Talented players shine with time and space. But as they progress to the next levels of hockey, that time and space vanishes … quickly.
“When that’s taken away in game situations, it’s very frustrating, especially for the more talented players who are used to having that time and space,” said Emily West, USA Hockey American Development Model manager for female hockey.
So as players take the next step at 14U/16U, it’s critical to start training with that in mind. The pace is faster, players are stronger, and competition is harder.
“We’re trying to help kids get comfortable in tight areas and not having a lot of time,” said West, a two-time captain for the University of Minnesota, where she helped the Gophers capture the 2012 NCAA national championship. “To be able to perform with no time and space and not let it hinder you – that’s critical.”
You can’t read the play with your eyes glued to the puck.
“This sounds like a broken record, but the players that have the ability to handle the puck with their heads up – they stand out,” West said. “The ability to read the play, assess the situation and still maintain possession of the puck is key.”
Take the time to work on stickhandling – with your head up – in the driveway or garage. Try to keep your head on a swivel, focus on the wall or on different things around you. If you’re with a friend, have them hold up a number so the stickhandler has to shout it out.
The simple back and forth doesn’t cut it. Practice figure 8s, expand your reach in all directions. Stickhandle laterally and front to back on each side. Use your feet and touch the puck with all areas of your stick. Try lifting the puck over sticks or barriers.
“I urge kids at that age to get very comfortable with the puck and to be ready to make a play or take a shot at all times,” she said.
Strong on the puck
Upper body, forearm and wrist strength will help players fend off body contact and poke checks to maintain control of the puck – and shoot it.
One forearm exercise is roll-ups. Use part of the shaft of a broken hockey stick. Drill a hole in the middle of it and thread a skate lace 30 inches into the hole. Add a weight to the end of the lace and tie a secure knot. Hold the stick out in front of you and roll your wrists up until the weight touches the stick. Then reverse until it’s all the way down again.
West used to play a game in college at the University of Minnesota called “The Gauntlet.” It can be played on and off the ice. Two players face one another around the faceoff dots. One player stickhandles to maintain possession of the puck and the other player tries to take it away, but neither can move their feet. When one player loses control of the puck, the other player gets it and you start over.
“It’s a way to not only work on stickhandling, but it’s a forearm burner for sure,” West said.
Catch and release
Less time and space means shooting lanes close more quickly. Opposing sticks and bodies are trying to disrupt or block shots, so working on a quick release is paramount.
“The release of the puck is critical at this age,” West said. “We start to notice some kids really struggle with getting the puck off their stick quickly. A lot of times kids think they need the big bomb of a shot. Yes, it helps to have a hard shot, absolutely, but a quick release is surprising to goaltenders and defenders. It doesn’t have to be the perfect shot if you can release it quickly and get it on net. If the goalie does save it, there might be a rebound and now you’re creating scoring opportunities.”
Have a friend feed you passes. Work on collecting the puck and releasing a quick snap shot. Another idea is to use a tennis ball if you’re by yourself.
“Because the tennis ball is so light and it bounces around – it’s not always perfect,” West said. “Pass it off the wall, try to collect it and shoot it – boom, right off your stick. It’s funky because it comes off the wall weird and it helps your reaction. You have to react quickly.”
Shoot from awkward positions.
“Just shooting pucks, working on different releases – off your own foot, off balance, off wing,” she said. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable in situations is critical at this age.”
Time to experiment
Those dangles you’ve seen on TV and at the rink? Go ahead, try them!
“I think you can learn a lot by watching some of those players and how they handle themselves in different situations,” West said. “Be creative and have fun with it. In the summer when it’s your offseason, that’s the time to do it and get comfortable with it.
“Fun keeps you in it. It keeps your passion going. Be creative with it.”
Tag(s): ADM Features