Keep the knees bent and stay low to keep a low center of gravity. This is an effective way to power around your opponent, but be careful not to grab or hold your opponent, which will earn you a trip to the penalty box.
Tipping/Redirecting Shots: The hand-eye coordination must be learned, but positioning is also key. Make yourself visible and available for a redirect. It doesn’t always have to be directly in front of the goaltender. Find a lane where the puck can get to you and show the shooter you’re ready for a tip. Once it comes, don’t let your stick go limp. Zach Parise is good at tipping because he bunts at the puck rather than wait for the puck to come to him.
Body-Checking/Angling: Body-checking, angling and proper body contact is a skill that must constantly be worked on starting at the Mite/8U level and progressing from there. The purpose isn’t to “light up” your opponent or “send them into the bleachers.” The purpose is to separate the player from the puck so your team can regain possession.
Goaltenders Playing/Handling the Puck: Easily, the most forgotten skill for goaltenders is the ability to handle the puck, explained Steve Carroll, USA Hockey’s Minnesota District Goalie Coach-in-Chief. And in today’s game that means more than just being able to shoot the puck off the glass and down to the other end of the ice. It means developing the ability to make smart decisions with the puck. Goalies should learn to how to stop the puck behind the net with their stick and make short, crisp, tape-to-tape passes to their teammates – and do so on a consistent basis.
It’s an important skill goalies should work on in every practice. One of the best goalies at handling the puck is former South St. Paul and University of Minnesota-Duluth netminder Alex Stalock. His ability to handle the puck with a purpose is one of the reasons why he is currently the only Minnesota goalie playing in the NHL.
The Bank Pass: You won’t always have a direct passing route to your teammates. Use bank passes off the boards to evade defenders and forecheckers. Puck possession is key to team success and indirect passes can give defenders fits. Try them in practice and add drills that force players to use the boards. It will help them see the game in a new perspective and it should open up more play-making opportunities and capabilities.
What’s the key to these forgotten skills? Practice, practice, practice.
What other forgotten skills are you working on? Tell us on Twitter at @MinnHockey using the hashtag #ForgottenSkills.