As a young hockey player progresses into the 12U age level and beyond, things are getting more physical on the ice. Full body-checking may not be a legal part of the game, but contact is ramping up, and that makes puck possession all the more important.
Once you get the puck, you want to keep the puck – and it will only get more difficult as you get older.
“You work hard to get the puck,” said Jeff Giesen, associate head coach of the Minnesota State University women’s hockey program in Mankato, Minnesota. “When you get it, you need to hold onto it – whether that’s making some passing plays to your teammates or winning 1-on-1s and keeping possession of the puck and protecting it.”
Puck protection, puck possession and body contact are all important pieces of development at this age.
Angling and Positioning
Giesen, previously the women’s hockey head coach at St. Cloud State and an assistant coach with the U.S. Women’s Under-18 National Team, knows the importance of developing puck-protection skills at 12U.
During this development period, angling and proper body positioning and body contact are being taught extensively on the defensive side of the puck – but all of the lessons can be just as beneficial on offense.
“The focus is teaching angling and proper body contact – having the defensive player take good angles,” Giesen said. “So as the offensive player, you need to know where those angles are going to come and where to position the puck to protect it and keep possession of it as a player tries to bump you out or ride you out or angle you away. Whether that’s turning toward the boards and protecting it there or using your body and driving to the net, keeping the puck away from the defender – all of those skills will come as they work on the angling piece, as well.”
To be better with the puck, players need to become more comfortable with body contact as well.
“The game, as you get older, they’re just bigger players,” Giesen said. “Even if they’re not trying to throw a big check, the rubbing out and the angling out and the shoulder-to-shoulder body contact – kids have to have good balance and good skating ability to stay on their feet in those situations.”
How does a hockey player get comfortable with body contact? One of the best ways for players to improve their puck protection skills is by participating in small-area games.
“In a tight area, you’re going to have to protect the puck while dealing with traffic and contact,” Giesen said. “You’re looking to make a play in a tight area. There are several games out there that you can play, small-area games, and even 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 situations where you’re trying to protect the puck and you’re trying to move and stay away from defenders, but you can still attack the goal.”
Skating, Skating, Skating
Of course, keeping control of the puck all starts with having strong fundamental skills – most notably skating. Giesen said that the key to maintaining possession is to be sturdy on your skates, and know that your opposition won’t be able to bump you off the puck.
Players at every level – even the NHL – should be constantly working on their skating skills. It is the foundation of every player.
“Have a good skating base and develop confidence on your skates,” Giesen said. “Be able to maneuver the puck away from your defender and still have body between you and the defender, and having that good base, so if there is contact, then you’re not going to get knocked over or have the puck taken away.”