One of the most elemental aspects of hockey is stickhandling. Once you learn how to skate, the logical next step is figuring out how to use your stick to control that slippery piece of frozen rubber that sometimes seems to have a mind of its own.
It’s such a fundamental skill, though, that most adult players probably stop working on it. They assume they’ve learned all there was to learn about stickhandling a long time ago.
But if there is one easy way to dramatically improve your game in a short amount of time – something that can be done, in many cases, on or off the ice – getting better at stickhandling is it. All it takes, really, is a handful of minutes each day to see improvement. As such, we’ll offer five drills you can do to improve on that basic skill.
Editor’s Note: For off-ice stickhandling drills, we recommend using a stick that is slightly shorter than your on-ice stick to compensate for the fact that you’re not elevated on skates. This keeps the lie angle and feel comparable.
Blue to Red
Nate Leaman, the head coach of Providence College men’s hockey team, uses a drill in which he splits players into three groups, all on the blue line. Each group of players carries the puck, head up, from the blue line to the red line, then repeats. Eventually, he says, the two groups that aren’t skating stay in the middle of the ice, creating formidable barriers for the skaters in the “on” group.
“It gets a little hectic and chaotic, but you can get things going quickly,” Leaman says.
This would be a good pregame warmup drill before an adult league game, since it requires a larger number of skaters.
This involves setting up three obstacles in the shape of a triangle – one each about two feet to the right and left of your stance, and one directly in front of you (imagine you’re making a diamond, with your feet as one point and the obstacles as the other three).
Take the puck – either on the ice or any other hard smooth surface – and, without moving your feet, move the puck around the three obstacles.
Sean Skinner, a hockey drills expert who worked for several NHL teams and has numerous tips at skinnerhockey.com, preaches the practice of dribbling – essentially, as he says, “using short strokes of the stick where they’re cupping the stick blade over (a puck or ball) and gently tapping it with the stick.”
This is one of the easiest off-ice drills to practice, and Skinner recommends using a wooden ball because it will move faster than a puck moves on ice – a key to developing the soft hands that every player wants.
“We dribble because every time the puck hits the stick blade it sends a vibration up the shaft and you can feel where the puck is at without looking at it,” Skinner says.
Another fundamental drill for which Skinner recommends a wooden ball is what he terms “reaching wide.”
“With the ball in front of their body, they can reach wide side to side, cupping the stick blade over on both forehand and backhand,” Skinner says. “They can bring the ball to the forehand side, then reach wide front to back. And then they can go to the backhand and reach forward way ahead and way behind. Then they can put it all together and make a U-shape.”
It might sound simple, but the payoff makes sense.
“Everyone can control the puck in front where it’s natural,” Skinner says, “but the best players can control the puck wide and all the way around their body.”
A fundamental drill preached by many instructors involves moving pucks in figure-8s around obstacles. Leaman suggested using hockey gloves as obstacles, starting with them shoulder-width apart and gradually moving them five or six feet apart.
“Backhand to forehand, forehand to backhand,” Leaman says. “That’s so much of hockey, whether you’re protecting a puck or moving it to shoot. You’re working on the length of your reach.”
Skinner agrees that figure-8s are a great drill because they pull together elements of dribbling and reaching wide. He prefers to use hockey pucks as the obstacles, but really anything will work. And again, this drill can be done on or off the ice.
“If players do that for 15 minutes a day, in two weeks they won’t believe their improvement,” Skinner says. “Other people will be commenting on it.”