Most of the spring and summer months should be spent on golf courses, lakes, ball fields and any other non-ice surface. But for kids who get the itch and want to sprinkle in some stickhandling skill development, there are plenty of good ways – and tools – to do just that.
“Use a golf ball, tennis balls are great, really whatever you can move at the end of your stick,” Minnesota Wild assistant coach and hockey dad Darby Hendrickson said. “Different sporting goods stores have slicker balls. There’s a lot of ways you can do it. They even have weighted balls and pucks to use not only work on quickness and strength too.
“Whatever you use, use it. One is not better than the other, and they all help improve your stickhandling.”
Here are some other offseason stickhandling tips from the former NHLer, Gopher and Mr. Hockey.
Grab your buddies, a ball and some sticks and hit the pavement. After all, nothing fuels development like enjoying the time you’re putting in.
“When I was a kid, during the spring when the ice melted we’d play street hockey or try to sneak on the tennis courts and play roller hockey,” Hendrickson recalled of his Richfield days. “We played because we loved to, and so you could get that confidence with your hands when stickhandling. Once you have that, it really just spreads to your overall game and your feel for the game.”
“Stickhandling is one of those things where you want to be quick, have big wide pulls, so you might lose (the ball or puck) but that’s how you get better,” Hendrickson said. “You can try going one-handed, and you can stickhandle behind your back, sometimes two hands, sometimes a long reach with your top hand, just mixing it up in a variation. But know you’re going to lose the puck or ball, and that’s OK. Just get better and don’t be afraid of that while you’re stickhandling.”
Try those different and new moves you’ve seen on TV. Don’t be afraid of losing the handle. The pros do it all the time.
Darby’s most important – and most overlooked – aspect of stickhandling, is keeping your head up.
“The most important thing I would emphasize when working on your stickhandling is doing it with your head up,” Hendrickson said. “So many kids will stare at the ball or stare at the puck, and I think it’s one of the things in our game, to be able to have that skill and have that peripheral vision to play with your head up and not look at the puck, it’s so important to have that skill.”
The more sports kids play, the better athletes – and in turn, hockey players – they will be long-term.
Hendrickson’s become a huge fan of lacrosse as of late thanks to the multiple similarities in hockey, especially in relation to puck/ball possession.
“There’s definitely a lot of hand-eye coordination with catching and receiving the ball and shooting,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of transition with footwork out there that could apply to the ice, too. In lacrosse you even have to protect and hold on to their ball while you’re playing, and that mimics hockey, too, so I think lacrosse is really a neat crossover sport that’s come in to our state for sure and taken off and helped hockey in a lot of ways.”
There’s baseball/softball, golf, tennis – anything that keeps you active, moving and having fun can help your hockey game.
Consistency is Key
Consistency is not only important in your game, it’s important in your work ethic. Ten minutes a day or one hour a week, if you put in time and effort, improvement is bound to come.
“It’s like any type of workout, it’s about consistency,” said Hendrickson. “To me, it’s dedication. As a kid, girl or boy, if they are passionate about the game, they just find time to carve that out and stay consistent. It might be for a minute a day, somedays you might be having fun and it’s for 20 minutes, but I just think being consistent is most important.”